The best kind of movie spoilers? (SPOILER ALERT)
September 9, 2013 5:47 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for the most mind-blowing things you've discovered or realized about a major motion picture, during or after the watching. Bonus points: what are these called so that I can google more of them?

Apologies in advance that I can't word this better (and hence also for my limited search-fu), but the examples that readily come to mind for me are (SPOILER ALERT) this deleted scene from LOTR and this interesting realization about Inception. Basically, I'm looking for something that blew your mind when you realized it about the back-story of a movie that you never before had even thought of, and/or some small fact that explained the main story and made all the pieces fall into place. I am interested in these for any movie, but particularly for major motion pictures. Also, is there a specific searchable term for this phenomena?

I am assuming the majority of answers will be spoiler-alerts-required so perhaps I can save everybody the trouble by introducing a blanket SPOILER ALERT for this entire question and all its answers. Thanks!
posted by allkindsoftime to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 94 users marked this as a favorite
The shooting star that accidentally made it into Jaws comes to mind.
posted by jbickers at 6:02 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a movie that was panned by everyone I knew, called The Astronaut's Wife (starring Charlize Theron and Johnny Depp) that, if you take it at face value (man is taken over by aliens, eventually is killed by his wife to protect their children) is pretty silly. However, if you flip it on its head and realize that the only evidence of his being alien-ized is all in his wife's head, you get a movie about a woman slowly going mad, which is really well-done.
posted by xingcat at 6:05 AM on September 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Not sure if it counts, but how about the unicorns in Blade Runner? In the original cut, the unicorn dream sequence isn't included, so the origami unicorn doesn't mean anything. In the director's cut, you have the dream sequence, so you know (and, more importantly, Deckard knows) that Deckard's a replicant.
posted by pompomtom at 6:15 AM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A lot of this is covered by Fridge Brilliance/Fridge Horror; where you watch a movie, go to the fridge, and have a sudden realization. Here's the TV Tropes page for Inception - Fridge, for example.
posted by specialagentwebb at 6:15 AM on September 9, 2013 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Also not sure if it's THAT mind blowing but it does call a decent attention to detail by the Back to the Future the mall in the opening scenes was "Twin Pines Mall"...after Marty goes back to '55 he takes out a tree on his way into crashing into the farmers barn....after he returns to '85 the mall sign/name has changed to "Lone Pine Mall"
posted by Captain_Science at 6:19 AM on September 9, 2013 [28 favorites]

The entirety of Pulp Fiction did this to me. So much so that I went to see it like 8 times in the theatre to pick up other bits I might have missed.
posted by DigDoug at 6:27 AM on September 9, 2013

Maybe not as unknown, but the entirely of the plot of Shaun Of The Dead is foreshadowed in the first "This is what we're going to do tonight" montage.
posted by The Whelk at 6:51 AM on September 9, 2013

(that's also true in the other Cornetto films from what I remember: in Hot Fuzz Angel does all the cool stuff Danny wants him to do in the first half of the movie in the second half; in The World's End, the pubcrawlers drop out of the crawl in the same order they did in the original teenage crawl).
posted by selfnoise at 6:55 AM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

There are a number of callbacks throughout the Coen brothers' movie universe.

In Raising Arizona, H.I. works for Hudsucker Industries.

A dog tracks the guys by the smell of Clooney's hair pomade in O Brother Where Art Thou, and in Raising Arizona Leonard Smalls tracks the baby down by following the smell of Gale and Evelle, who both greased up their hair at the gas station.

There's a blue VW in Blood Simple and in The Big Lebowski.

There are a few more but I'm completely blanking right now.
posted by phunniemee at 6:55 AM on September 9, 2013

I like watching movies as allegories. Then unwatchable movies become amazing. If you watch the first Hulk (Eric Bana, Jennifer Connolly) while keeping in mind that this is about traumatic flashbacks and PTSD, then a man suddenly turning into an angry monster who can't speak makes sense.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:11 AM on September 9, 2013

Best answer: The Season Five finale of Lost. In a few short, oblique scenes it reveals an entire narrative arc that had been running throughout the series, but it happens so fast it's impossible to understand it all at once. Only later do you put all the pieces together in your head and realize how tragic it is.
posted by Smallpox at 7:27 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Tim Kreider's analysis of The Straight Story has made the film so much better for me, and so much more heartbreaking. It's since become my favorite Lynch film.
posted by mochapickle at 7:47 AM on September 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

I love Adaptation for just what you describe. The movie is about a screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, trying to write a faithful adaptation of The Orchid Thief. The Charlie Kaufman character has a speech at the beginning in which he lists the cheap plot devices he won't do to liven up the book. The movie then proceeds to include each of those plot devices.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:50 AM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Tim Kreider's analysis of The Straight Story has made the film so much better for me, and so much more heartbreaking. It's since become my favorite Lynch film.

There also exists a large body of criticism that Kubrick's The Shining is a story about the conquest of the West by the white settlers massacring Native Americans - the site of the hotel, the NA motifs in clothing and hair, etc and whatever malevolent force that drives Jack is the same force that repeats a cycle of slaughter.
posted by The Whelk at 7:59 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also in Back to the Future, the owner of the pine trees was Otis Peabody and his son was Sherman. In other words, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, the time travelling dog and his boy.

I also liked that the opening voice over to The Prisoner spoils the whole background of the series but is beautifully masked under misdirection in word emphasis.
posted by plinth at 8:02 AM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Every car in the background of Superstar is a green VW bug.
posted by Hutch at 8:07 AM on September 9, 2013

There is actually a pine-tree air freshener in every car in Repo Man (including the cop's motorcycle) which the movie explicitly references.
posted by Hutch at 8:09 AM on September 9, 2013

Best answer: The third time I watched The Prestige, I realized that the narration at the end was not only describing the magic trick, but also the way the movie was structured, and in particular the final reveal about Hugh Jackman's trick. Left me completely stunned
posted by Gorgik at 8:10 AM on September 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

The Santa Claus in miracle on 34th St. was almost definitely not supposed to be actually Santa Claus. Or was he?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:40 AM on September 9, 2013

It's pretty darn speculative, but you can't beat it for scope: The Pixar Theory!

Oh, see also Tommy Wesphall, I guess.
posted by heyforfour at 8:46 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In the intro to The Thing, the guy shouting at them is telling them all they need to know. But in Norwegian, unfortunately for them.
posted by solotoro at 8:53 AM on September 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: In that vein, the kidnappers at the start of the first Iron Man film tell you everything you need to know about the plot twists to come, but in Urdu.
posted by The Whelk at 8:54 AM on September 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

In The Book of Eli there's a big twist (redacted) but the subtler realization is the story you just watched about a guy carrying around a bible on a post-apocalyptic planet will actually become the newest chapter of the bible, which has to be rewritten in its entirety at the end of the movie.
posted by grog at 8:55 AM on September 9, 2013

Best answer: Cool Papa Bell's theory about Ferris Bueller's Day Off blew my mind, because it makes so much sense. (Meta)
posted by Melismata at 8:58 AM on September 9, 2013

Best answer: Perhaps you are talking on some level about the technique of "misdirection," in which audience attention is purposely directed towards red herrings until a final reveal.
Some of the most explicit examples are in The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense.
The new Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine accomplishes this in a more subtle but still striking way.
posted by third rail at 9:00 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Old Gods as the audience and the facility as the movie industry in The Cabin in the Woods. It's pretty on-the-nose, but I was surprised at how many people I watched it with didn't catch it.

Also, I love The Fountain for the way that pretty much every interpretation you come to is equally valid.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:13 AM on September 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

The World's End was fun, but in an interview recently Edgar Wright commented that the whole "Getting the band back together" trope was explicitly a reference to them, the actors and director, doing another Cornetto film. If you reed the entire film as not just about nostalgia but about specifically making these films, and making art in general, about selling out vs staying independent and raw, the whole exercise (especially all the self-referential bits and the ending) becomes even more poignant.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:13 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing The Sixth Sense. When I saw it in the theater, there were various shouts of "Holy fucking shit!" and "You son of a..."
posted by Melismata at 10:22 AM on September 9, 2013

The Others. Mortal Thoughts-- which I seem to have found more effective than most people did.
posted by BibiRose at 10:43 AM on September 9, 2013

The ending of the reimagining of Battlestar Galactica fits with Patrick Macnee's voiceover from the original series: "There are those who believe...that life here began out there, far across the Universe...with tribes of humans...who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians...or the Toltecs...or the Mayans...that they may have been the architects of the Great Pyramids...or the lost civilizations of Lemuria...or Atlantis."
posted by biffa at 10:56 AM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

In The World's End, each of the pub names is a reference to the action that occurs at each one.
posted by Lotto at 11:12 AM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's been a while since I've seen Day of the Beast, but if memory serves, there is only one scene in which the characters actually experience anything that could be called supernatural, and it happens while they're all on an acid trip. In other words, it's completely plausible that the protagonists are all just crazy. This didn't hit me until a little later but it changed my perception of the movie.

I had seen I'm a Cyborg But That's Okay a bunch of times and loved it, but I had missed something about the final scene which changes the ending from something fun but inexplicable to something very sweet in its own crazy way. But let me catch you up, if you haven't seen it (you should, it's really good and it's on Netflix streaming, I believe).

Young-goon is a mentally ill young woman who believes she's a cyborg and gets sent to a mental hospital after slitting her wrists and trying to put in wires. She believes she doesn't need to eat (she just holds a battery between her fingers to recharge), so she's wasting away despite being intubated. Il-Sun (a kleptomaniac who believes he can switch souls with people and mentions early on how good he is at being sneaky) becomes kind of taken with her and the movie turns into a really weird, charming romantic comedy, but she still won't eat and she's basically dying. Eventually, Il-Sun comes up with the idea to indulge her delusions and creates a hardware upgrade for her called a Rice Megatron which he claims will allow her to convert rice into energy. She lets him "install" it in her back and sure enough, that does the trick, and she starts eating rice. In Aleister Crowley terms, it's an imaginary mongoose.

This sort of continues through the rest of the movie: he is able to keep her safe and protected by meeting her delusions halfway.

At the end, the two characters are having a picnic during a thunderstorm. They're camped out next to a homemade lightning rod, because Young-goon is deliberately trying to get struck by lightning to fulfill what she thinks is her programming (she believes she is a bomb and needs lightning to explode and end the world). Obviously, this would kill her, cyborg or not, but Il-sun doesn't seem worried about it, and in fact he agreed to help her carry it out. The wind picks up and a few things happen very quickly: The wind blows their tent away. Young-goon scrambles to cover up their food, but can't find the cork to the wine bottle. They huddle together. The next shot is of sunrise the next morning. It's a long shot so it's not completely clear that they're still alive at first (having either died of exposure or being struck by lightning), but they're moving a bit so yeah, they're okay this time. A rainbow is overhead. Apparently they are making love.

The first few times I saw this movie, I thought it was a really good ending, if not a bit confusing and definitely leaving the viewer wanting more. But I liked that, and I liked the note of uncertainty that it appears to end on. They got lucky this time, but who knows?

That's what I thought until I read the Wikipedia summary one day and learned a tiny detail I had missed all those times I'd watched it. The ending isn't uncertain at all. It makes a definitive statement about what their lives will be like.

The cork is missing because Il-sun, in his sneaky fashion, put it at the top of their lightning rod, ensuring that they would never be hit by lightning. This is pretty much their deal: Realistically, she'll never be "fixed," but by playing along with her delusions he can make sure he's there to protect her. He'll never be "fixed" either, but this gives him a purpose and a real connection with another person - something he never had before.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:20 AM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I love Adaptation for just what you describe. The movie is about a screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, trying to write a faithful adaptation of The Orchid Thief. The Charlie Kaufman character has a speech at the beginning in which he lists the cheap plot devices he won't do to liven up the book. The movie then proceeds to include each of those plot devices.

I rewatched Adaptation a few years ago, after having read Robert McKee's Story. And my mind was blown to realize that it's not actually an adaptation of The Orchid Thief at all, but rather of McKee's book. Story opens with a rejection of filmmaking cliches and formulas as we might find in Blake Snyder's screenwriting methods. Charlie Kaufman (the character) assumes that Robert McKee's system is formula-based, and so initially, after he finds that his overly lofty, literary storytelling ideas aren't working for writing the screenplay, he defaults to cliche and formula. But this is because Charlie is, as Robert McKee characterizes them, a "rebellious, unschooled writer" who is merely trying to break rules. His brother Donald, he assumes, is an "anxious, inexperienced writer" who follows them, and so he apes Donald's habits in the second half of the film, which largely rests on Hollywood cliches. But in order for the movie to reach its ultimate conclusion, Charlie has to integrate the lessons of Story into his screenplay--he becomes an "artist master[ing] form." The ultimate conclusion is neither formulaic or rebellious, but rather follows the emotional arc of its characters to a natural and satisfying ending. Which is exactly what McKee's book teaches screenwriters to do.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:35 PM on September 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

The Argentinian film 'Nine Queens' demonstrates some con tricks at the small scale while introducing the central characters and setting up the story then runs them on a much larger scale as the main elements of the film.
posted by biffa at 2:30 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Related to LOTR, but the books, not the film—Who is Tom Bombadil?
posted by cephalopodcast at 4:45 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've mentioned this somewhere here before but I love watching Signs in a context where Mel Gibson is a crazy hyper religious nutter, paranoid and full of fear for otherness. It fits so easily! The aliens are enlightened, here to spread good, but dumb humans are too scared to see it. The last scene the alien is about to cure that kids asthma forever not hurt him, but his stupid lugnut brained brother beats that alien to death in some sad displaced revived sports fantasy. Then there they are, safe again in their ignorance, that poor one kid forever suffering from respiratory dysfunction. It's an awesome tragedy this way.
posted by dog food sugar at 2:18 AM on September 10, 2013

The other thing with Signs is the aliens-are-really-demons theory which just fits so well.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:38 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the movie The Edge, Anthony Hopkins figures out that Alec Baldwin is sleeping with his wife and plans to kill him for his money when he discerns what is on the back of Baldwin's watch (from other clues) as they are trying to survive in the wilderness. The watch is engraved with a note from Hopkins's wife.

Earlier in the movie, before everything goes to pot, Hopkins participates in a contest where he guesses what is on the back of an oar with a panther carving that is hanging above the door. He guesses correctly that it is a "rabbit smoking a pipe." The explanation is that he knows the parable about the panther who hunts the rabbit, and the rabbit is calmly smoking, as he knows that he's smarter than the panther.

At the end of the movie, of course, Hopkins outsmarts Baldwin to prevent Baldwin from killing him, mainly because of what he discerns about the back of the watch, without having to actually look at it.

I didn't catch that possible connection until the second or third time through.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:08 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

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