Most of us are familiar with movie metaphors. We all know that the Narnia movies are full of Christian allegories, that Alien is bursting with rape symbolism, and so on.
But it's easy to forget that almost every movie has some kind of subtext. Writers love that shit, so they work it in wherever they can -- even if they're writing about a cyborg that punches people.
As a result, these half-coded messages turn up in movies you'd never expect.
What You Think You're Watching
Another superhero movie. This time, it's about a shy teenager named Peter Parker who discovers that a genetically engineered spider bite has given him superpowers.
We have jokingly alluded to this before, but Spider-Man really is all about semen. Or puberty. Whatever.
We tend to find Spider-Man easier to identify with than other superheroes. He's not an alien, like Superman, or the son of a major Norse god, like Thor, or a Canadian, like Wolverine. But that's not all we have in common with Peter Parker: His superhero birth-trauma story is one with which we're all painfully familiar -- puberty.
Those were dark years.
At the beginning of the 2002 Spider-Man movie, Peter Parker is timid, puny and closer to his aunt and uncle than to girls his age. That is until one day, when Peter is taking a picture of a pretty classmate, Mary Jane Watson. While gazing, enchanted, at her beauty, he's bitten by a spider. Peter reacts to this event by running home and staring at his bare torso in the mirror, confused.
The next day, Peter's body has changed, and he has developed muscles in new places. But that's just the beginning. Peter's body starts producing, uh, sticky white stuff.
This movie defines subtlety.
The audience watches with vague feelings of discomfort as this teenage boy spends a long time trying to figure out exactly how to produce the newly discovered fluid, nervously telling his aunt to go away when she knocks on the door.
If the superpowers-as-puberty message wasn't intentional in the recent movies, it sure was back when they were being developed. For most of Spider-Man's 49-year history, Peter Parker lacked the ability to shoot webs out of his own body (heh), instead relying on a pair of mechanical shooters that he built himself and attached to his wrists.
This new power of Spider-Man's is prominently featured in an unused script written by James Cameron in 1991. If you still have any doubts about the subtext that's going on here, check out this scene from Cameron's version, in which a newly spiderized Peter Parker wakes up in bed:
Something is causing the sheet to stick to him. He lifts it, revealing a sticky, white mass completely covering him, gluing him to his bedding. It is some silky substance webbing him into the covers. He cries out in dismay ... struggling to free himself from the gluey strands. Where did it come from? He notices his wrists. ... They are oozing a pearlescent white fluid from almost invisible slits about a quarter of an inch long.
See, it could have been much, much worse. It's pretty clear that this metaphor was a deliberate one. Either that, or Cameron has a few things that he needs to work through with his therapist.
What You Think You're Watching
A fun sci-fi romp through a near-future dystopian Detroit. Peter Weller plays a good cop who is murdered in the line of duty and is therefore the perfect candidate for inaugurating the RoboCop program. As the first RoboCop, RoboCop does many robocoppy things, including single-handedly robocopping the city's crime element, and robocopping corruption within the corporation that robocopped him.
Also, whatever you call this.
RoboCop is actually RoboJesus.
Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop, much like The Matrix, The Day the Earth Stood Still and other movies all strangely connected to Keanu Reeves, uses its hero as a metaphor for Jesus Christ. Let's start with the obvious: The story of Christ is that Jesus is alive, then he's wrongfully killed, then he's resurrected. The story of RoboCop goes like this: Good cop is alive:
Then he's wrongfully killed:
Then he's resurrected as RoboCop:
OK, now let's get into the iconic scene, in which Detroit policeman and RoboCop-to-be Alex Murphy is tortured and killed by a gang of bad guys. First, his arm is spread out in a cruciform position. Next, the gang leader blows off his right hand with a shotgun -- a modern, gore-amplified version of being nailed to a cross. Finally, he receives a deadly gunshot wound to the head (the crown of thorns, durrrr).
Not convinced? Near the end of the movie, in his final showdown with the crime gang that killed him, RoboCop is shown moving across ankle-deep water, almost as if he's walking on top of it.
"Ask and it will be given to you -- in bullets!"
Oh, and if you're still not convinced, director Verhoeven actually confirmed the whole theory in a 2010 interview, saying that he fully intended to portray Murphy as a Jesuslike figure.
"It is about a guy who gets crucified in the first 50 minutes, and then is resurrected in the next 50 minutes, and then is like the supercop of the world."
Verhoeven also pointed out that the character's somewhat un-Christlike violence was deliberate, since RoboCop was meant to be an American Jesus.
And we're sure Verhoeven will tell us what the fuck Basic Instinct was about one of these days.
What You Think You're Watching
A superhero movie based on the comic book character Iron Man. In this sequel, Tony Stark faces an enemy who has built his own version of the Iron Man suit, as well as a douchey rival weapons manufacturer.
Iron Man is the ultimate objectivist hero, fighting for private property rights against the vulturelike thieves known as "the government." In other words, Ayn Rand's wet dream.
We're legitimately sorry for that mental image.
In Rand's 1,200-page love letter to capitalism, Atlas Shrugged, you have a protagonist named Francisco d'Anconia, a brilliant businessman who runs his inherited family business. D'Anconia deliberately maintains an image as a worthless playboy in order to avoid the growing culture of government theft depicted in Rand's novel.
The protagonist of the Iron Man series is Tony Stark, a brilliant businessman who has also inherited his father's business. Until the end of the first Iron Man film, Stark deliberately maintains an image as a worthless playboy in order to hide his superhero identity.
Man, no one could have called that.
Then in Rand's novel we have Hank Rearden, another protagonist who got super-rich by inventing a valuable metal alloy whose formula he continues to keep secret. The government, sensing the metal's usefulness, tries to forcibly take the rights to Rearden's alloy away from him.
Stark also gains massive amounts power by inventing, among other things, a gold-titanium alloy for use in the Iron Man suit, whose design he continues to keep a secret. The government, sensing its usefulness, tries to take the rights to Stark's suit.
"My God, Stevens. Think of how many rednecks we could trick into believing in aliens with that thing."
In Atlas Shrugged, Rearden is hauled into court for breaking government regulations relating to his steel company. He gives a wildly popular speech in court about his property rights, telling his accusers: "I am fighting for my property!" He humiliates his opponents by winning over the crowd and concludes by telling them: "I work for nothing but my own profit."
In Iron Man 2, Stark is hauled into a Senate hearing, during which a senator demands he hand over his designs.
Stark responds by giving a wildly popular speech about his property rights, telling his accusers: "You want my property? You can't have it!" He humiliates his opponents by winning over the crowd and concludes by telling them: "I will serve this great nation at the pleasure of myself."
The bad guys, too, are uncannily similar. Atlas Shrugged's government lobbyist cozies up to the government in lieu of actual talent. Iron Man 2's main antagonist keeps trying to steal Stark's work with the help of substantial government contracts. There's also Iron Man's other nemesis in the film, Ivan Vanko, who is Russian. You know what else comes from Russia? Communism, that's what.
Plus, in a documentary on the DVD for the first film, Iron Man co-creator Stan Lee flat out says that he created a capitalist, commie-fighting, industrialist, weapon-manufacturing superhero as a way to deliberately antagonize hippie-leaning comic book fans. Anti-military sentiment was high back in the 60s, and Lee wanted to challenge himself by creating a character he could force them to like.
So many good things have come from fucking with comic book nerds.
The result is that Iron Man 2 would be identical to Atlas Shrugged, if only it contained no humor and concluded with the bad guys unanimously standing down after Stark gave a 25 minute speech.
"Your fancy orating touched my ticker."