5 Things That Are Way Easier Than They Look in Movies
When we debunk movie myths, it's usually bad news for lazy people. We've found that movies often undersell the difficulty of things like saving lives, fighting crime, seducing women, and even shooting people. And I've verified through independent research that doing all four at once is not a realistic career goal.
The dream will never die.
Fortunately, it turns out there are some fairly idiot-proof tasks which movies pretend are difficult. Story structure demands elements like clever arguments, plot twists, and wealthy billionaires dancing through shifting fields of laser beams, and it turns out reality is decidedly less crazy about those things.
Where You've Seen It: Ocean's 12, The Thomas Crown Affair, Entrapment
In the world of heist films, art thieves are the Ivy League. The job requires a thief who appreciates culture, has the gumption to steal something famous, and, most importantly, possesses the skill set necessary to navigate complex fields of laser beams.
The wealthy art thief from Ocean's 12 does gymnastics through the laser beams that protect all works of art.
Not only do they outclass bank robbers, with their regional American accents and bargain basement ski wear, but not caring about money also seems to be a prerequisite for stealing art. "Bored by how rich I am" is the only discernible motivation of the titular billionaire in The Thomas Crown Affair, who has presumably turned to this diversion after tiring of hunting humans for sport.
More than anything else, the art thief is drawn by the challenge. In Entrapment, another retired Bond finds himself in a love triangle with Catherine Zeta Jones and Catherine Zeta Jones' ass, and the mismatched trio have to spend months preparing to steal a painting, even though the movie makes it clear that they both have superpowers (typically used to disappear behind moving trains, for some reason).
Catherine Zeta Jones and Catherine Zeta Jones' ass learn to work as a team during laser beam practice.
Art heists are like bank robberies graded on the easiest curve possible. When two men stole Munch's The Scream in 2004, the crime was considered shocking because they bothered to bring guns. In 2010, French officials marveled at the "extreme level of sophistication" displayed by a thief who stole $100 million in art by breaking a glass window that wasn't alarmed and remembering to wear a ski mask. We don't expect people who work at museums to be on top of the latest trends in the criminal underworld, but those are all things junkies remember to do when boosting stereo equipment.
You'd think the main attraction would be the money, but according to experts, thieves typically have to "wait until news of the theft is reported in the newspaper to see the value" of the art they've stolen. Just like a teenage shoplifter, art thieves steal whatever is closest to the door and hope it's valuable.
That's not the only move they've borrowed from criminal masterminds like Winona Ryder and elderly Japanese people. The shoplifter's method of pulling stuff off the wall and shoving it inside your jacket also seems to be the go-to method for swiping art from museums. As we've covered elsewhere, a French guy named Stephane Breitwieser stole $1.4 billion in art from over 170 different museums by sticking paintings in his oversized coat. And a maintenance worker managed to steal the freaking Mona Lisa by hiding it inside his smock.
The most successful heist in the history of the art world happened in Boston, has never been solved, and could have been planned by a five-year-old. After using police costumes and fake badges to get into the museum, the two thieves had to subdue a grand total of two security guards -- both 20-something "musicians," one of whom admitted to showing up for work stoned. At one point, the thieves accidentally tripped an alarm they somehow hadn't prepared to pole vault over. Fortunately for them, the alarm only sent a signal to another part of the museum, like a glorified baby monitor.
I'd suggest that museums start taking their jobs a little more seriously, but their solution would probably involve charging late fees to any thief who keeps the art for too long instead of the hidden machine guns the situation clearly calls for.
Looks just like the real Mona Lisa until she shoots you with her eyes.
Where You've Seen It: LA Confidential, The Usual Suspects, Basic Instinct, Law & Order and every other crime procedural on TV
The interrogation room is a chess board where mentally dexterous cops try to punch holes in the carefully constructed alibis of master criminals. The police will often pair physical intimidation with clever mind games like "good cop / bad cop." Of course, they've got their work cut out for them, since most criminals can talk their way out of anything. In The Usual Suspects, the most untouchable criminal in the world weaves an elaborate tale just to mess with the cops' heads, and in Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone's character masterfully uses the complex psychology of the interrogation room to show everyone her vagina.
From a suspect's point of view, police interrogations are incredibly simple. If you invoke your right to an attorney, the police have to stop interrogating you. Invoke your right to remain silent, and again, you might as well have caught the Golden Snitch, because it's game over. The interrogation room is less like chess than it is an episode of Pee-wee's Playhouse.
"The secret word is ..."
What's even stranger is that when a suspect doesn't know his rights, the interrogation process often looks more like a therapy session than what we see in the movies. As this videotaped murder confession demonstrates, the interrogating officers don't try to bully the confession out of the suspect so much as give him a safe place where he can freely express his feelings (of guilt).
The officers get their confession using the old, "good cop / shoulder rub cop" gambit.
That's the Reid Technique, which uses emotional bonding, repetition, and empathy to convince a suspect that everyone in the room totally gets that he had his reasons for shooting that dude in the face. Hey, we're not here to judge. While the suspect is waiting for the bad cop to show up, he starts trusting the guy who keeps slapping him on the ass and telling him good hustle (I'm assuming). The longer it goes on, the more likely the suspect is to come around to the cops' version of things, and the cops can keep this going for as long as they want.
This is why the justice system decided to let suspects have the interrogation room equivalent of Mike Tyson's uppercut. Research indicates that interrogations which go the distance yield confessions in up to 76 percent of all cases. While that might sound impressive, it includes people who weren't even guilty. For instance, the guy the cops massaged and emotionally supported into signing a detailed murder confession in the video above was later proven innocent. From the justice system's perspective, that is the main problem with police interrogations: It's so easy to get a criminal to confess that you can't tell if they really did it or not, and the only way to even the playing fields is to make the whole thing turn on a few magic words.
Where You've Seen It: How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days and every other "chick flick," romantic comedies like Old School and Wedding Crashers, teen movies, '80s movies, the part in Rambo II where he falls in love with a Vietnamese lady while blowing up her country, any film that involves a romantic relationship
If you've ever seen a romantic comedy, you know that when two people first meet and fall in love, the world immediately begins conspiring to make them hate each other. Dating is the movie equivalent of the unfair obstacle course at the end of American Gladiators, except instead of steroid-fueled monsters with names like Fuel and Steroid, it's your jealous ex and sleazy best friend. And instead of having human souls, they have flame tornadoes that devour everything good in their path for no apparent reason.
"Look, the only reason you're here is because I bet Blane he couldn't give you AIDS at prom."
When people accuse movie romances of being unrealistic, they're usually talking about the happy ending wherein the male and female star survive the craziness and make it across the finish line to marriage or starry-eyed monogamy. The 90 minutes of conflict and misunderstandings leading up to the happy ending seem to suggest that you'll need to be good-looking, quick-witted, and extremely lucky just to marry someone who doesn't hate you.
Don't get me wrong, every relationship presents its own unique challenges. But dating just happens to be the time that you're not going to notice any of them. The part of relationships that movies tend to fill with catastrophe is the part that's more likely to leave you wondering where the last week went and how you two ended up moving to Australia together. That's because people who are in love are swimming in the same brain chemicals that fuel cocaine addiction, and dating is the portion of the relationship right after the addict first tries the drug and before they've experienced any of the negative side effects.
Addicts may suck dick for coke, but love came up with the idea to put a dick in there to begin with.
Romantic comedies and love stories have to invent obstacles like assignments from man-hating magazine editors, bets with sleazy best friends, and walking in on the person you love at the moment and from the precise angle that it looks like they're cheating on you with a domestic animal because they have an impossible job. They're telling a twisty-turny underdog tale about good relationships, and as Chris Rock put it best, "Good relationships are boring."
The problem is that good relationships are also almost always an inverted spectrum of the rocky courtship / happy marriage process we see in movies. In fact, any list of reasons why people get divorced suggests that dating is too easy. The problem is not that good couples get screwed over by circumstances. Love, like a cocaine addict, will find a way. The real problem is that couples pass through the dating process, arrive at the part where they're supposed to live happily ever after, and find themselves blindsided by things like differences over money or the fact that one doesn't want kids and the other is a Mormon.
She goes to bed early, and he turns out to be a cartoon cat she's hallucinating because of a pill addiction.
And it's not just the high of new love that movies don't account for. The real world rarely gives you a clear-cut reason to break up with someone. At some point, you will have to decide whether to stay with someone who you really like but don't think you love. There will be no "inciting incident" that serves as a convenient breaking point. You won't cheat on each other or fight. You'll enjoy spending time with each other because dating is easy. The hard part is delivering the "It's not you, it's me" speech knowing that the person who says that in movies is always a date rapist.
Cold War Spying
Where You've Seen It: the Bond franchise, the Bourne series, The Manchurian Candidate
International relations during the Cold War were one long chase scene starring men in trench coats trying to kill each other with weapons disguised as things that aren't weapons. If you've only seen one James Bond film, you know that being a Cold War spy was freaking awesome. If you haven't, these posters for You Only Live Twice should do in a pinch.
The only people not jerking James Bond off in this poster are James Bond and the woman limbering up to have sex with James Bond.
Bond was created by a real spy: Sir Ian Fleming, whose work with the British intelligence community provided the experience necessary to create a character who could steer experimental aircraft with his penis.
Fleming wasn't the only creator of spy fiction with street cred in the intelligence community. John le Carre is a spy turned author responsible for most of the cloak-and-dagger stuff that made its way into movies. He was actively spying on the Russians when he wrote classics like The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.
Fleming did indeed have a boss career in military intelligence. He once concocted a plan to crash a plane into the Thames to smoke out enemy soldiers. But as with most military careers, all the cool stuff happened in WWII -- the six-year period when the entire world turned into a far-fetched big-budget action movie that Michael Bay would call indulgent. In the postwar period, the world's two remaining superpowers found themselves in a Mexican standoff, so all the creative energy that had gone into killing Nazis was funneled into designing insane weapons that couldn't actually be used except in novels and movies. We may not be privy to classified information, but if America had gone through with its plans to nuke the moon or build a military base there, we probably would have heard about it by now.
Pictured: the American military without anyone to kill.
According to le Carre's account of his time in the British intelligence community, the action-heavy spying that we've come to associate with the Cold War was also mostly imaginary. The job was often so boring that spies would go on fake missions and basically playact the sort of stuff that made it into his books.
He tells a story of the first "secret mission" he went on across enemy lines in East Berlin with an older intelligence officer to meet a covert agent who never showed up. As the years passed, le Carre realized that the older agent "was not an undercover officer of MI6, his work was just as tedious and useless as ours." He goes on to talk about a form of madness that infected Cold War intelligence communities whereby agents chose paranoia and flights of imagination over the boring reality that nobody was trying to kill them.
JAY-Z has had an equally difficult time accepting this reality.
And you only need to look at CIA operatives spiking each other's drinks with LSD and other madness associated with Project MKULTRA to see that the American intelligence community was also guilty of letting their imagination get away from them. Sure, it might have led to some awesome stuff we don't know about yet, but it also led directly to the birth of the hippies (seriously). Nice job, spies.
Being The World's Greatest Hacker
Where You've Seen It: Hackers, Sneakers, Swordfish, Live Free Or Die Hard
According to the movies, hacking requires you to speed type in a foreign language that you can't understand unless your brain is half-computer. The opening credits of the movie Hackers give us a peek at what that looks like when the world's greatest hacker looks at New York City from a plane.
"Don't you people get it? Everything is computers."
In Swordfish, Hugh Jackman proves he's the world's greatest hacker by speed-typing his way into the Department of Defense with a gun to his head while a woman gives him a blowjob. That might sound easy to those of us who need both of those things just to write a comedy article, but he's typing such utter gibberish at such an incredible rate that you can't help but be intimidated.
"Hack harder! You're not hacking it hard enough!"
Also, you apparently must be objectively handsome and get your hair done at the same place as early '90s boy bands.
Kevin Mitnick was the real world's most wanted hacker around the time most hacker movies came out. Prior to his arrest and sentencing in 1999, Mitnick managed to hack the LA bus system to get free rides (as a 12-year-old, no less), as well as hack into Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Sun Microsystems, and Fujitsu Siemens computer systems using a technique called social engineering. Then, when he got out of jail, he became one of the nation's foremost experts on computer security. So essentially he was like that guy in Catch Me If You Can, except using some advanced hacker technique that probably involved fluttering away at keys you didn't even know your computer had, right?
Actually, Mitnick's career suggests that becoming the world's greatest hacker doesn't require you to know how to use a computer at all. For instance, "social engineering" is just telling well-researched lies. In an excerpt from his book, Ghost In The Wires, Mitnick recounts the time he "compromised the Social Security Administration through an elaborate social engineering attack." Sounds complicated, right? Actually, he just found the agency directory, called up a lady who had the information he wanted, pretended to be her superior, and asked her for it. In an excerpt from the audio book, he recounts another social engineering attack which basically amounted to making a fake badge at Kinko's and sneaking in the door behind someone returning from a smoke break.
Of course, Mitnick is only one man, and there are certainly hackers out there creating viruses using code you'd need a degree in computer programming to understand. They just aren't the guys you go to when you absolutely need to get inside Nokia's database. The world's greatest hacker needs to understand how to use the tools they create to get the information you want. Or you could do it the old-fashioned way and create fake badges at Kinko's and make prank phone calls. Either way, you don't need to learn a new language, see computers everywhere you look, or even be able to type particularly fast. You just need what all good cons have always needed: guts and a good poker face.
Also, the real hacking community appears to be willing to look the other way if you don't qualify as classically handsome or have early '90s boy band hair.
He must have had sick abs.
Jack O'Brien is the co-founder and former editor in chief of Cracked.com. You can follow him on Twitter, or consume him in podcast formula. Check out some of his earlier stuff, like Graduation Special: How to Ace Your First Job Interview and 8 Important Lessons Learned from '80s Cartoons.
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