Features and Columns · Movies

Plot ≠ Story: What We Mean When We Say A Movie is “Just Vibes”

Say it with me: plot is not the same thing as story!
Tenet Train Tracks
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on July 24th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores the phenomenon of the “vibes” movie.

If you’re a frequent flyer on Film Twitter (please seek help), you may remember a recent blip in the discourse where we all weighed in on the idea that some movies are “just vibes.”

I’ll show my full ass here: my initial reaction wasn’t pretty. At the time, it felt to me as though a film being “nothing but vibes” was a sneaky, backhanded way of categorizing certain films as”less than” their more narrative peers. That the vast majority of films being cited as “vibes” films were genre fare traditionally snubbed and delegitimized by Academy types also rubbed me the wrong way. At the time, it felt belittling. And in retrospect, it may well have been.

Something that can help in these types of situations is specificity. And the video essay below has care, consideration, and nuance in spades. The essay attempts to define a very specific kind of “vibe” film: action thrillers where momentum, imagery, and emotional sense take precedence over the plot. While Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is the loudest and most recent example, the essay goes out of its way to craft a taxonomy of what these films feel like and why they are valid and enjoyable despite plot and exposition not being the most important thing.

This essay offers a very helpful tool if you, like me, bristle at someone calling a chunk of your favorite films a “vibes” movie. Plot and story are not the same thing. The plot summary on a film’s Wikipedia page won’t give you a full-some picture of what makes the movie worth watching. Plot points can’t capture the gut punch of a well-timed dolly zoom. Or the way a character’s change in costume can tell you about their mental state. It doesn’t cover the needle drops, the production design, or the cinematography. You know … all the things that make a movie a movie.

Watch “TENET And A Celebration Of Vibes Movies”

Who made this?

This video essay decoding what is the most 1980s movie ever was co-written by Patrick (H) Willems and company.  You can find their own directorial efforts and their video essays on their channel here. You can also find Willems on Twitter here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.