MacGuffin

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A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is "a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction".[1] The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is. In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot. Common examples are money, victory, glory, survival, a source of power, or a potential threat, or it may simply be something entirely unexplained.

The MacGuffin is common in films, especially thrillers. Usually, though not always, the MacGuffin is the central focus of the film in the first act, and then declines in importance as the struggles and motivations of characters play out. It may come back into play at the climax of the story, but sometimes the MacGuffin is actually forgotten by the end of the film.

Multiple MacGuffins are sometimes referred to as plot coupons.[2][3]

Contents

History and use

The director and producer Alfred Hitchcock popularized both the term "MacGuffin" and the technique, with his 1935 film The 39 Steps, an early example of the concept.[4] Hitchcock explained the term "MacGuffin" in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: "[We] have a name in the studio, and we call it the 'MacGuffin'. It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers".[5]

Interviewed in 1966 by Fran├žois Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock illustrated the term "MacGuffin" with this story:[6]

Hitchcock related this anecdote in a television interview for Richard Schickel's documentary The Men Who Made the Movies. Hitchcock's verbal delivery made it clear that the second man has thought up the MacGuffin explanation as a roundabout method of telling the first man to mind his own business. According to author Ken Mogg, screenwriter Angus MacPhail, a friend of Hitchcock's, may have originally coined the term.[7]

On the commentary soundtrack to the 2004 DVD release of Star Wars, writer and director George Lucas describes R2-D2 as "the main driving force of the movie ... what you say in the movie business is the MacGuffin ... the object of everybody's search".[8] In TV interviews, Hitchcock defined a MacGuffin as the object around which the plot revolves, but, as to what that object specifically is, he declared, "the audience don't care".[9] Lucas, on the other hand, believes that the MacGuffin should be powerful and that "the audience should care about it almost as much as the dueling heroes and villains on-screen".[10]

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