5 Great Movies With Mind-Blowing Symbolism You Didn't Notice

Most of the time, it's pretty easy to tell what a movie is about: Lincoln is about Lincoln. The Hangover is about some dudes who get a hangover. Tree of Life is about ... you know, things. However, sometimes a movie you've seen a million times will convince you it's about something very simple, when, in fact, there was a hidden meaning all along that the director intentionally put there, but for some reason didn't want you to find. For instance ...

#5. Aliens is a Metaphor For the Vietnam War

20th Century Fox

James Cameron's Aliens, the godfather of sci-fi action movies, is about as straightforward as a film gets (except for the part where the aliens are actually giant penises, but that was already there when Cameron came in). It's just a simple story about a bunch of American soldiers sent to a faraway land where they are led to their senseless deaths by incompetent leaders. What could that possibly be a metaphor for?

Karsten Bidstrup/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Yeah, according to the Alien: Quadrilogy box set special features, everything in the movie is designed to trigger one huge Vietnam War flashback ... and considering the movie came out just 11 years after the war ended, it wouldn't have been that far from the audience's mind. First, we have the dropship, which was modeled after U.S. combat aircraft of the era:

20th Century Fox, Staff Sgt. Phil Schmitten/US Army
After mating them with giant crabs.

Then we have the general design of the soldiers: Their weapons, outfits, and even the designs they paint on their gear are based on the ways that American soldiers used to decorate theirs during the war.

20th Century Fox, military.com

20th Century Fox, eastofeton.wordpress.com
"This platoon has a minimum 15 pieces of flair."

But the similarities aren't just cosmetic; they are also all over the plot. Like in Vietnam, the technologically superior soldiers soon find themselves overtaken by an enemy that tends to sneak up on them in the dark. Obviously, Cameron isn't saying that the Vietnamese were penis-headed rape monsters -- it's more about the attitude of the soldiers towards them, which goes from "I'm the ultimate badass!" to "Game over, man!" over the course of the conflict.

Then there's the way the movie portrays figures of authority: They're all corrupt, useless morons, basically. The Weyland-Yutani Corporation, like many major companies during Vietnam, is putting their soldiers in jeopardy just to make a profit. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Gorman, is not only elitist (he chooses not to eat with his men, which pisses off Hicks), but laughably incompetent: He gets himself knocked out during the very first fight, and Ripley has to rescue everyone. This is most likely based on what most people think of American officers during Vietnam: that they got a bunch of young Americans killed without ever actually getting their hands dirty.

20th Century Fox
The scene where Paul Reiser does an impression of Nixon for 10 minutes should have tipped us off.

It's probably safe to say that Cameron doesn't think Vietnam ended too well, considering how the colony on LV-426 is engulfed in a thermonuclear explosion at the end. And those poor marines didn't even get to do any surfing.

#4. X-Men is All About Gay Rights

20th Century Fox

If we asked you what the X-Men movies are a metaphor for, a lot of you would probably say "growing knives out of your hands and stabbing people." Others would point out that the comic was originally about the 1960s civil rights movement and racism, so the movies must be, too. That's close, but no cigar: The X-Men films are actually one big metaphor for gay rights. Says who? Well, the director, for starters. And both screenwriters for X2. And Magneto himself, Ian McKellen. All of whom are gay.

Ferdaus Shamim / Wireimage / Getty
The shirt was proof enough, sir. But thank you.

Now, you probably noticed some of the more obvious clues in the movies but took them as isolated jokes -- like the scene in X2 where Iceman "comes out" to his parents and they ask him "Have you tried not being a mutant?" or the one in X-Men: First Class where Beast is in a similar situation and says "You didn't ask, so I didn't tell." Or, you know, that slightly homoerotic scene with young Magneto and Professor X in the same movie.

20th Century Fox
Pick one.

But those are just stray moments where the metaphor-frosting got a bit lumpy on top of the storytelling cake -- and let us tell you, this is one super gay cake. Let's go through the similarities between mutation and homosexuality: Both "manifest in adolescence" (in the first movie, the first time Rogue realizes she's a mutant is also the first time she kisses a boy). Both are controversial social issues that lead to scare-mongering politicians talking about "saving our children":

20th Century Fox
We're not sure that "moon" plan has been properly thought through.

In fact, William Stryker, the baddie from X2, also represents homophobia: He sent his mutant son to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters thinking it was a "Pray Away the Powers" camp where his son could be cured, but Xavier responds by pointing out that "mutation is not a disease," again mirroring arguments surrounding homosexuality. When Stryker finds out that his son has been going to a mansion filled with fabulous people dressed in totally killer outfits (another similarity), he gets extremely pissed. Some fans have taken this whole thing about as well as Stryker did -- to the point where the screenwriters stepped in and confirmed that, yep, the X-Men are about gay rights.

Can we pay this guy to come to our comments section, too?

And finally, we leave you with this scene from the first X-Men movie where Magneto kidnaps the anti-mutant Senator Kelly and forces him to undergo a procedure that involves a machine that looks like this:

20th Century Fox

Magneto making a face like this:

20th Century Fox

And a lot of milky white fluidy stuff that spurts out the machine's tip:

20th Century Fox
OK, that may not actually be part of the symbolism.

#3. Inception is Actually About Filmmaking

Warner Bros.

For about a year, like 30 percent of the Internet was all theories about Inception, but while we were busy debating things like whether the movie is a dream or whether Batman faked his death in the end, there was a far simpler hidden meaning we never noticed: The whole damn picture is secretly a metaphor for movie-making. Yeah, that's right: Inception in/cepted you.

The evidence is kind of undeniable. First off, every member of the "Dream Hacker" squad has a role that corresponds with a role on a movie set: Eames (Tom Hardy) is the actor, because he can literally change faces -- sometimes while sitting in front of an actor's vanity mirror:

Warner Bros.
"Where the fuck are my hookers and blow?"

Ariadne (Ellen Page) is the screenwriter, because she designs the dreams; Saito (Ken Watanabe) is a studio executive, because he's paying for the whole thing; Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the director, the one with vision, the guy who can bring the whole thing together. Hell, he even looks like Christopher Nolan.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
But, to be perfectly honest, all white people look the same to us.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, Arthur, is the producer, the guy who knows how it all works (that's why he speaks almost exclusively in expository dialogue), and Yusuf (good ol' Dileep Rao) is the special effects guy, because most of you forgot he existed and he probably never got his share of the bounty. It's no mistake that the coolest special effects moment in the movie only happens because of something he did, and the movie specifically points out that he gets no credit for it:

Warner Bros.
The line is "Did you guys see ... oh."

Also, the scene where the characters scout the dream layout before putting their plan into action is modeled off how location scouts for movies work. And did you ever notice how the dreams in the movie don't function like real dreams? They're all based on movie-making tricks: The "infinite staircase," for example, is an optical illusion.

Warner Bros.
"In a real dream the staircase looks like that because, fuck you, it just does. Also, you're naked and late for 7th period Algebra."

Finally, Dom Cobb and the Inceptors' mission is remarkably similar to the mission of a moviemaker: they want to change the way someone (in this case, Cillian Murphy's character) thinks about the world -- like any artist. Even the strategies they discuss (focusing on positive emotion instead of negative emotion, and not "disturbing the subconscious" by changing the rules out of nowhere) are movie-making tactics: You got to establish rules for your movie universe, and you can't break them, or the audience chases you with motorcycles and stabs you to death.

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