Recently I watched the movie Alpha, which turned out to be pretty darn good. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, the script does some really interesting things with dialogue (especially in the first few scenes) that take into account that the story is set around 20,000 years ago, and the central story with the protagonist and his wolf is genuinely affecting and sweet. But there were a few moments in the film that made me sit up and remark “oh, that’s strange,” that I, years ago, would have called plot holes. However, with a little bit more introspection - and just a bit of research - every last one of these “plot holes” was revealed to be nothing of the sort, and in fact each of these were revealed to be indicative of all the ridiculous ways we often talk about plot holes. So come with me, and let’s discuss the phenomenon of plot holes itself through Alpha.
The film begins with a group of prehistoric humans hunting bison. The scene is awesome: tense, visceral, and fast-paced, and ending on a hell of a cliffhanger that had me instantly hooked. There’s only, I thought, on problem: Buffalo only exist in America. Instantly (because bad habits, especially ones that can give you the thrill of feeling like the smart person in the room, are hard to break), I was claiming that I’d found a plot hole, something that took me out of the film. However, a short google search probed me wrong for one simple reason: Buffalo actually did (and still do) exist in Europe. This is the first kind of plot hole so often cited by keyboard crusaders: nothing is wrong with the film at all, but people who know less than the filmmakers or haven’t done their research, convinced they’re the ones with the big brains, leap to eviscerate a plot point.
The second style of “plot hole” I want to examine is one that’s slightly different: the kind of plot hole where a watcher thinks that something which doesn’t make sense to them must make sense to no-one, must be the fault of the movie must be a plot hole. For me, this moment came during the hunting scene as well. I couldn’t understand, at first, the method by which the hunters were killing Bison, which consisted of throwing spears directly in front of stampeding Bison to make them turn, and gradually herding them over the edge of a cliff cliff. Because I thought such a thing was entirely unfeasible - why on earth would bison turn away from a row of slender sticks? - I was completely confused by the strategy, and rushed to judgment on the movie, thinking that it was portraying hunting in a completely nonsensical way. However, watching the scene through to the end and thinking about it more while reserving judgement, a few more possibilities occurred to me - that maybe it was the suddenness of spears plunging down in front of them that caused the Bison to veer where the humans wanted them to, that any animal would have to be utterly destined for death if it continued charging toward the weapons that had just nearly slain it, and that other early humans had in fact hunted Bison in very similar ways - and I came to realize that just because the strategy hadn’t made sense to me at first didn’t mean that it was senseless. It was my assumption that the spears were forming some kind of fence that had prevented me from connecting with this part of the film. The problem with this “plot hole,” in other words wasn’t Alpha. It was me.
A final series of “plot holes” could be gleaned from many of the interactions between the two leads, Keda (the human) and Alpha (the… wolf? proto-dog? really not sure what to call her in the context of this film). As they move through the film’s plot together, we’re treated to a series of “greatest hits” from humanity’s interactions with our faithful friends. Keda tries to make Alpha run away with a stick, for example, only to have her pick the stick up and carry it back to him. At another point in the movie, Keda can’t get Alpha to heel until he uses a two-tone whistle vaguely reminiscent of the whistle we use to call dogs today. There are many more of these moments, enough so that in the middle of the film I found myself wondering if Alpha was going to chase her tail for a moment or two. These are technically “plot holes” because none of these “greatest hits” developed or happened for the first time in the way the film presents — dogs “fetch” because we’ve trained them to go bring animals we’ve hunted to us, for example. Here’s the thing, though: I didn’t care. Not once watching the film did I think anything like “come on, it didn’t happen that way!” Indeed, I found that these moments deepened my connection to the film. How could I not be powerfully invested in the survival and wellbeing of such a good girl, after all? This is indicative of the final kind of plot hole that I want to dissect: the kind that might technically be some kind of logical fallacy or mistake, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest because they work in the context of the story and make us more invested in its narrative. This is the kind of plot hold that I think is the most misunderstood and wrongfully cited, but my own experience of Alpha is pretty conclusive evidence that all three styles of false plot holes are alive and well. Which means we need to stay ever vigilant, to ensure they we don’t fall prey to them ourselves.
Next week we embark on a new journey, so get ready for a new series announcement!
With excitement and optimism,