#2. Viggo Mortensen's Gangster Movie Tattoo Renders the Plot Moot
In Eastern Promises, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) is an undercover cop posing as a tattooed driver and body disposer for the Russian mafia in London. In both the film and reality, a Russian prison tattoo is an elaborate code that tells one's entire criminal history. The film depicts Nikolai's rise from a lowly errand boy to the boss of the mob, which doesn't make a lot of sense, considering ...
What the Tattoos Really Say:
... his tattoos identify him as the boss of the mob right from the beginning, which should probably have gotten him murdered for his gall and ignorance as soon as he took his shirt off with someone else in the room.
"Yeah, you're cute. We'll keep you if you do a little dance for us."
In the creation of Eastern Promises, director David Cronenberg said his team consulted a documentary on Russian prison tattoos called The Mark of Cain. From this documentary, we learn just about everything we need to know to read Nikolai's criminal history. For example, the church cupolas on Nikolai's back signify the number of convictions he has:
"Those GBH incidents are Pope-approved."
And a skull he has is like this guy's, and he says it means he's been convicted of murder:
Russian mob guys have a lot of respect for fat goths.
But what about that giant crucifix on his chest, the centerpiece of the entire ink ensemble? According to the guy in the documentary, it means he is a "Thief-in-the-Law," which in Russian mob slang makes him basically the Godfather of the Russian mafia. That should be news to the panel of mob bosses who employ him as a lowly chauffeur who snips the fingers off of dead bodies. How did they miss that one?
As if that wasn't bad enough, Nikolai has another, even more ill-advised tattoo that can be seen here when they do a close-up on his wrist as he's stabbing the shit out of some guy.
What could be worse than falsely pulling rank on a panel of mob bosses in a closed room? The phrase on his wrist reads "Don't trust, don't fear, don't ask." What's that mean? Not much, except it's the title of a pop song by Russian pop duo t.A.T.u.
There's nothing wrong with showing your love for fake lesbians.
#1. In Legion, God Is Bad at Meaningful Tattoos
In Legion, God grows tired of mankind's warring and decides, for some reason seemingly against His usual values, to abort some lady's baby. The Archangel Michael, who still has hope for humanity, has to fight off hordes of baby-killing angels using submachine guns to make some kind of point to God.
"I'm gonna beat some peace into you, human."
We're not going to pretend that the details of the plot make a whole lot of sense, but the point is that God and Michael's entire beef with humanity is that we just keep invading each other's countries and stealing each other's land, and God is sick of it. Michael's body is covered in mystical angel tattoos written in a made-up angel language called Enochian that he says are instructions for the baby's protector.
What the Tattoos Really Say:
Unsurprisingly, Michael has Bible passages written on his chest. But oddly, given the circumstances, it's a part of the Bible where God is killing some dudes for not killing enough people or stealing enough land.
It also provides instructions on how to put a shirt on over wings.
The tattoos are in a made-up language, but it's also one that's really easy to decode. The code first appears in the title sequence scrawled across the letters of the title, and here we can see that the so-called celestial language of the angels is just English with a basic character substitution, reading backward from bottom to top.
The text in the title is apparently supposed to be a quote from Psalms 34:11, "Come, ye children, listen to me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord." Actually, due to a bad cut-and-paste job from the graphics department, it actually says, "Children come ye child will teach I will the fear of the you the fear," which does kind of confuse the message.
So what about Michael's tats? They're not actually instructions on how to protect a baby, as Michael said they were. They don't so much as tell him how to change a diaper. It actually reads, "For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from among the host, until they were consumed." It's Deuteronomy 2:15 from the American King James Bible. Because everyone knows the real Bible is American.
"And verily the car did explode, and Moses walked away with nary a backward glance, for he was badass."
This passage says that God smote some of Moses' men for not invading the Holy Land as commanded. And it's actually the exact opposite of what Michael said humanity needed. In fact, Michael says specifically in the movie, "My love, my hope for mankind, was no less than His. But I have watched you trample that gift. I have watched you kill each other over race and greed ... waging war over dust and rubble and the words in old books." Yup, Michael is all New Testament and shit. He's all about love, not war, which is strange coming from a guy whose neck tattoo reads "BURN."
"-ing love. I'm a massive Elvis fan."
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