Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Unfired Wolf

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW was on HBO tonight, and reminded me of Chekhov's assertion (I'm paraphrasing here) that if in the first act of a play you see a gun, by curtain it should go off.

This device can be effective and a lot of fun when laid in well, but too often leads to silliness like DAY's wolves, introduced in scenes completely outside the main thrust of the story (Zoo Guy: "The wolves! They're gone!") just so they can show up later to menace Jake Gyllenhaal.

The movie has another unfired gun: Emmy Rossum's injury. We see her get cut, and she winces in pain in a later scene, and that's it until the wound becomes serious enough that Jake has to go out and face -- wait for it -- the wolves.

Though more a part of the story's spine than the zoo scenes, I think the injury device jars because it's treated implausibly. Emmy's character is established as a smart girl, so why wouldn't she realize she was sick, or where that sickness came from? And she's not set up as being overly stoic or a martyr, so why didn't she mention the wound before it went septic?

Things That Become Important Later can give a story continuity, depth, and surprise, or they can become a distracting game where the audience identifies the item early on and just sits and waits for it to pay off.

Thoughts? Any favorite examples of unfired guns that work, or don't?


Cecil E. Rudd said...

I always thought the wolves were pointless, but they do go with the story. I just thought it could have been done in a better way. I read awhile back that the Director/Screenwriter told the studio that they couldn't change the script. They had to buy it "as is."

This could have been made better with some script notes from the studio, I just take it for what it was, a good fun movie. If I were to start asking questions about how someone could out run the cold, it would totally ruin the movie for me.

I know about Chekhov's gun, I just didn't know what it was called. And who said you couldn't learn anything from blogs?

Nice blog by the way.

james henry said...

I couldn't remember the name of this film when I was talking about it to a friend, so ended up describing it as ' that film where they're in a library, and it's snowing, and some wolves are after them', which made it sound like some amazing Neil Gaiman-esque contemporary fantasy. She was a bit disappointed when she finally worked out what I was talking about.

War of the Worlds of course has the 'leave the splinter, it'll come out of its own accord when the body is ready'. Kind of expected Spielberg to wander on screen towards the end, point at the collapsing tripods and shout 'LIKE THE SPLINTER! DO YOU SEE!'

Kira said...

Heh, this is probably the first (and last) time THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and Neil Gaiman have been mentioned in the same context. Well done!

James, are you really in Cornwall? I have family near Helston.

Kira said...

Thanks, Cecil! Welcome to the blog.

james henry said...

I really am in Cornwall (in Falmouth - probably about ten miles from Helson?), although I seem to spend a third of my life on the train between here and London...