The MacGuffin

The MacGuffin

Picture of Matt Sully

Matt Sully

Long-time movie fanatic, Matt has written several screenplays, produced / directed / edited short films, and has a written a historical fiction novel entitled Father's Creed. He's working on his second novel, a sci-fi thriller called Ghost City. Follow his chronicles as a new novelist: https://mattcsully.com

In The Goonies, everyone is seeking a long lost treasure. It’s the elusive and mysterious reward which drives the plot and adventure, more generically known in fiction as The MacGuffin.

Pearl White, a silent-film era actress, referred to all sought-after objects as the Weenie. The Weenie could be anything from a roll of film to a rare diamond or specific items like the Holy Grail or The Maltese Falcon.

Though even a Weenie could become this object of desire, a different term thankfully emerged in the 1930s. Gaining traction thanks to Alfred Hitchcock, English screenwriter, Angus MacPhail (who often worked with Hitchcock), described the MacGuffin as an object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and motivation of the characters, but otherwise insignificant.

Hitchcock felt the MacGuffin was the thing spies were after but was inconsequential to the audience. Filmmaker Yves Lavandier claims it is a secret that motivates the villain, while the protagonist may not care for the object as much as the predicament it has caused. George Lucas argues that not only should the hero and villain care about the MacGuffin, but the audience should as well. Lucas said R2-D2 is the MacGuffin of Episode 4. The ark is the MacGuffin in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Whatever it is, the MacGuffin’s initially perceived insignificance is no more. It has fueled the creativity of filmmakers for decades. It has sent heroes running into danger and villains on murderous rampages. The MacGuffin has sent us to the edge of our seats and resolved adventures with its dramatic recovery. The MacGuffin is every new movie we hope is as good as its trailer, and right now, the MacGuffin is the theater itself, a treasure we long for once again.

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