Every movie has a message, even if that message is just "Don't let Alex Kurtzman write movies." The more ambitious ones aim to impart some grand moral lesson, ranging from "Our choices outweigh our genetics" (Gattaca) to "Dance like nobody's watching" (Gattaca 2: Havana Nights). Unfortunately, it's hard to combine a coherent moral with a movie about a radioactive spider-boy swinging through the streets of New York (Gattaca 3: Return To Gattaca High). Maybe that's why some of the most famous movie lessons rely entirely on insane coincidences making everything possible. Like how ...
The story of Beauty And The Beast involves a curse that turns a vain prince into a hideous monster and his servants into flatware. The only way to break the curse is for someone to fall in love with said prince, which seems unlikely because he's now a monster, as we mentioned, and his seduction method is mostly kidnapping.
In the end, of course, Belle falls in love with Beast anyway, and the curse is lifted. But is this sending the message that someone's true beauty is a combination of their motives and personality, or did this monster get lucky and meet the one woman who doesn't mind dating a gorilla-bear (who is also sort of a jerk)? We should also talk about Gaston, because he's caught up in this unlikely romance too ...
Walt Disney Pictures
See, all the women in the village are crazy about Gaston's good looks and athletic superiority. None of them care that his personality sucks ... except Belle. She's not into him at all, because she values "inner beauty" and recognizes that Gaston is a pompous prick. Which means the main character already learned the movie's lesson before the movie even started.
In the end, nobody really learned to value "inner beauty." The prince had repented years ago, and Beast didn't need to teach Belle to see past the superficial because she already did that back at home, in her village of non-sentient forks. This is nothing but a story about a magical jerk getting very lucky when he finds the one girl within a thousand miles with a were-buffalo fetish.
Walt Disney Pictures
La La Land is the latest and possibly jazziest entry in the "Emma Stone And Ryan Gosling Didn't Get Along At First But Now They're In Love" film series. The plot follows the pair as they attempt to pursue their creative dreams with nothing but determination, remarkable good looks, and unmatched raw talent. The entire message of the film centers around the notion that with a bit of perseverance and sacrifice, dreams can come true. Which, again, would be more convincing if this was a movie about extremely determined ugly people who also sucked. Instead, the movie shows us that Emma is a naturally talented actress whose abilities are simply squandered in a bunch of lousy auditions.
Although honestly, she nailed these, right? That's exactly how you say it when someone really do be trippin'.
Does she power through all the adversity and use it to grow as an actor? Not even close! After her attempt at a one-woman show doesn't bring in an audience big enough for her liking, she packs it all in and moves back with her parents. The dream is dead ... until it's revealed that one of the seven people who attended her show was a casting director who now wants her for an audition. Think that's convenient? The audition is for a strangely unique part based mainly on the actor playing it. No script, no interruptions -- just tell a story about your aunt jumping into a river, and the role of a lifetime is yours!
How did she ever have trouble getting a job?!
This is an outrageous "Find a genie in a lamp and it turns out to be Shaq" level of luck. What are the odds of something like this coming along the very moment she resigns herself to a life of sweatpants? After the long journey of determination and heartbreak, the overall message seems to be that you shouldn't worry so much about finding an agent or landing roles, since casting directors are always attending one-woman shows to scout for unknown actresses -- not for predatory sex, but for huge acting parts tailored precisely for them.
The most quintessential thing anyone can learn from Spider-Man is that with great power comes great responsibility. It's a nice sentiment, but it's weird how many contrivances they had to go through in order to make it fit into the original Spider-Man trilogy.
It all starts when Spider-Man is starting to get comfortable with his powers. He's feeling great, as he should, but his uncle Ben tells him that he should be careful not to misuse his powers ... which is very strange, since Ben doesn't know about his superpowers at all. But whatever, Peter takes up fighting in an organization that doesn't test for spider DNA, and the event's organizer tells him he won't pay, since Peter knocks people out too fast for it to be entertaining. Conveniently, this happens at the exact same time a random criminal comes in to rob the place. Panic-stricken, the organizer asks for Peter to help, but he's too petty to bother. The robber escapes and later kills Uncle Ben, and woe, the hubris!
This is already relying on about 20 unlikely coincidences to get a pretty simple message across, but in the third movie, they retcon the story so that the robber wasn't even the guy who shot Uncle Ben in the first place. Ben was actually killed by the robber's partner, and it was an accident anyway. So Spider-Man's origin story is that he swore to always do everything he could to fight injustice because one time he didn't stop a guy from robbing a dirtbag, and in an unrelated incident, the man's friend accidentally killed someone Peter loved. We're not sure where the moral is in there, but it sure seems a lot of people are dying around this "Spider-Man" fellow. Maybe that blasted wall-crawler is a menace!
In The Silence Of The Lambs, Clarice Starling is tasked with catching serial killer Buffalo Bill. So, of course, she goes to a psychiatric prison to brave a gauntlet of lunatics in order to discuss the case with genius cannibal Hannibal Lecter. The whole thing seems so stupidly dangerous and unlikely that it probably started as a mean-spirited prank on a rookie investigator.
Still, Hannibal's expertise proves invaluable. Well, his expertise and the lucky fact that he already knew the serial killer they were looking for. As fate would have it, Bill even kept the head of one of his victims as a souvenir.
So yes, Lecter was ultimately very useful in finding Buffalo Bill, but most of that success only happened because the FBI made the wild decision to ask him, a crazy murderer, for help. And even more miraculously, he happened to know the killer they wanted him to profile. And after that miracle, some poor bastard with a removable face got close enough to let him escape.
Both film adaptations of Roald Dahl's classic book about candy-based manslaughter start with terrifying clown Willy Wonka hiding five golden tickets among his chocolate bars. The lucky children who find them are invited to tour the gaudy sweatshop where he makes dangerous, vaguely magical candy creations. Four of the children are cartoonish representations of sins, and the fifth is Charlie, an honest, humble, and safety-conscious boy.
Over the course of the movie, each child shows an utter lack of self-control, and promptly gets mutilated. The fat one nearly drowns in chocolate, the one obsessed with TV gets shrunk, one girl swells up into a blueberry and is taken away to be juiced, while another is hurled to near-certain death by millionaire Wonka's army in order to teach her a lesson ... about greed. Meanwhile, good boy Charlie is generally polite and follows most of the rules, so he's rewarded by being made Wonka's heir. The lesson is, of course, that wickedness will always be punished, while goodness is rewarded. How nice!
Except ... Charlie had to literally win the lottery to get that reward. What about all the good kids who didn't luck out and randomly find a golden ticket to fame and fortune? "Being honest pays off in the end" doesn't work as a moral if it only pays off during a once-in-a-lifetime, billion-to-one chance. And if it was so important to put the candy company in the hands of an honest child, why look for the most honest out of a group of five? There's a decent chance that any group of five random people will be total pricks in any scenario.
Interestingly, the 1971 movie found a way to make the moral worse. In that one, Charlie and his malingering grandpa sneak away from the tour and secretly sample some dangerously gassy soft drinks, which is nearly the exact same crime that gets one of the "bad" children turned into a blueberry monster. The drinks make them float toward a massive ceiling fan, and they narrowly avoid being chopped into pieces by burping down to safety. Wonka lets it slide, implying that maybe the test had nothing to do with honesty after all, and he merely needed someone who could survive the psychedelic maze of death traps that made up his factory. So again, the movie's moral isn't so much "Be good" as it is "Be extremely lucky, and don't tell OSHA."
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