4 Acclaimed Films That Borrowed Plots From ‘Seinfeld’ Episodes
Jerry Seinfeld hasn’t exactly had the best track record when it comes to making feature films, lest we forget the time he unleashed upon the world a kid’s movie about a human woman becoming unnervingly horned up for a talking honey bee. Still, we would argue that his iconic sitcom has inadvertently predicted the future notable works by a number of renowned directors.
Yes, some critically-acclaimed films, upon closer examination, are not so dissimilar from episodes of everybody’s favorite “show about nothing,” such as how…
Bong Joon-ho’s First Movie Was Not Unlike Elaine’s Darkest Storyline
As evidenced by movies like Parasite, Memories of Murder and Willy Wonka and the Class Warfare Train (aka Snowpiercer), Bong Joon-ho is unquestionably one of the greatest filmmakers working today. But long before he was collecting Oscars like most of us collect stamps and/or empty liquor bottles, Bong made his directorial debut with the black comedy Barking Dogs Never Bite.
The 2000 film concerns an unemployed, struggling academic who lives in an oppressively bleak apartment complex with his pregnant wife. Driven nuts by his neighbor’s constantly-barking dog, he attempts to get rid of the noisy pooch. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that multiple pets end up dead as a result of his scheming.
This is weirdly similar to the Seinfeld episode “The Engagement,” which featured what was arguably the darkest chapter in the life of Elaine Benes. Tortured by a neighboring canine’s nocturnal yaps, Elaine turns to Newman to take care of the offending animal. While she briefly considers ordering a straight-up hit, Elaine eventually changes her mind and downgrades the plan from doggycide to mere dognapping. Which is still pretty messed up for a show usually focusing on dating problems and masturbation contests.
Elaine’s canine predicament, and disturbing pivot to criminality, distinctly mirrors the actions of Ko Yun-ju, the protagonist of Barking Dogs Never Bite. Whether or not Elaine’s dog also represented a suffocating threat of existential anxiety is a little less clear.
‘Force Majeure’ Was Basically ‘The Fire’
From Ruben Östlund, the director of the bodily fluid factory known as Triangle of Sadness, came the Academy Award-nominated Norwegian film Force Majeure, about the worst family vacation since, well, they’re all pretty bad to be honest. In this case, a ski trip takes an awkward turn when a dad bails on his wife and kids to try and save his own ass after misreading the threat of a nearby avalanche.
This is all extremely similar to the Seinfeld episode “The Fire,” in which George panics at the sight of a grease fire during a kid’s birthday party and bulldozes his way through a sea of children and seniors to get to safety.
The thematic connection between the two stories is so strong that Östlund has been asked about it in interviews, conceding, “I’m sure that Seinfeld had an effect on me, as it did on anyone who lived during the time it aired.” Oddly enough, the much-maligned American remake of Force Majeure, Downhill, starred Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus — but sadly not Jason Alexander or Jon Favreau as a disgruntled clown.
‘Crazy’ Joe Davola Walked So ‘Joker’ Could Run
While not all of us were big fans, there’s no denying that some people absolutely loved Joker, hence why it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and earned more than one Academy Award. A lot of acclaim for a movie about a Batman villain that previous actors couldn’t even be bothered to shave for.
Perhaps the most disturbing Seinfeld storyline — apart from the mutant pig man and Kramer’s unfortunate stand-up comedy career — is the “Crazy” Joe Davola arc from Season Four, which, as others have pointed out, is basically the proto-Joker.
Think about it: Both are about a failed comedian (Joe/Arthur Fleck) who obsesses over an unrequited romance (Elaine/Arthur’s neighbor) before ultimately dressing up like a clown and becoming violent during a TV show taping (Jerry’s pilot/Late Night with Bobby De Niro).
Some of the parallels are even more specific. Both Joe and Arthur show up at black-tie theatrical events to confront their rivals, and the first indication of their violent natures comes in the random brutalizing of street toughs.
Before ‘Synecdoche, New York’ There Was ‘Jerry’
After shoving John Cusack into John Malkovich’s brain and wreaking havoc on Nicolas Cage’s already tenuous hairline, Charlie Kaufman wrote and directed the darkly funny, mind-bending, nearly-impossible-to-pronounce Synecdoche, New York. The film follows director Caden Cotard (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), who painstakingly recreates his life, and gradually a large-scale replica of New York City, for an absurdly elaborate theater project inside of a dilapidated warehouse.
Years before Kaufman’s film was released, we got another story about an artist expressing himself by painstakingly creating a fictional replica of his own reality: Jerry’s failed TV pilot Jerry.
This might sound like a bit of a stretch, like comparing apples to Synecdoche, New York. But both Caden’s work and Jerry are essentially shows about “nothing”; their creators’ attempts to mimic the events of their real lives at the expense of traditional storytelling conventions. In his pursuit of achieving god-like control over his artificial universe, Seinfeld cast doppelgänger stand-ins for real-life people…
…and commissioned the construction of a home that resembles his own.
Also, the lines between reality and fiction are blurred by both protagonists; Jerry starts dating the actress playing his ex-girlfriend, Elaine, and Caden marries an actress from his production. Although, creating Jerry never sends Seinfeld hurtling toward an emotional catharsis that forces him to accept his own mortality and ultimately die (presumably accompanied by a chorus of mournful funky bass licks).
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