If there is a rifle hanging on the wall in chapter one, someone had better use it by the end of the story. So said Russian physician and dramatist, Anton Chekhov, in the late nineteenth century. Considered one of history’s greatest writers of short fiction, Chekhov stated that every element in a narrative must be necessary, and anything that is not relevant be removed. This dramatic principle, which lends itself to foreshadowing, turns a seemingly innocuous object or event shown early in the narrative, into a significant or even pivotal event later in the story.
A second, unrelated principle says give the audience the ending they expect, but give it to them in an unexpected way. What does that mean? The movie Straw Dogs nicely illustrates the unexpected-expected ending, as well as the principle of Chekhov’s gun. Early in the story, there are literally two rifles hanging on the wall over the fireplace, and a short time later the protagonist, with the help of the antagonist, actually hangs a huge bear trap near the rifles (hint, hint). The guns are antiques, and the trap is added to enhance the faux-rustic motif of the newly remodeled “cabin.”
Now, being familiar with the principle of Chekov’s gun, and also anticipating the expected but unexpected ending, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how the climax of the movie was going to play out, and when it finally did, I was close, but I was also way off. In other words, foreshadowing enabled me to predict the ending, but it occurred in a most unpredictable way. I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but I will say the antagonist got what he deserved (I groaned in horror), and the protagonist was redeemed (fist pump). Is this not how all good-versus-evil stories should end?
If you’ve seen the movie, let me know what you think (but be careful not to give away the ending), and if you haven’t seen it, go watch it, then come back and leave a comment.