Plot Holes: Don't They Watch CNN?

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Feb. 26 2001 9:30 PM

Plot Holes: Don't They Watch CNN?

(Plot Holes is an occasional feature that points out narrative flaws in the movies. Warning: Sometimes it gives away crucial plot points, this time for Traffic, Cast Away, and Hannibal.)

These days, news networks beam images and stories around the globe 24 hours a day, and reporters routinely take up permanent residence on the front lawns of the latest unwitting celebrities. But the only place where no one seems to have noticed this is in the movies, where supposedly world-famous characters freely go about their business, unrecognized by the public and unmolested by a single newshound.

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Take the scene in Steven Soderbergh's otherwise adroit Traffic, in which the newly appointed U.S. drug czar (played by Michael Douglas) unexpectedly walks out of his inaugural press conference in the White House briefing room, inscrutably mumbling, "I can't do this." Douglas walks alone down the White House driveway and onto Pennsylvania Avenue (a highly unlikely move for a high-ranking government official, but let's not be too picky), and yet not one reporter or photographer thinks to follow him, clamoring for an explanation.

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In Cast Away, Tom Hanks plays officious Federal Express executive Chuck Noland, who spends four years marooned on a deserted island after a plane crash. We're shown a bevy of major newspaper and magazine clips indicating that upon his miraculous return to civilization, Noland has become the subject of intense media scrutiny, as one would certainly expect. (Two words: Darva Conger.)

Amazingly, though, upon Noland's return to his hometown, the most talked about man in Memphis, if not the world, can unassumingly hail a cab—whose driver apparently doesn't recognize him—and pay a long awaited visit to his former girlfriend without being staked out by a single camera crew or paparazzo. (Keep in mind that the supermarket tabloid the Star once published photos of Michael Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe pushing her grocery cart through a parking lot.) Similarly, when Noland meets the woman whose wing-emblazoned package he held onto throughout his ordeal, she somehow has the restraint not to shout out, "Oh my God! You're the guy from that island!"

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Even more preposterous is the premise of Hannibal, the thoroughly unredeemable Silence of the Lambs sequel: that a high profile American serial killer, especially one with as irresistible and media-friendly a story (and nickname) as Dr. Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter, could lead a very public life as a museum curator in Florence. OK, so he does have to wipe his prints off wine glasses after sipping chianti in outdoor cafés, but could a man on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list really lecture to packed rooms of scholars abroad? Granted, the Italians might not be keen on America's Most Wanted, but don't American tourists ever go to Florence? They do have Internet access in Italy, don't they? CNN, at least?

Even if you accept that Hannibal could fly under the radar so long as he's on foreign soil, there's no way to explain the movie's ending. After disemboweling an Italian cop, Hannibal makes his way back to the United States. And then, after sadistically murdering a Justice Department official and with a veritable battalion of law enforcement officers on his trail, Lecter—not only as recognizable as ever, but now very conspicuously minus his left hand—manages to board a commercial airplane without anyone so much as raising an eyebrow. (He also has the astonishing presence of mind—not to mention one-handed dexterity—to pack a snack in Tupperware, but that's another story.)

Interestingly, the only time in Hannibal that we see the media actively chasing a story, it's a story that the media would never actually chase: the reassignment of FBI agent Clarice Starling, which somehow generates a full-on, microphones-shoved-in-the-face "Agent Starling! Agent Starling!" media throng. Since when do FBI human resources issues make news? Come to think of it, can you name a single FBI agent besides Robert Hanssen? Agent Clarice Starling isn't a media celebrity; Agent Clarice Starling, as portrayed in an Oscar-winning performance by Jodie Foster, is. The residents of Hannibal-land might never watch TV or pick up a newspaper, but the filmmakers seem to take it for granted that they've all seen The Silence of the Lambs.

Jennifer Mendelsohn is a free-lance writer based in Baltimore. Visit her Web site at jennifermendelsohn.com.