Every Friday I watch, with a couple of friends and a couple of drinks, bad movies. I’m not going into this as I have already covered this on the blog.
The film that inspired thus post is then fiftieth anniversary film of the great Toho series, Godzilla.
That film involves all the rubber suited monsters that have ever existed in the series. There are some bits of CGI for monsters and explosions. However, most of the monsters are men in rubber suits trampling, for the umpteenth time, Tokyo.
With the help of God and a suitcase, we can now head forward to the main reason for the post.
First, a bit of background. We were doing what we normally do whilst watching the films. Heckling and trying to figure out the plot. We then saw the re-emergence of an item that was mentioned quite early on in the film and its significance became more obvious. This then started an conversation about whether it was the film’s MacGuffin or a Deus ex machina. Another friend wandered what we were going on about. So whist the movie was still running we had a discussion about film theory.
There is one thing that is only there to drive a plot forward. This was popularised from one if the greatest directors of the 20th century, Alfred Hitchcock. This is the MacGuffin. An item that is vital to drive the plot onwards. Be that the money in Psycho, the suitcase in Pulp Fiction or even the Maltese Falcon from the film of the same name! Just keep an eye out for it.
It is normally something massively important at the start if the film and then is forgotten for the rest of the film until it, sometimes, comes and saves the day at the end.
This happened in the Godzilla film that we were watching. A “magical” item is mentioned, and shown quite early on in the film. This is then forgotten about for the next hour until we are looking at an, almost, defeated Godzilla. What happens next turns into the other half of this post.
This is the Deus ex machina. Normally translated as God from the machine. Quite a historic method of wrapping up a plot. It tends to be thought of as lazy, or bad, writing. This has been used in some of the greatest books of English literature. Lord of the Flies and The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings use it either to drive the plot in the same was as an ultimate MacGuffin or, in the more classical way, wrap up the story quickly and easily.
The second use of this was used quite extensively in the Russell T. Davis era of Doctor Who. It did feel quite a lot of the time of “5 minutes to go, when is the Deus ex machina going to appear”.
In conclusion then. The MacGuffin is a cleaver plot device that drives things forward and the Deus ex machina is a lazy way of getting things done.
An easy way to spot the differences. If you go “WTF just happened“. That’s probably not a MacGuffin 🙂 If, on the other hand you go “whatever happened to x?” Then bingo!