Woefully esoteric

21 February 2019

Perhaps I'm odd like this but I hate Chekhov's Gun and the writing style it encourages. Cut away everything from a plot or scene until only the bare bones remains results in something substantially more lifeless.

Chekhov wrote about "promises made" to the audience and honestly - no.

Maybe it's because we now live in a world with much greater exposure to stories in a variety of mediums but things like this ruin the mystique of the plot for me. It's like watching a TV show with a "previously on" segment. They're essentially telling the audience which obscure details mattered from previous episodes - thanks for that.

I can give an example from Vatta's War (by Elizabeth Moon). There's a scene in the ship's mess where characters have a conversation about a pen knife with a hidden blade. It never comes up again - even when it might have helped save one of the character's lives.

My takeaway from this wasn't "but there was an implied promise that it'd reappear" (*cough* Chekhov) it was "these characters are having a realistic conversation and it's helping me invest in them emotionally". Of course one can argue that by doing this the knife is still serving a purpose and it is but not in the setup->payoff way that Chekhov's talking about.

My favourite thing about Mad Max: Fury Road is the worldbuilding. There's barely any expositional explanation of what's happening unless it makes sense (e.g. Nux being told what's happening outside because he's receiving a blood transfusion). We're expected to piece it together as we go along - just like real life. It's up to us to figure out which bits are important and which aren't and for me that really helps bring a setting to life.

It's something I really appreciate in slightly older films - every moment isn't crammed with content. There's space to breathe and the editing isn't as tight. I enjoy the modern style too but it's very different and conforms more to Chekhov's way of doing things.

Of course it's entirely possible to overdo this and never get on with the plot but that's where an editor should be getting involved!