You must have heard about plot devices in screenwriting lectures or interviews. What are they? In simple words it is something that advances your plot. In more commercial terms, it is something because of which audience would continue to watch your movie. There are many plot devices as such: Some of them are the foreshadowing, the deus ex machina, karma, and many more. While a lot of them have found a good amount of space in our films, There is one plot device, that was only scantly used.
A plot device that in most cases serve as the trigger for the main plot of a film. The beauty here is this Macguffin at most times would be irrelevant to the purpose or the plot. It might take its shape as an object or a desire of a particular actor or some action that would make the characters go on for a quest. So apart from being a trigger, Macguffin also serves as the quest, something the film and its characters take it really seriously but at most times would be of little importance to the viewers or the audience.
Macguffin in one way is just the start of a plot!
Let us consider Madras (2014). The ‘suvar’ (wall) in this film is what triggers whole of the events in the film. The two gangs literally in this case are in a quest for the ownership of the wall. This results in the conflicts between the two. But what follows is a revenge drama that has its share of friendship, rural politics, casteism and what not? This is what I meant by triggering the plot! Let me quote to you another example.
Take the film 8 Thottakkal (2017). In this film, the journey of the protagonist starts with him losing his gun. In the quest of finding his gun, he ends up in big trouble. Events that he never foresaw start to unfold. We come across bank robbery, conflicts between the robber gang, inner conflicts of the leader of the robber gang and many more! During the course, we as the audience at one point lose our attention of the lost gun also! See, macguffin isn’t the end of the plot! It is just the start.
Macguffin vanishes in the middle of a film!
As far as I know, the Coen Brothers have mastered the technique of the Macguffin to its fullest! Many of their films are apt examples of the usage of the Macguffin. Take the film Ladykillers (2004). The core of this film is that of a heist of a casino. Almost during the end of the second act in the film, the heist is complete! The third act is how they are going to get away with the money from the house that they are in! (watch the film for better inference). Here, the macguffin is the casino that triggers the events from the act 1 until act 2. It just completely vanishes after the act 2!
Another film by the Coen brothers, O brother where art thou (2000) is again an example of the Macguffin. This film is again about 3 men escaping from prison in order to get hold of a treasure. Here, the 3 men until the act 2 are into the planning of the heist and then it’s revealed that, there isn’t a treasure after all. What could the Act 3 be then? Do watch the film to know it. Here again, The Macguffin completely vanishes after completing its job of triggering the plot.
Macguffin isn’t just restricted to desired objects!
From the examples so far, one could notice that a Macguffin is something that might be one of the most significant cravings for the characters of a film but need not be of that value for the audience. Also, the Macguffin might soon vanish after triggering the plot for the events to solve on its own. But, can Macguffin take shape only in the form of props like mentioned above?
This again need not be the case. It could be a desire or a goal of a character in a film. It could even be a travel in a film. Take Tamasha (2015). The characters in this film quest for a journey of their life which ends almost in the middle of the film. What follows next is the after effects of the travel that were a part of. Here, the travel could be considered as the Macguffin. The scope of the Macguffin as mentioned in this article isn’t the most stretched one. The scope could be obviously stretched further more as this is filmmaking and there aren’t any forces that control us.