5 Classic Movie Quotes (Where We Totally Ignore The Context)
Pop culture quotes give us the means to express ourselves when we're too dumb or lazy to come up with our own mouth-sounds. But there's a good chance you're misusing some of your favorite references. Furthermore, it's possible -- nay, probable -- that your Borat impression could use some work. But don't worry; we're here to set the record straight.
"I'll Be Back." (The Terminator)
"I'll be back" is the trademark line of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He frequently used it on the campaign trail, as governor of California, and it even appears as the last line of a lighthearted "Visit California" tourism commercial. Schwarzenegger informs prospective state visitors "You'll be back," with such an extreme wink that it's a wonder he didn't sprain an eye.
The Real Meaning:
"I'll be back" is what the Terminator says to a policeman before leaving the station to fetch a car and then driving it straight back through the door, crushing the dude to death. He then butchers 17 other hapless police officers before attempting to murder a defenseless woman. It's just ... it's a bizarre choice to go cutesy with, is what we're saying.
The whole point of the line is that it's a psychopathically polite thing to say right before you murder the holy crap out of a cop-fort. It left the audience thinking "Oh man, if this cop only knew how screwed he is!"
Using it to promote Californian tourism is a weird call. Is Arnold saying he's going to murder you if you come to his state? Wait, no, the line in the commercial is "You'll be back." He's saying that you are welcome to crash your car through the border and go on an unstoppable killing spree the next time you visit California. That seems like an unwise precedent to set, though it will probably draw in the crowds.
"I Drink Your Milkshake!" (There Will Be Blood)
It's been a decade since There Will Be Blood came out, and every triumphant dickhead in the movie-watching world started crowing "I drink your milkshake!" at every minor victory. It's the classy way to say "In your face!" It helps if you get right up in someone's face when you say it.
The Real Meaning:
"I drink your milkshake" isn't a cool, old-timey burn. It was entirely specific to the scenario in that film. It's a way to explain the peculiarities of oil drilling as it pertains to drainage. It derives from a 1924 Congressional transcript regarding the Teapot Dome Scandal, a scandal as boring as the milkshake metaphor is weird.
When you decontextualize that line, it's nonsense. It has nothing to do with victory, or getting back at someone, or sinking that sweet three-pointer. You might as well yell, "How are those tulip investments?!" Which would be a sick burn in the Dutch Golden Age after the crash of the tulip bubble, but right now it's nothing but gibberish. The only thing "I drink your milkshake" means is that you're finished explaining a technical scam oft-employed in old-timey oil drilling ... but try telling that to the guy shouting at you over your Xbox.
"I Am The One Who Knocks!" (Breaking Bad)
Breaking Bad has it all: solid performances, good writing, methamphetamine, saggy underpants. That's everything! There are a lot of quotable moments in the show, but Walter White's fierce "I am the one who knocks!" is among the most enduring. It's the moment when Walter truly transforms from humble nerd in over his head into Big Boss Heisenberg. Plus, it's a crazy badass thing to say.
The Real Meaning:
Few people consider the context around the line. Walter isn't giving his big speech to a crime boss or a gangbanger come to challenge his meth empire. He's angrily berating his wife. He's telling her "I'm a big ol' tough guy! People are scared of me! Honest!" And even though he does succeed in scaring her, scaring your mild-mannered wife who's only guilty of caring for your well-being isn't exactly a "crazy badass" move.
Also not badass: Having to inform people of what a badass you are. If you know karate, you'll demonstrate it. Possibly while wearing a sweet headband. Telling people "I know karate!" will only get a laugh. It's meant to be a moment showing Walter's delusion. He thinks he's a crime boss, when really he comes off as a pathetic, mean suburbanite. The series is full of stuff like that, like the time he yelled at a cop and got maced for his trouble, or the time he grabbed his nuts while quitting his car-washing job.
Of course, he does eventually turn into the crazy badass he pretends to be, but it ain't at this moment.
"What We've Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate" (Cool Hand Luke)
This is most often used to refer to an impasse wherein two people won't budge on their positions. A U.S. District Court Judge used this line in an official ruling, in which he meant that the Republican and Democratic parties were not cooperating with each other for a potential schedule, and so was reprimanding their dogged obstinance. It's also -- unless you think the abusive prison boss who originally said it was taking conflict resolution classes -- probably not what the line means.
The Real Meaning:
It's pretty clear that this line isn't about Luke failing to understand what is expected of him, since what is expected of him is to be savagely beaten in a desolate Florida prison camp. (Believe it or not, that understanding comes pretty quick.) The line comes from a sadistic authority figure, insane with power, giving a Kafkaesque framing of his violent corruption. It is itself a very unreasonable thing to say; it is not meant to imply that somebody won't listen to reason.
People use it to imply that some diplomacy could help a situation. What they're truly saying is that they will viciously abuse you if you don't fall into line.
"You Talkin' To Me?" (Taxi Driver)
This line is universal shorthand for being a tough guy. It's something a badass says to a smart-mouth who's trying some lip. Everyone knows it means "If you don't watch your tone, you're going down harder than DeNiro's respectability in the early 2000s."
The Real Meaning:
In Taxi Driver, this line is the centerpiece of a scene illuminating Travis Bickle's self-delusion and narcissism. It makes it painfully clear that he's not a tough guy. He's rehearsing a "tough" speech, like a deranged child playing G.I. Joe.
Travis is defined by isolation. As he puts it, he's " God's lonely man." So he's talking himself through a violent narrative that he's created in his own mind, which only reveals his weird, pathetic nature. That's according to the writer of the film, Paul Schrader. He notes that the script called for Travis to play like a cowboy and talk to himself in the mirror. It's not cool; it's a stunted man-child trying to act cool. So the people using this line to pretend to be tough guys are ... no wait, they're doing it right. This one's accurate.
Nathan Kamal lives in Oregon and writes there. He co-founded Asymmetry Fiction for all your fiction needs.
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