The Top 10 Most Tangible Plot Devices. Ever

October 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Thanks to Christopher Nolan, mainstream cinema is now obsessed with creating plots around ideas and concepts. Inception is a fine example of this, as the film is largely set in the characters’ dreams. I thought I’d create a list celebrating those anti-MacGuffins – tangible objects that manage to drive the plots of certain films. I focused on tangible objects rather than sentient beings, hence the absence of obvious candidates like the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park or the aliens of, err, Aliens

1. Edward Scissorhands – Edward Scissorhands’ scissorhands
Tim Burton uses a bit of creative license to offer an alternative take on the Abu Hamza story. Rather than having hooks for hands, Johnny Depp’s eponymous Edward instead has scissors. Edward is taken in by a kind lady and falls in love with her teenage daughter. Cue themes of alienation and despair, etc.

2. Titanic – Iceberg
A huge “unsinkable? ship sails towards America as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet get in on for two insufferable hours, before colliding with a big fuckoff iceberg and sinking.

3. Back to the Future – DeLorean
Pretty fundamental to the BTTF trilogy I’d say, as it allowed Marty McFly to zip through time to 1955 to almost cop off with his mum; to 2015 to glide through Hill Valley on a hoverboard; and all the way back to 1885 for some japery in the Old West.



4. The Bridge on the River Kwai – Bridge
A bunch of British prisoners of war marched to a Japanese prison camp during WWII and are made to work on the construction of a bridge over the River Kwai to carry a new railway line to invade Burma.

5. Sideways – Red Wine
In Alexander Payne’s masterpiece wine-aficionado Paul Giamatti and his BFF Thomas Haden Church take a road trip to Santa Barbara fuelled by glasses (and a barrel) of the red stuff. But not Merlot. As David Brent once mused: “El vino did flow…?

6. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York – Talkboy… Did someone say product placement?
Macaulay Culkin accidently boards a flight to New York after losing his family at the airport because he was fiddling with the batteries in his Talkboy. Culkin uses the device’s voice manipulation function to book a room at the exclusive Plaza Hotel, and then once more to scare off suspicious hotel staff.

7. Schindler’s List –Schindler’s list (obvs…)
German businessman Oskar Schindler saves over a thousand Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. Almost all the people on his list survive.

8. Toy Story – Toys
I don’t think much explanation is required here. Six-year-old Andy’s anthropomorphic toys come to life and embark on a life-changing adventure as they attempt to escape from the clutches of next-door-neighbour-from-Hell Sid.

9. Citizen Kane – Rosebud
*Spoiler alert* (though given that the film is over 70 years old and has long been heralded as the greatest film of all time, there’s really no excuse for not knowing what Kane’s elusive Rosebud is…) Kane’s dying word “Rosebud? is the granddaddy of all tangible plot devices, single-handedly driving the plot as a reporter attempts to solve its mystery. (FYI, Rosebud was Kane’s sledge…)

10. Bernard’s Watch – Time-stopping watch
Well it’s not a film, but this is my list, ergo my rules. Anyway if I lived in a Bizarro world in which I was armed with a Hollywood budget and box office clout, I’d get Bernard’s Watch: The Movie made. A middle-aged postman gives Bernard a “magic watch? which stops time. Leaving the debate as to whether this constitutes as grooming to one side, the watch allowed Bernard to stop time and sort out everyday problems like burglaries and buying extra time to finish his homework. He seldom used it to do anything interesting with, mind.

David Lintott is on Twitter and blogs at Donkey Rhubarb.