Chekhov’s gun or, in other words, Chekhov’s rifle is one of the most interesting terms in the art of cinema. It’s not hard to guess that it is named after the Russian writer Anton Chekhov. But what exactly is Chekhov’s gun? In what situations is it used? We have compiled all these for you.
Every person has heard the following phrase at least once in some part of their life:
The gun hanging on the wall always goes off at the end of the play.Chekhov
This is one of the most crucial sentences Anton Chekhov said during a discussion on storytelling with French novelist Guy de Maupassant. With this definition, the Russian writer emphasizes the importance of the details in the story and their function in the story. It is from this sentence that the term Chekhov’s gun or Chekhov’s rifle emerged.
Since its inception, this principle has been used countless times by many storytellers as an effective narrative tool. It has also found its way into stories as a rebuttal. Let’s get to the details…
What is Chekhov’s Gun or Chekhov’s Rifle?
In short, Chekhov’s gun principle describes the principle that every element in a story or a movie should have a function and that all unimportant elements should be removed from the narrative.
Since the name of the principle refers to a gun or a rifle, story applications do not necessarily involve a gun or a rifle. Of course, there are also works that apply this principle one-to-one. The most important point of the principle is not to add an unnecessary element to the story. This element does not have to be interesting.
For example, we can make this principle more understandable for you with the nail in the recent Netflix movie A Quiet Place (2018). In one part of the movie, we see a nail sticking out of the staircase leading down to the basement. In a way, the emergence of the nail is a prelude to Chekhov’s principle of the weapon. In the key scene of the movie, we see the nail sticking into the character’s foot. So that simple nail scene is actually not unnecessary. It has an important place in the narrative.
Chekhov’s Gun can also take place outside of event sequences that begin and end within a single movie. For example, it can be a reference between Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Kill Bill (2003). The knife hidden in the boot is an example. In Kill Bill, when The Bride takes that knife out of her boot, it is not clear where it came from, but the fact that it is there has a purpose. That purpose is the reference to Reservoir Dogs.
Chekhov’s Weapon Examples
From animation to thrillers, science fiction movies to pop culture TV series, there are many examples of this principle.
Our first example is Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005). In the movie, everything that is told in the first half of the movie makes sense in the second half, especially the character Ra’s Al Ghul.
In the cult movie The Fifth Element (1997), Corbin Dallas’ matchbox is almost empty in the first scene. However, the last match left in the box will save lives at the end of the movie.
In the prologue of James Bond movies, all the gadgets that the character Q gives to Bond are actually an example of Chekhov’s weapon. These devices become important at some point in the story. For example, if Q shows a gun that works with fingerprints, we know that in the future someone else will try to fire the gun but will not succeed. Another interesting fact for you is that there has never been a device that Q mentioned that was not used in the movie.
Director Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007) are great examples of this principle. Much of what appears in the first half of both films becomes important to the plot in the second half.
Let’s continue with popular culture. In Iron Man (2008), Tony Stark creates a device called the Arc Reactor to protect his heart from shrapnel. He then asks Pepper Potts to wear the updated device and asks her to throw away an old one. However, Pepper encases the old device in glass and gives it back. The reactor in the glass becomes very important in the next episode, after the new reactor is extracted from Tony’s chest.
In the sixth movie of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010), all the gifts left to Harry, Ron and Hermonie by Albus Dumbledore, who died in the previous movie, are an example of Chekhov’s weapon principle. Because all gifts will be used in critical situations later in the movie.
There is also a TV series example. In Breaking Bad, Hector Salamanca appears in the second season as a minor character. But by the fourth season, we learn that Salamanca is Gus Fring’s archenemy. As a result, Salamanca becomes Walter’s trump card against Gus.
There are countless examples of the principle of Chekhov’s gun or Chekhov’s rifle. Many storytellers prefer to use this principle in order to strengthen their story and keep the excitement high. If you have any examples that catch your attention, don’t forget to leave a comment below.