On Plot

I feel like I’ve posted this before… I rewatched Margot at the Wedding. It really is just fantastic. It is definitely the culmination of all of Noah Baumbach’s past efforts. I often hear the same complaint over and over about the movie (from the people that I make watch it). There was no plot. People loafed around and nothing happened. My argument is that plot is a sufficient but not necessary condition for great art.

Let’s look at film in particular. Off the top of my head there is script, acting, costume design, sound, music, all the aspects of cinematography, editing, directing, symbolism, etc. It is traditional that plot should take precedence, but should we condemn a movie for lacking one (out of hundreds) aspect? Say a movie had a fantastic plot, but was lacking in cinematography. Would the lay audience even notice? I’ll take a film with great cinematography over plot any day.

So we have sort of strayed from the point a little. Art seems to me to be about expressing ideas in an original way (“what is art?” could be a 1000 word post in itself). If you don’t need plot to express your point, then you will be doing it not only in an original way, but in a much purer form. Why use devices that you don’t need, when that could potentially interfere with what you are trying to do? Margot definitely gets its point across.

Let’s tie this back to math (since I have been philosophizing a lot and ignoring math and physics which are supposedly part of this blog). Most arguments against an aesthetic theory for math come from precisely this. Math lacks in some of the traditional parts that art has. Margot is a good example of a great work of art that lacks on purpose. I think that traditionally math cannot be considered art, but under modern considerations (i.e. my definition) math is just a pure form of art in which ideas are expressed in an original way.

There probably isn’t anything new in this, but seeing that again reminded me of all the arguments about the necessity of plot that I’ve had.


2 thoughts on “On Plot

  1. Ever read any Joseph Campbell? “Hero’s Journey”? Christopher Vogler’s, “The Writer’s Journey”, is another good one from a screenwriter’s point of view. To these folks plot is everything. The structure, that is. They’ve broken storytelling down to a structure that covers about 95% of the successful movies, foreign and domestic, and most novels and plays as well. The exceptions are interesting in themselves.


  2. I would agree that there is a great deal of emphasis on plot in our society. Let’s consider novels though. Orson Scott Card, whom I would hope everyone reading this blog would think is an incredible author, wrote many “How-to Write” books and articles. One book is called “Characters and Viewpoint” which never mentions plot. The other is “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” which has only periphery remarks on plot. He maintains that if everything else is taken care of (proper viewpoint, strong characters and dialogs, etc) then the plot almost doesn’t matter. Most plots have been done before, what sets your work of art apart from others is how you do it (and how well you do it). It is dreadfully boring and tedious to read a book or watch a movie that is poorly done (bad dialog, bad acting, bad perspective and shots,…) no matter how good the plot is. Now if the movie or book is so captivating, unique, well done, … then it is so interesting that I must keep watching no matter what the plot is. Does a painting have a plot? Not usually, but it can still be considered good art.

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