Science has largely debunked the effectiveness of subliminal messages (that is, the practice of inserting flash frames that are too quick for the eye to see into video, with the intention of influencing the viewer's subconscious). But that hasn't stopped directors from slipping hidden messages between frames of their films. In the era of DVD, they know you'll pause and rewind to go find that shit.
Or you can let us save you the trouble.
#5. Black Swan -- The Club Scene Tells You the Whole Movie
In the 2010 ballet thriller Black Swan, Natalie Portman is Nina, a dancer who can't stand the pressure of playing the main role in Swan Lake and goes a little funny in the head. Before her breakdown, though, she has some fun times with fellow dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) when the two go to a rave party together and later have sex. We'll save you a trip to YouTube and show you the part of the previous sentence you immediately felt like looking up (the rave party, of course):
Did you get all that? OK, because that one-minute scene just told you the entire movie. The shots are too fast to see, but if you keep your finger firmly pressed on your pause button (or watch this handy frame-by-frame version), you can see weird stuff like Nina being stalked by the characters of the ballet, including the one she plays:
Well, hopefully the continuity person got fired over this mishap.
Or Nina dancing with the theater director, who isn't actually in the club at all. Adding to the confusion, he later morphs into Rothbart, Swan Lake's feathery villain. This represents his negative influence on Nina.
And also the fact that he sometimes dresses up like Cher.
Then Nina suddenly appears dancing as the Black Swan, which she doesn't do until the end of the film. We also see another scene from the end of the film -- the closing of the Swan Lake performance (although in a slightly more drug-induced version).
Then come some what-the-fuck disembodied eyes and faces from people in another dimension:
It's not a ballet movie until you've got some abject horror in there.
And then suddenly everyone in the room is Nina, and we get the wallpaper from Nina's bedroom, which tells you where we're all headed next. She's basically surrounded by different versions of herself from other points in the movie.
You also see Doc Brown running around in the back.
What does it all mean? Well, it's pretty much walking you through all of the twists that are coming later in the film. All of the plot and imagery squeezed into a single minute, and all the things Nina does here (getting intimate with people who aren't there, seeing her face on everyone, hallucinating the characters as real people) will happen again as the movie continues. In other words, the movie is telling us that Nina doesn't go off the rails because of the pressure of getting the part -- she was pretty much loony from the beginning.
#4. Psycho -- Hitchcock Sneaked in a Shot of the Mother's Corpse
At the end of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, there's a long monologue where a psychiatrist literally explains the whole movie, in case you took a long bathroom break after the shower scene: It turns out the main character is (spoilers) a psycho. Unassuming motel owner Norman Bates spent the past 109 minutes secretly killing people while dressed as his dead mother, but now that he's been arrested, he assures us he "wouldn't harm a fly." While speaking in his mother's voice. Yeah, that seems legit.
Now watch the ending again. Notice anything odd in that scene? Other than, you know, the big weirdo staring at you. Pay attention at around 1:30 into the clip -- as the scene fades to the image of a car being dragged out of a swamp (Norman put it there earlier in the movie, since it belonged to the shower lady), there's a brief moment where Norman's face looks like this:
Oh shit, is he turning into Ghost Rider?
What the hell is wrong with his teeth? Nothing, his mouth is closed. He just looks like that because there's a third image in there besides Norman's face and the rear of the car. Namely, this lady:
This is why it's important to moisturize.
Yep, the last shot of Norman is actually merged with his mother's skull, which was superimposed onto the film, symbolizing how his mother's personality now has complete control. We're assuming this is also Hitchcock's pre-emptive way of saying "Those sequels where Norman turns good are bullshit." And speaking of which, they even did this in the pointlessly faithful 1998 remake with Vince Vaughn -- you can see the mother's hair behind Norman as the image fades out.
Right, because Vince Vaughn's stare wasn't creepy enough as it was.
And speaking of slipping skulls into movies with psychopathic protagonists ...
#3. Beauty and the Beast -- Gaston's Gruesome Ending
As far as Disney villain deaths go, the one in Beauty and the Beast has to be one of the least definitive. Just two years earlier, we had seen Ursula from The Little Mermaid getting impaled and electrocuted, and a few years later Scar would end up being digested by hyenas in The Lion King. In this case, we see Beast's romantic rival, Gaston, fall down a chasm after a climactic fight at the top of Beast's castle, but we don't hear a "splat" at the end. Here's the scene, in case you're only familiar with the Super Nintendo version:
While we've previously speculated that Gaston could have ended up as a grisly decoration atop the castle's gates, it's perfectly possible that he landed on a large mountain of hay, or an anachronistic mattress factory. It's a goddamn cartoon -- maybe he sprouted wings from his butt and flew away.
Which is what happens in the Broadway version.
And yet somehow you know that's not true ... and that's because the movie's director subliminally told you so. In the 2002 DVD commentary, the screenwriter mentions that they wanted to make sure the children understood that Gaston wouldn't be showing up in any direct-to-VHS sequels, but they couldn't include a death scene because that would have been too morbid (has this guy ever seen a Disney film?). And so, as Gaston's face zooms past the camera (it's 31 seconds into the clip above), they put two frames where he has skulls in his eyes -- the international symbol for "that guy fucking died."
Either that or he wore bitchin' contact lenses.
Gaston's voice actor still insists that the character could be alive, but that's probably his house mortgage speaking. Despite his now confirmed death, Gaston did have a recurring role in the Mickey Mouse cartoon series House of Mouse, which just confirms our suspicion that the Disney Channel is a manifestation of hell.