MacGuffin is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator at the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. Many or multiple MacGuffins are identified as plot coupons.

History

The name “MacGuffin” was first coined by the English screenwriter Angus MacPhail, though it was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s, but the concept pre-dates the term. The World War I era actress Pearl White used weenie to identify the object.

Alfred Hitchcock

The director and producer Alfred Hitchcock popularized the term “MacGuffin” and the technique with his 1935 film The 39 Steps, an early example of the concept. Hitchcock again explained this term in 1939 lecture at Columbia University in New York. Interviewed in 1966 by Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock explained the term using the same concept.

Other Contributions

George Lucas describes “MacGuffin” on the commentary soundtrack to the 2004 DVD of Star Wars: A New Hope as the main driving force to the movie… the object of everybody’s search.

Filmmaker and drama writing theorist Yves Lavinder, says that ‘a MacGuffin is a secret that motivates the villains.’ Lavinder also says that a MacGuffin denotes any justification for the external conflictual premises of a work.

Examples of MacGuffin

Examples of MacGuffin in films include the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Special Edition) the NOC list in Mission: Impossible, the Rabbit’s Foot in Mission: Impossible III and the famous the Heart of the Ocean necklace in Titanic.

In both film and literature, the Holy Grail is often used as a MacGuffin. For example the television set in Wu Ming’s novel 54; while the Hellmouth in Buffy: Demons of the Hellmouth (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) has been described as a kind of topological MacGuffin.

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