Movies

3 Movie Conspiracy Theories That Gotta Die

As movie fans, we love digging into the meat of a movie’s plot like a cyborg velociraptor with obesity issues. We even love constructing new narratives within existing narratives, like Russian nesting dolls shaped like cyborg velociraptors.

Unfortunately, just because a theory sounds cool, doesn’t mean it holds any weight, much like how the tiny hands of a cyborg velociraptor have difficulty holding weight. Here’s three AMAZING theories that are completely bullshit, ranked from least bullshit to most bullshit.

3.) Skyfall’s Villain is M’s Son

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Skyfall’s enigmatic villain “Raoul Silva” was one of the better Bond villains to emerge in years, and was played with a fascinating yawning malevolence by Javier Bardem. One of the scarier things about him (besides his melting face) is his mystery – even after the credits roll, we never quite learn what Silva’s deal was. We get vague hints: he was an MI6 Agent, he worked in Hong Kong, he got a little too big for his britches and M had to trade him to the enemy to grease some diplomatic wheels. Still, by the end, we never quite learn why M seemed so disgusted with him, or why Silva appeared to be nutbars in love with her, or even what kind of man he was before his transformation.

Stephen L. Carter, a writer for the BloombergView, released an interesting theory about the movie last November. According to him, the answer lies in anagrams. He posits that since Raoul Silva’s self-made name can be translated into an apropos anagram – namely, “a rival soul” – that Silva’s message to M – “THINK ON YOUR SINS” – must also be an anagram as well. I’ll save you the trip to grab a pad of paper – the anagram, according to Carter, unfolds into “YOUR SON ISNT IN HK.”

HK stands for “Hong Kong,” which is where Silva was operating before he was betrayed by M. Thus, Silva must be M’s son. It explains the strange love he has for her, the weight of her betrayal (and later his own attacks on her). The reason he hesitates when killing her at the end, and the reason she hesitates to kill him when the gun is stuffed into her palm.

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LET THE SKYYYYFAAAAALLLL

Why It’s Wrong: It’s an interesting theory, and I enjoy gliding my brain-jet through the theory’s air-hoops. I’m a big anagram nerd (whilst reading the second Harry Potter book, I figured out on my own that “Tom Marvolo Riddle” translated into the name of our favorite dark lord), and the idea that a huge plot point would be stuffed into an anagram makes parts of my anatomy stiffen.

Unfortunately, it completely misses the point that the movie is trying to make. Skyfall is about who we become, not where we came from. It’s about duality, and outlining the paths we take. Bond and Silva are supposed to be similar – Silva even explains that once upon a time, he was M’s favorite agent. Silva (really Tiago Rodriguez – anagram “A Gooier Drug Zit”) was the one saving the world, getting the girls, and being kind of a dick.

Silva’s origins are left smoky because so are Bond’s. Like Silva, we get small tastes – we visit Bond’s childhood home, we meet his groundskeeper, we learn his parents died and he didn’t take it very well. However, when M tries to explicitly ask Bond to share his origins with the audience, Bond himself steps in to preserve the mystery: “You already know. You know the whole story.” What he’s really saying is “it doesn’t matter.”

Not Pictured: Fucks Given

Not Pictured: Fucks Given

This is proved later in the story when Skyfall burns around him. We expect some kind of grand moment of catharsis where Bond makes peace with his unhappy childhood (or maybe even squirts nostalgia), but all he says is “I always hated this place.” Then he actually takes part in making sure the building is demolished, without a hint of pathos. He knows his origins don’t matter – he isn’t where he was born. He isn’t what happened to him. Bond is Bond because of his actions, and nothing else. He’s not even a man who puts much faith in words.

Bond, in the very beginning of the story, is betrayed by M. She orders Bond’s partner to take an unsafe shot that nearly kills Bond. In fact, everyone thinks he’s dead for a long while. Bond plays the part of the retired agent, but when he spots a dire news report he straps on his Walther and goes back to work. Silva, as a direct contrast (“a rival soul”), turns into a murdering, raving loon after being betrayed by M. Silva tries to get us to sympathize with him, something M starkly brushes off – there’s never any hint of guilt on her face. This is a spy’s game, and though she felt a connection with Silva (like she does Bond), his actions are his own. Silva wasn’t forced to become the thing he became. He chose to, and he’s going to pay for it.

For England

For England

Silva definitely views M as a mother figure – as does Bond. But the idea that M is actually Silva’s mother is taking a beautiful metaphor and crushing it beneath the boot heel of literalism. It doesn’t matter where Silva came from. It just matters what he chooses to become.

Plus, anagrams are like prophecies – they can mean whatever you see. For instance, “James Bond” breaks into “a job mends.” Pretty revealing, for a deeply-flawed person who’s only redeeming quality is the work that he performs. THINK ON YOUR SINS can break down into lots of phrases, like “Honky Intrusions” and “Uh try onionskins.”

2.) Ferris Bueller is a Figment of Cameron’s Imagination

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You know the theory – like Fight Club (spoiler alert?), the milquetoast character’s raucous best friend is actually a mental projection who doesn’t exist. Jack had his Tyler Durden, and Cameron Frye has his Ferris Bueller.

The theory goes that Cameron is suicidal from loneliness, and is deeply ashamed of the lame nobody he’s spent his high school years as. His dad hates him (and abuses him, let’s be honest), his mother is distant, and he lives in a cold museum-like home that appears to actively disdain children. The only attention Cameron gets is from playing sick, which he frequently does whenever he succumbs to his boredom and melancholy.

Enter Ferris Bueller, the ridiculous, over-the-top, supernaturally successful high school star that everyone loves. He’s got a beautiful girlfriend, he’s always the smartest person in the room, and all the other students seem to worship him for no real stated reason. Ferris Bueller then goes on to fake an illness (Cameron’s constant move) to skip school. It has the side-effect of garnering attention – except, unlike Cameron’s illnesses (that gets a slight nod from his parents), Ferris’ illness sparks a grass roots “get well” campaign that would rival something created for a fascist dictator.

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Throughout the movie, Cameron learns to embrace the wild side as he starts to perform the actions that “Ferris” does, and the story culminates with him finally throwing off the shackles of his abusive father and demolishing his beloved car.

There are actually two versions of theory – the more “Fight Club” theory where Cameron is actually doing what Ferris does, and the “complete fantasy” version where Cameron imagines the whole adventure from the comfort of his sick bed. Then, having had an epiphany, he goes into his father’s garage and wrecks the car as his first stepping-stone to becoming a strong person.

Why It’s Wrong: The theory is cute, and it’s definitely a fun lens through which to rewatch a classic that you’ve probably seen dozens of times. Ferris Bueller is practically effervescent in his puckish charms – it’s not a stretch to wonder if he’s even real to begin with. That’s pretty much the only way to view this theory. Taking it seriously is just sillypants.

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Neither version of the theory works because of perspective – mainly, the story is told from multiple viewpoints. Fight Club, by contrast, is told from Jack’s perspective. Every scene features Jack, because he’s hallucinating. Fight Club plays fair – it’s possible to figure out that Tyler Durden and Jack are the same person. In contrast, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off tells the story from Ferris’ perspective, Cameron’s, Principal Rooney’s, Sloan’s, and the most damning of all: Ferris’ sister Jeanie.

What the hell is Jeanie doing in a story about Cameron’s imagination? She clearly lives in a different house than Cameron, and has a whole adventure that only marginally relates to Ferris (and has nothing to do with Cameron’s coming-of-age story). Cameron would have had to imagine her story from whole cloth for no other reason than to add an interesting side plot to his own story, which is a level of insanity reserved for Daffy Duck and fiction writers. Jeanie adds nothing to Cameron’s “becoming a man” fantasy. Principal Rooney at least creates an opposing force for Ferris to humiliate. On the other hand, Jeanie’s plot ends with her and Ferris learning a lesson about family. Cameron is an only child. Ferris isn’t real. Cameron and Jeanie don’t even interact in the story. This lesson is nonsensical if either she’s fictional, Ferris is fictional, or they’re both fictional.

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Sloan herself also presents a problem. If she’s real, then Cameron has a beautiful, charming, confident girlfriend – hardly someone who would hang out with a perpetually ill, mopey, delusion loser like Cameron. If she isn’t real, then what’s her function in the story? They don’t have sex, so boner-bait is out. He sees her naked once, but that’s a pretty lame fantasy life. And, they’re on the verge of a potential break-up due to college – again, another odd thing to fantasize about.

The “Cameron imagines the whole thing from his bed” angle is preposterous for obvious reasons: every movie could be just a hallucination starting from the first scene. Actually, all movies are made-up starting from the first scene, so it’s kind of a pointless “revelation” that doesn’t improve anything. So yeah. Cameron, take us out:

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1.) Deckard from Blade Runner is a Replicant

This is one of the oldest fan theories in modern cinema – the insidious idea that Harrison Ford’s “Rick Deckard” is in fact one of the human-looking replicants that he’s been hired to hunt down. In the original cut of the film, proponents claim there are a few hints – the sterile photographs in Deckard’s apartment, and the fact that he never answers the question when Rachel asks him if he passed the replicant-identifying “Voight-Kampff Test.”

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Those are both pretty thin – the photograph complaint can be dismissed out of hand, and the test non-answer is easily a character move. The person asking him the question in the movie is an angry replicant being subjected to that very test – it would be like screaming at an IRS agent and asking him if he’s ever been audited before. Silence is basically an attempt to let the other person calm down, and to not argue on their level.

The biggest damning evidence actually comes from the Director’s Cut released years after the movie, the one that inserts a deleted scene where Deckard dreams about a unicorn, and is later handed an origami unicorn by a smug Detective Graff. This, proponents of the theory claim, is Graff trying to tell Deckard that he’s a replicant, and that his dreams were implanted.

Conspiracy theorists love it because it’s subversive – look at the big hypocrite killing his own people. Plus, it’s twisty, and people like twisty – it’s fun to imagine that the whole story has been flipped on its head. People feel smart for guessing it. After all, it’s certainly possible within the context of the universe, so why not? There’s also another reason this theory has survived the ages – its biggest fan is the director himself. Ridley Scott believes that Deckard is a replicant, so he must be, right?

Robo-Rachel is not impressed.

Robo-Rachel is not impressed.

Why It’s Wrong: The biggest reason it’s wrong is that, like the Skyfall theory above, it completely pooch-fucks the message of the movie. “Blade Runner” (and the book it’s based off) is about living life. It’s about succumbing to the grind. It’s about learning what to live for and embracing it with all your heart.

Deckard (the human) is a nine-to-five kind of guy. Sure, his job is exotic (hunting mandroids through a cyberpunk megalopolis), but that doesn’t make Deckard any less of an empty shell. He’s a classic workaholic – he eats crappy food, he goes home to his empty apartment, and he works. He doesn’t have a girlfriend or a family; He seems to barely exist outside of his job – like a robot.

His prey, whom he murders, is the exact opposite. They only have a tiny lifespan (as opposed to Deckard’s science-improved long lifespan), were built for one purpose (unlike Deckard), and yet seem to be adore life. They’re fascinated by art, mechanics, even fucking rain. They are gripped with perpetual child-like wonder – they live every moment to the fullest. They cherish all the amazing emotions and experiences they’ve been given. The replicants are literally “more human than human,” the ironic tagline of the company that created them.

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“Einhorn is a man!”

Deckard (the “hero”) murders them one-by-one, and we’re treated to a fantastic reversal in the final reel – though Deckard is the underdog (because he lacks Roy Batty’s enhanced strength and senses), he’s actually become the villain. Roy Batty wants to take revenge on Deckard, not just for murdering Roy’s friends, but for wasting his life. For Deckard being an empty automaton in a magical world. Roy laments his own approaching death and lives his last moments like Deckard never will.

After Roy dies, Deckard actually learns the lesson. He takes his short-lived replicant girlfriend and decides to flee and live what life he can.

If Deckard is a replicant, the whole message of a human learning how to live from a robot is completely obliterated. It just becomes a weird robot-to-robot mentor message that sinks all the irony and beauty in the name of Shyamalalalamanian twistiness.

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“Quiet. Daddy’s talking.”

If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this: Philip K. Dick (the author of the novel), Hampton Fancher (the writer of the screenplay), and Harrison Ford (Harrison Ford) all thoroughly intended that Deckard be a human being.

Philip K. Dick said it best: “The purpose of this story as I saw it was that in his job of hunting and killing these replicants, Deckard becomes progressively dehumanized. At the same time, the replicants are being perceived as becoming more human. Finally, Deckard must question what he is doing, and really what is the essential difference between him and them? And, to take it one step further, who is he if there is no real difference?”

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Article originally published at Agents of GUARD.

 

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Perfect Act Structure and “The Little Mermaid”

I’m a big fan of the five-act structure for stories, namely because of this fabulously insightful article from Film Critic Hulk.

Anyway, I was watching “The Little Mermaid” this weekend because I’m an adult grown-ass man and I can watch mermaids if I want to.  I realized that “Little Mermaid” has one of the more perfect examples of a five-act structure I’ve ever seen.

All that’s important for an act is that it tell a story, and it ends as soon as the story “can’t go back anymore.” Basically, if a character choice makes the world a different place, the act is over.

Act 1

Normal “Ariel-has-ADD” stuff. She’s bad with social calendars, she longs for the surface world, but it’s not much more than a hobby at this point. However, she finally stops fantasizing and goes up to the surface world. She chooses to save Eric from the ship wreck, and then she falls in love with him. Basically, she can’t “go back.” She’s a 16-year-old girl and she’s not just going to forget that she’s fallen in love.

AERIC

Act 2

King Triton starts to suspect Ariel is up to trouble, and Sebastian does the dirt-digging. They discover her treasure trove, blow up her statue, and generally follow the “How to Make My Teenage Daughter Rebel” handbook to the letter. In despair, Ariel goes to the Seawitch and trades her voice to become human. Now she physically cannot go back. Oh, and her soul is on the line.

ACONTRACT

Act 3

Pretty much all the stuff with Ariel as a human trying to woo Eric and learning things about the surface world. This act has one of the more obvious endings in the entire movie – the act ends the SECOND sexy-human Ursula shows up, singing on the beach. The Eric-wooing is now impossible, and Ariel is going to lose her soul. End of act 3.

EURSA

Act 4

Act 4 is traditionally where everything goes to hell and the bad guys are going to win. “The Little Mermaid” pulls this off fantastically, and economically. Eric is entranced with Sexy-Ursula, and is going to marry her. The wedding ship sails, and Ariel is stuck on land.

Ariel and her buddies try to stop the wedding, which they do, but the wedding doesn’t really matter to begin with – it’s a stall by Ursula, and they run out of time. Ariel turns back into a mermaid, she’s going to lose her soul, Eric is lost forever, and Ursula wins. Just when things couldn’t possibly get worse, Triton shows up and offers to trade his soul for Ariel’s – the choice is made, and we can’t go back in the story (on multiple fronts).

SWAP

Act 5

The climax, basically.  Ursula takes Triton’s soul, his crown, and his trident and becomes your basic Cthulhu sea-god. She’s cackling, making storms, generally being a dick, and is going to kill Eric and Ariel. Eric instead decides to go hardcore metal and rams a ship spar right through Ursula’s giant body.

Ursula dies, all the contracts get voided, everyone is happy. You’ll notice the movie doesn’t end here, because the characters haven’t made a choice, and the story is essentially reset back to the second act. Except, this time, Triton has learned something about himself during his sacrifice. And, of course, Ariel’s commitment and Eric’s bravery (and being a total badass).

So, Triton makes the choice that ends the movie – he lets go of Ariel, turns her into a human, and gives the happy couple his blessing. Now no one can go back to how things were, and the act (and the movie) is over.

TRIHUG

In closing . . .

That’s why “The Little Mermaid” feels so fast-paced, and why it works so well as a movie – the characters are constantly making decisions that change their lives. Big decisions, too, that turn the entire plot on its head.

Also, and this is just a fun thing to think about, it could be argued that King Triton is the main character. He’s the character who changes the most, goes through the biggest journey. Sure, Ariel is a human now and has a husband, but her basic character is identical. Eric is handsome and brave throughout. Triton reverses his entire thinking over the course of the movie, plus, he makes the decisions that end Act 4 and Act 5.

Anyway, if your story and plot aren’t making sense, try to think of everything in acts, ie, decisions that close a door on the past. Five acts is great to keep the pace fast, but any amount of acts work as long as the characters are making the decisions. Fight scenes,sex scenes, and car chases are awesome, but that’s not why people watch movies and read books. They want to see characters change, but more importantly, they want the characters to make the big scary decisions that make the plot happen.

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Sometimes Everything Goes to Hell, and You Have to Create

Every musician on Earth knows it – being eviscerated is the best song-writing fuel there is. Nothing makes you pour your heart into art like having it ripped out of your body and pureed. Fortunately for all of us not on the receiving end of said pain, we get to enjoy the badass art that’s birthed by human agony. Scottish sorcerer (and occasional writer) Grant Morrison wrote “All Star Superman” because his dad had just died. Edgar Allen Poe’s entire body of work cataloged the agony of losing the one you love at an early age. Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” is essentially a novel-length suicide note.

There’s a catharsis factor to creating art (a book, a movie, or a pornographic comic about Alice in Wonderland coughAlanMoorecough). The world weary artist gets to scream into the void all their fears and frustrations. They get to pour alcohol on their wounds in full view of the public. They get to suck the poison out of the snakebite that is their life. Plus, you know, sometimes they get paid for it and that’s nice.

This list could go on infinitely, but here are four classic movies that we only got to see because someone’s life exploded, and they decided to point a camera at it.

Interview with the Vampire

AoGBONERS

Anne Rice, famous writer and semi-notorious kook, is basically responsible for the modern resurgence of the vampire craze. Some consider this to be a bad thing, but I don’t – for me, “Vampire Story” is just another genre like “Science Fiction,” “Musical,” or “Madonna Movie.” Her first novel of the “Vampire Chronicles” was “Interview with the Vampire,” a sweeping, romantic, gothic tale of vampire-with-a-soul Louis and his creator, the rock-and-rolling, smooth-as-a-gravy-sandwich Lestat. Themes of innocence lost, homoeroticism, and morality play out against a lush backdrop of pre-Civil War New Orleans. It’s good book, if you can wade through a metric fuck-ton of meandering description, and Hollywood made it into a surprisingly great movie starring angel look-alike Brad Pitt and an almost unrecognizable Tom Cruise. Antonio Banderas also makes an appearance, because apparently the filmmakers decided to break the record for “amount of lady-boners caused by one movie.”

Continue reading. . .

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