6 Questions That Will Ruin Your Favorite Movie
One of the complaints we get here is, "Why are you always trying to ruin movies by nitpicking them?" The answer, of course, is that the goal isn't to "ruin" the movie at all; it's to find new ways to have fun with it that the creator never intended -- kind of like using a hack in a video game to make it start raining whales.
If you ask the right questions, you not only won't ruin your favorite movie, but will find all sorts of fascinating new ways to think about it. Or you could ask these questions, which, yeah, will kind of ruin it for you.
"What Do These Characters Look Like Taking A Shit?"
Now, let's be mature here; I'm trying to make a point. In my humble opinion, a character isn't fully fleshed-out if you can't imagine them doing toilet stuff. So all you need to do is pause a movie every time a new character is introduced and really try to imagine them expelling bodily waste. The results can be surprising.
For instance, Yoda. Really try to imagine him taking a piss into the swamp outside his hut, a little grimace of concentration on his face while he tries to aim the stream, maybe using The Force to make his prostate work a little better.
"Patience you must have. Fiber to your diet you must add."
Or imagine him back on Coruscant in the Jedi temple, waddling off to one of the restrooms and hopping up on a space toilet. Imagine one of the Jedi doesn't know he's in there and accidentally opens the stall. Yoda scowls, covers up his junk, and demands he close the door.
Now imagine E.T. doing the same, back on his ship. It kind of ruins the character, right? Don't say they don't excrete waste, either -- we see both of them eat and drink; it has to go somewhere. But as characters they're so wise, innocent, and otherworldly that it feels like an insult to imagine them doing something that literally everyone does. That's bullshit. A real creature, that we're supposed to accept exists in that universe, shouldn't blow a hole in our imagination with a simple bowel movement.
Now, imagine Elsa from Frozen, in her Ice Palace.
Hold it innnnnnnnnnnn, hold it innnnnnnnnnnn!
Does she have to go off and piss in the snow outside? Does she have a huge yellow dome of frozen piss somewhere she just keeps adding to? Or is she so pristine and perfect in the sparkling evening gown she wears around the house that you can't picture any piss scenario? Apply the same logic to the Elves in Lord Of The Rings -- is it hard to imagine Legolas taking a shit in the woods and then burying it after wiping his ass with some leaves or a passing rodent?
In fact, what kind of toilets do they have in Rivendell? Everything in that place looks like a cathedral ...
Hell, where does Gandalf even dump his pipe ash?
How bad would Frodo have felt if, while a guest there, he clogged the toilet and caused it to back up onto the floor? You know that place wasn't equipped for Hobbit shits. What do Elven shits even look like?
Now imagine shitting in Asgard, from the Thor universe, and imagine every toilet looks exactly like this:
Yes, with the honor guard included.
Would you find it hard to go? Speaking of superheroes, what about Superman? He eats and drinks; what's his poop situation?
I'm not joking here -- you'll honestly be surprised at how often movie characters and settings fail the Shit Test. The creatures in the Monsters, Inc. universe don't seem to have assholes, no matter where I freeze-frame the DVDs, but they have the exact same toilets humans do (despite the fact that at least one of them is a giant lizard).
And at least one of them is bigger than the stall.
What does Sully do with his tail? Does he get shit on his fur?
What about the LEGO people in the The LEGO Movie? Again -- we see them eat, and we see the main character drink coffee. He's going to have to take a shit like 20 minutes later -- what would come out? I assume it'd be a little round plastic block, but then what happens to it? Can their sewer system break it down?
What about that monster from 300 with swords instead of hands? Do they have a team of guys who help him every time he has to go?
Or is that his own blood?
I could go on, but really that just leads us to a larger question ...
"What Do These People Do When They're Not Fighting?"
I have a new novel coming up, and I'm telling you right now, this question torments me as a writer (almost as much as the question, "How can I slip references to my upcoming book in a way that seems completely natural?") I try to ask this with every character, and it fucking keeps me up nights. Let's try it on one of my favorite films: There's a moment in The Matrix where it's revealed that Agent Smith's primary motivation is that he hates being assigned to Matrix duty ("It's the smell") and only wants to break the resistance so he can be reassigned.
To do ... what?
He's a sentient piece of software, but he's implying that chasing people around The Matrix in a suit is just a temporary task he's been given due to this specific rebellion that's cropped up. So what was he doing before that didn't involve The Matrix? Do he and the other programs hang out? What do they do for fun? Everything you're imagining (go to the Merovingian's club, kick back at a beach, bang the Woman In The Red Dress) is all human shit from our world, which he hates. Does he have hobbies? Friends? What do they talk about?
Does he dream of getting into acting?
That makes me think about Yoda again. He had been in hiding on Dagobah for at least 20 years (the length of Luke's life up to that point). What was he doing all that time? There was no other intelligent life on the planet, as far as we can see. No one to talk to, other than the occasional Jedi ghost. No technology. Maybe he brought a couple of books with him? What does he do for fun? (I know you're now trying to picture Yoda masturbating, but we've moved on from that.) I mean, if it was me I'd spend a lot of time lifting heavy shit with my mind and tossing it around the jungle, flinging swamp monsters off over the horizon, then measuring the distance and trying to beat it. That doesn't seem like his thing, though.
Does Darth Vader still keep up with podracing in his spare time? Does he ever hear a joke so funny he has to bend over with laughter? Are you picturing it? Or do you only think of him existing within the confines of the story's central conflict?
Can you imagine him in his special chamber, catching the highlights and taking a long, leisurely deuce?
Now imagine we live in the Transformers universe, and let's say the Decepticons have been defeated once and for all. Try to imagine what the Transformers are doing 10 years later. Imagine a bunch of them just hanging around on the weekend. What do they talk about? Do they fall in love? Can they have sex? Do they listen to music? Make music? What would Optimus Prime look like playing a giant saxophone? When he isn't speaking in inspirational platitudes or shouting battle commands, what is he saying? Imagine him complaining about how much the Red Sox pitching sucks this year, or griping about his aching joints. What's his personality beyond "noble, courageous battle robot"?
You can also ruin almost any horror movie this way. What does the little girl from The Ring do in between murders? Or Freddy Krueger? What are his hobbies? What does he think about? Are there other beings he associates with?
How does Michael Myers celebrate other holidays?
But once you get into horror, you'll then find yourself constantly asking ...
"When Did They Set All This Up?"
The Dark Knight Rises was widely mocked for the scene in which Batman arrives in Gotham -- where there is a literal ticking bomb and a city full of starving hostages -- and takes what must have been 12 hours to paint a flammable bat symbol on Gotham Bridge, complete with a trail of flammable fluid running down the pillar of the bridge and across the river:
There is no way to visualize him doing that project that isn't utterly ridiculous. I assume he had some kind of dangling scaffold rig? He could have been caught at any moment, or he could have slipped and fallen and re-injured his back. But hey, superheroes are constantly building shit off-camera (or they have hundreds of undocumented workers they're keeping quiet somehow). There are simpler examples of this that can be found in almost any movie.
For example, you know that thing they do in dramatic scenes where a character is speaking alone, then on cue a second character walks in at the most dramatic moment? This happens near the end of Edge Of Tomorrow; Tom Cruise is trying to convince the troops to follow him on a suicide mission, at which point one of the guys rightfully says, "Why would we follow him into combat?" to which Cruise replies, "I don't expect you to follow me. I expect you to follow her." At that moment, in walks Emily Blunt:
Stop and think about that. Did they, like, rehearse this? Was she just standing off in the shadows, with the understanding that when the troops questioned why they should follow him, he would say the catchphrase and she would make her dramatic entrance? What if they saw her hiding over there? Would she have run away?
But all that just brings me to the horror villains, because these guys spend a lot of time hiding in the shadows, in a blind hope that their trap will pay off.
The Predators' base their entire civilization off that plan.
There's this bit I do during my rare live performances where I try to imagine what Jason Voorhees (from the Friday The 13th franchise) does when he's not on camera. All you have to do is start with the first murder we see him commit (in Part 2 -- in the first one it's his mom doing the killing). We open on the lone survivor from the first movie, now back at home. She falls asleep in her bedroom, then hears a noise. Paranoid about the fact that she clearly lives in a slasher movie universe, she grabs an ice pick and heads to the kitchen.
The cat was making the noise, as it turns out, and it leaps out for a cheap jump scare. The woman relaxes, asks the cat if he's hungry, and opens the refrigerator (where the cat food is kept, obviously) only to find a severed head sitting there next to the milk. She's so transfixed by this that Jason is able to sneak up behind her and stab her in the head. Simple, right?
But walk through it from his end. First, he has to get there from Crystal Lake (and even that is assuming he has the address somehow). Did he drive? Jason is an unspeaking, unthinking mutant -- how the hell can he drive a car? Did he take a cab? With what money? So he either walked or rode a bicycle without being spotted ... while carrying the severed head of his mother the whole way.
So he finds this lady's house, sees she's in bed asleep, sneaks quietly in, and puts the head in the refrigerator. And ... waits. I guess he went and stood out of view, in a corner somewhere? Or crouched down behind the sofa? Remember, for all he knew the victim wasn't going to wake up until the next morning -- was he prepared to crouch there all night? He presumably would have, had the cat not started making noise in the one room Jason needed his victim to go to. Was the cat in on it?
If so, can you picture Jason befriending the cat?
So at that point, what if she went to the kitchen but didn't look in the fridge? Remember, she didn't look in there because she saw a blood stain or smelled old head; she was going for her refrigerated cat food. Would Jason have given up and just stabbed her anyway, or would he have waited for her to go back to sleep and moved the head to her nightstand? He seemed really committed to the severed head thing. That raises the possibility that the fridge wasn't the first place he put it -- there could be pink smears all over the house where he had previously tried to set the head inside the front door (she went in the back), on top of the TV (she didn't watch anything), and inside her shower stall (she skipped the shower and went straight to bed).
That's why my favorite scene in the Saw series is from Part 3, where they show Jigsaw setting up the bathroom "game" from the first film. It's such an enormous pain in the ass, including bricking up clues behind tiles in the wall and injecting himself with a drug to put himself into a coma to convincingly play a corpse on the floor ...
... that it's clear this project has been months in the making. I'm imagining if five minutes later the first guy accidentally drowns in the tub, and Cary Elwes immediately electrocutes himself on the electrified leg shackles. All the clues and shit Jigsaw had hidden meticulously around the room sitting untouched, until he wakes up on the floor, looks at the two corpses, and says, "Well ... shit."
And speaking of enormous trouble that must have been taken off-screen ...
"Why Don't The Bad Guys Have Any Training?"
In The Matrix, it's laboriously explained that the good guys can do backflips and shit because they're inside a computer simulation and have found the cheat codes. In Star Wars, it's The Force. James Bond, John Wick, and Liam Neeson are superhuman killing machines thanks to raw talent and decades of experience. Superheroes get their skills via supersoldier serums, gamma radiation, and futuristic technology. In every case, the way they got their powers is important, because it defines their character. Superman must deal with being an alien, Neo must accept he is The One, Tony Stark must deal with his father's inheritance (which includes both his money and his genius).
But then there is a whole category of characters who can do the same superhuman feats as the above, for no fucking reason at all. For instance, there's the movie Kick-Ass, in which a 10-year-old girl, after a few years of practice, can do this.
"Hey, guys, let's let her win. She's just a little kid, and she's trying really hard ..."
"It's not meant to be realistic," you say, rolling your eyes. "The movie is supposed to be cartoonish!" Of course it is -- but it's only cartoonish for the good guys. The only defining trait of her character is that she can do that stuff and the bad guys can't. Why? Those guys have been doing violent gun shit for decades longer than her -- some of them longer than she's been alive. But only she can perform superhuman feats of acrobatic violence -- stuff that not even the guy who trained her could do. Hell, how did Hit Girl get "practice" at this? How many hallways full of armed dudes did she get to backflip around before she got it right? You do it wrong, you're dead.
It's the same for Django Unchained -- he had presumably never touched a firearm before he met up with Schultz and spent a couple of months shooting at bottles in the mountains. By the time the climactic shootout comes, he's good enough to mow down 17 armed dudes who are all shooting back. Why is he better at gunfighting than they are? In Kingsman: The Secret Service the protagonist performs the same feat, times 10: With only a few months of training (only a fraction of it spent on combat -- we see them practice everything from skydiving to underwater survival) he takes on an entire army of elite soldiers, all of whom have assault rifles. He can defeat them for one reason only: He can do magic, and they can't:
Maybe Eggsy was a natural talent, the LeBron James of shooting dudes in a hallway? All right, but his opponent is a billionaire sparing no expense to take over the world -- he could find and hire a hundred guys like that. He could pay them more, offer them better training, and get them more real-world practice. What's Eggsy's advantage?
He's the good guy. That's it. And lots of movies do it this way. The good guys succeed ... just because.
The secret, unspoken mythology in those movies is that somehow the good guys are better shots because they're good guys. Stormtroopers don't have "Stormtrooper Aim" because they're suffering from cloning-related Parkinson's; it's because they're working for the dark side. It's a comforting message because it means if we won the war in real life, we must have been in the right. After all, good guys don't miss!
"What Movies Do They Have In That Universe?"
This seems like a random if not fairly irrelevant point. But this is one of those thought experiments that takes you down a rabbit hole of madness if you keep following it. For example, the final image here blew my fucking mind:
If Clark Kent has no tradition of caped superheroes in his universe, then who does have capes? Magicians? Liberace? Bullfighters? Which of those three is he pretending to be there?
And it's true that they don't have superhero comics in superhero universes. In both the first Spider-Man movie and its reboot, Peter makes a costume only because he's imitating a wrestler -- the concept of "put on a themed outfit and mask to fight crime" isn't a thing until he invents it, on accident. At no point is he like, "I'm going to become a superhero, like in the comics." Bruce Wayne, same thing -- he's just dressing like the ninjas who trained him (with, you know, bat ears). The character Batman was based heavily on Zorro -- does Zorro exist in the Batman universe? If so, Bruce doesn't acknowledge it.
The Joker carefully selected his Joker comic book tattoos based on what?
What I'm getting at here is if the idea of superheroes -- real or fake -- doesn't exist in their universe, then this shit gets weird fast.
After all, it's been decided that Spider-Man will join The Avengers and that they existed before he was Spider-Man. Well ... OK. That means, when he got started, becoming a superhero was actually an established job in the real world he should be aware of (unless he wasn't paying attention the day the sky opened up and The Incredible Hulk punched a giant flying caterpillar like a mile from his house). But at no point in the movies is his decision-making process portrayed as, "Should I become one of those superheroes you hear about on TV, like Captain America?" Same with Tony Stark: Prior to being confronted by Nick Fury, he thought he was the only one.
Why does it matter? Because it means that after tens of thousands of years of civilization without superhuman crimefighters existing -- real or fictional -- suddenly a whole bunch of them turned up at the same time by pure coincidence. Within a few years, a regular kid gets powers by randomly getting bitten by a mutant spider, a rich dude randomly gets powers via a superpowered suit built out of desperation, and a Norse god shows up.
How shitty are the fictional superheroes in their world since the real ones took all the good ideas?
In the DC universe, a marooned space alien reaches adulthood and decides to become a costumed crimefighter, a different marooned space alien hands his Green Lantern ring to a test pilot turning him into a costumed crimefighter, and a billionaire decides to get into the costumed crimefighting business to avenge his parents -- all within a few years of each other, none of them influencing each others' decisions. At some point they're going to run into The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, too, and I wonder if any of them will have an origin story that involves somebody watching a superhero battle on TV and saying, "Man, I've got to get in on this shit!"
But this isn't just a superhero thing -- go try it with any fantasy universe. You can give yourself a headache trying to figure out if people in vampire movies have vampire movies, or if the people in a zombie movie have zombies as a fictional concept. The Walking Dead doesn't. OK, but do they have the risen dead as a religious concept? Were the first victims worshiped as risen saviors when they came back?
And do people make terrible "Jesus was a walker!" Easter jokes?
Speaking of which, Thor turns out to be real in the Marvel universe -- do they have a tradition of Norse mythology, too, and it just turned out to be real? Nobody thinks that's weird?
And speaking of gods ...
"How Do These People Die?"
Someday you'll introduce your children to Star Wars (or the original Star Wars, since by then there'll be 50 or 60 new Star Wars movies out). When it gets to the part where R2-D2 and C-3PO are running for their lives, lean over and ask your little ones, "What happens to a robot when it dies?"
They are clearly shown fearing death and exercising self-preservation. C-3PO's primary personality trait is he's a coward. Do the androids understand death as a concept, as we do? A human knows from a young age that he or she will eventually die -- there is a natural process of aging as we slowly descend into the grave one wrinkle at a time. A robot doesn't have that -- they presumably could continue to function for thousands of years as long as defective parts are replaced. They would have to know that near-eternal life is on the table, if properly maintained. And then if they do die, it's with the knowledge that at some point in the future they could be resurrected.
Just how old is R2-D2, anyway?
After all, in Empire Strikes Back, C-3PO gets blown into pieces. Chewbacca is able to stick him together and just turn him back on. Every robot knows in its final moments that it might reawaken a day later, or a year, or a thousand years, because some human (or another robot, I guess) decided to run power to their circuits. So would they fear death more than humans in that case, or less?
What about the toys from Toy Story? During the third film, they clearly feared losing their lives in an incinerator -- but that only raises the question of what does it take to kill them. Would that slinky dog die if his slinky snapped? Would Woody die if he was run over by a car? Toys can't bleed, and they don't have organs. Would Buzz Lightyear survive as just a head? What if a dog ate it? Would he consciously experience passing through its digestive system? If they got buried in a landfill, at what point in the decomposition process do they finally lose their "souls" and find some kind of rest? Plastic takes 500 years to biodegrade, and that's only if it's exposed to the elements. Otherwise, do they just sit there in a festering ocean of garbage, perfectly conscious, for thousands of years?
Now consider this picture:
Ignore the fact that The Hulk clearly needs to go to the bathroom; we've been over that.
See that guy on the left? He's effectively immortal and invulnerable -- nothing he's facing is capable of putting a scratch on him. See that woman next to him? She's a regular person. A stray piece of shrapnel can put her in a wheelchair or erase her from the universe forever. They're standing side by side, facing the same threat, but one of them has nothing at stake. It's like a game of Russian Roulette in which Thor gets to use a Nerf gun during his turns.
A hundred years later, when all of those other people are long dead, will Thor even remember them? How well do you remember your friends from kindergarten? Hell, do you even remember who you were back then? Those of you in your 30s and 40s -- do the decisions you made as a teenager make any sense to you now, or do you see them as the actions of a different, stupider person? You change so much in just those couple of decades ... so who would Thor be if you found him 500 years from now? Or a thousand?
How do you deal with having the same family arguments for millennia?
What about Superman, a million years from now? By then humans would have long evolved into some kind of albino squid creatures communicating via telepathy. Would he still be tromping around in his red and blue suit standing up for truth and justice among the squid people? Would their concepts of truth and justice be so strange to him that they'd regard him as nothing more than some kind of inscrutable ancient beast that speaks only in indecipherable grunts? Would they worship him as an eternal god? And if one day Superman decided to just squat down and take a shit on one of them, what would that even look like?
David Wong is the Executive Editor of Cracked.com and a NYT bestselling author, his long-awaited new novel is about cybernetic criminals and other futuristic shit like that. Pre-order it at Amazon, B&N, BAM!, Indiebound, iTunes, or Powell's. You can read the first seven chapters for free by clicking below:
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For more from David, check out 5 Ways Powerful People Trick You Into Hating Protesters and 5 Helpful Answers To Society's Most Uncomfortable Questions.