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 ...
Aliens is a Metaphor For the Vietnam War
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?
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:
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.
"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.
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.
X-Men is All About Gay Rights
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.
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.
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":
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:
Magneto making a face like this:
And a lot of milky white fluidy stuff that spurts out the machine's tip:
OK, that may not actually be part of the symbolism.
Inception is Actually About Filmmaking
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:
"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.
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:
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.
"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.
Related: Dreams: Inception vs. Reality
No Country for Old Men is About Retirement
No Country for Old Men is a film about drug deals, sawed-off shotguns, and bad haircuts. So, why is it called that instead of something more appropriate, like, say, Anton Chigurh Kills Everyone? Because, despite being a little too violent for your grandma to watch, this is actually a movie about retirement.
"This pension plan is bullshit."
For starters, freaking everyone in this film is retired or on their way to retirement. There's Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a "retired" welder and Vietnam veteran who spends his leisure moments hunting. There's Llewelyn's wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdoland), who works at Wal-Mart ... until Llewelyn comes home one day with a satchel full of money and tells her she's now "retired." There's Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), a "retired Army colonel" hired to locate the aforementioned satchel full of money.
Also retired: his hairline.
The primary antagonist of the film, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), isn't retired, but his "prime activity consists in 'retiring' or 'killing' other living beings." You know, like a Blade Runner, except one after retirees instead of Replicants. That's the reason why Chigurh cannot be stopped, never rests, and is seemingly unkillable. His job is only over once there are no retired people left in the country.
All this time, he was just working for AARP.
Finally there's Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), the one law enforcement officer in the history of movies to announce to everyone that he's retiring soon and survive the film. Even then, Sheriff Bell isn't much help -- he's too slow to keep up at Chigurh's modern pace and never catches him.
As for the title of the movie, it's taken from the opening line of Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats, a poem that describes an aging man as "a dying animal" and "a tattered coat upon a stick." It's Yeats' personal ode to the end of things: old age, futility, and death. Keeping that in mind helps clear up a couple of scenes that probably made you wonder what the fuck they were about -- like the one where Sheriff Bell visits his old uncle (another retiree), who lives alone, surrounded by cats and drinking stale coffee.
Uncle Ellis is one of two potential futures for Sheriff Bell at that point, the other being "getting air-gunned through the forehead." In the end he decides to retire anyway, and in the last scene of the movie Bell asks his wife Loretta if she'd care to join him for a horseback ride. Her reply? "Lord, no, I'm not retired."
"Fine, I'll 'go riding' alone then. Can I borrow your hand cream?"
And while we're talking about the Coen Brothers slipping stuff by you ...
The Big Lebowski is About (Metaphorical) Castration
The Big Lebowski is the Citizen Kane of movies, and a good lot of you could probably recite the entire screenplay from memory. In that case, you've probably noticed that the word "man" appears more times in this movie than the N-word in a Tarantino film -- and there's a reason for that. According to Rob Ager's film analysis, this Coen Brothers caper about White Russians and bowling also dabbles heavily in "the decline of the masculine male" ... or, you know, "castration." Say, remember the giant scissors in the Dude's trippy dream?
The scene also doubles as a recurring nightmare for lefties.
And the ones in Maude Lebowski's studio?
That's such a recurrent image because all the male characters in this movie have been castrated, in a way. Walter (John Goodman), for example, despite his zeal for firearms and militarism, is still a servant to an ex-wife who has clearly moved on from their failed marriage all the way to Honolulu. Not only is Walter wholeheartedly dedicated to this pathetic role, but any evidence of the contrary -- i.e., his Catholicism -- terrifies him.
That's why he treats his ex's dog better than anyone treats Donny.
The "Big" Lebowski, meanwhile, who clearly likes to present himself as the most powerful man in the movie, is literally powerless from the waist down. He's married to a trophy wife he can't control, is living off an allowance provided by his daughter Maude, and even his prior wife appears to have been the true wealth and power behind the Lebowski fortune. In the original screenplay, his last words after Walter drops him on the floor are "You bullies! You and these women! You won't leave a man his fucking balls!"
Another deleted line had him complimenting Walter's surprisingly shapely legs.
The rest of the men in the film helplessly squabble among themselves, trying to outdo each other's masculinity by urinating on each other's property, brandishing swords and pistols ... or literally threatening each other with castration. Meanwhile, others are so weak that they can prey only on the young and the helpless, be they teenage brats or 8-year-olds. Hell, even the legendary Arthur Digby Sellers would probably be dead without the care of his housekeeper Pilar.
If you ever wondered why this guy is in the movie, there's your answer.
In contrast, the women in this film are so powerful that they control the entire story. Bunny's "kidnapping" sets motion to the entire plot, and Maude is the one who helps the Dude solve it. Whether they like it or not. In short, the women in The Big Lebowski are veritable goddesses ...
For once, a Julianne Moore character that doesn't cry.
... and the men are losers who can only be measured by how intact their nuts are.
Which makes this the second most complex movie dick joke, next to The Sound of Music.
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For more film meanings you may have missed, check out 6 Famous Movies With Mind-Blowing Hidden Meanings and 5 Cryptic Movie Tattoos (They Didn't Think We'd Translate).
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Harmless Creatures That Are Now Terrorizing Humans.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn why Han Solo is actually Jesus Christ.
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