8 Obscure Background Movie Clues That Explained Everything –



“That didn’t make any sense,” is one of the most common criticisms of films (aside from perhaps “Yeah, it was probably too long,” and “I’ve seen it all in the trailers”). And it’s not hard to see why – big budget blockbusters that care more about marketing themselves to the teen demographic than they do actually making a coherent story are seemingly more prevalent than ever before (seriously, was anybody able to come up with a summary of Terminator Genisys that didn’t break down halfway through the second sentence?).

But finding a movie confusing isn’t always a bad thing. From high-reaching mega-hits to smugly-smart indie fare, some films love to test their audiences mental ability, throwing out lots of tricky ideas and refusing to bring them all together at the end. They wallow in ambiguity, begging for endless post-viewing debate.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there is no way of breaking these films down. Like trailer editors with key returning Star Wars characters, filmmakers don’t leave things to chance. The answers may not be spelled out for you, but they are still there, hidden in the movie for eagle-eyed movie fans to find.

To illustrate the point, here are eight such movies that suddenly make an awful lot more sense if you just pay attention to the background.

8. The Child Actors Show The Ending’s Not A Dream – Inception

Is Leonardo DiCaprio awake or asleep at the end of Inception? It’s been a hot topic ever since he walked away from the wobbling, but not fully fallen, spinning top. Of course, the correct answer is that it doesn’t matter – Dom chooses this level as his reality, whether it’s actually the real world or not is of no interest to him as long as he gets to be with his family.

This is so important that Christopher Nolan even broke his typical silence on finished projects to confirm this reading. But while knowing the thematic solution is nice, it doesn’t deal with the plain logic of it all. And Nolan did sneak in an answer in there.

In a fan theory that is so watertight it might as well be taken as gospel, it’s said that the spinning top isn’t Cobb’s totem at all (that was his crazy ex-wife Mal’s) – it’s his wedding ring, a symbol of how he’s still attached to Mal in the dream-world. He wears it in every dream, while in all of the real world sequences, including the ending, he’s not.

So there you have it – Cobb was awake. That’s not all though – there’s another, even less prolific clue to the nature of the film’s ending. Cobb’s kids, who he refuses to look at throughout the film, are played by two different sets of actors – a younger pair in the dreams (where they’re bled-through memories) and a couple a few years older (and wearing slightly different clothes) for the final scene, signifying we’re in a level where a few years have passed; the real world.

7. The Alien Is The One With No Visible Breath – The Thing

There were several endings of John Carpenter’s The Thing shot, including a happy (Kurt Russell’s MacReady gets off Antarctica and is found free of the titular alien parasite) and depressing (the shapeshifting monster escapes the central camp in the form of the dog) conclusion, with the director eventually plumping for something in the middle that’s painfully ambiguous.

At the end, MacReady seemingly kills the alien and collapses exhausted amongst the burning base before Childs, presumed dead earlier, pops up and shares a drink with the helicopter pilot. There’s a whole bevy of evidence that Childs is or isn’t the Thing – his coat is different, which is symbolically duplicitous and suggests his old one was torn up during a transformation – but the real solution is so simple you’ll kick yourself for wasting all that time watching rambling YouTube explanations; it’s the breath.

In the final scene you can clearly sees MacReady’s breath steaming in the cold. But Childs? Not a whisp. We don’t know every specific feature of the creature, but we know it can survive extreme cold and is thus unlikely to produce any water vapour. Unwittingly taking the (for all he knows contaminated) whiskey bottle for a swig is just the icing on the cake.

6. The Zodiac Killer Looks Different Each Time Because The Film Doesn’t Have The Answer – Zodiac

Who is the Zodiac killer? That’s the question driving David Fincher’s two-and-a-half hour detective thriller Zodiac, and at the end… you’ll be none the wiser. The mystery twists and turns, with multiples fakers and likely candidates repeatedly debunked. The ending does see Jake Gyllenhaal make up his mind, but the exact truth is kept at arms length; prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen certainly fits the bill, but had already been cleared of the crimes earlier on in the film and, because in real life he died before he could be arrested, no charges were ever made against him. A pretty sudden finale to say the least.

The key phase in that, however, is real life. What happened in the movie is exactly how it went down, and in truth Zodiac was never about solving the case (that’s the job of internet theorists), but presenting it (at least the bits pertaining to the murders themselves) as accurately as possible. There’s lots of otherwise bizarre creative choices that play into this; most prominently, each of the Zodiac’s appearances are recreated solely from victim testimony (hence why the first attributed killing, which had no survivors, wasn’t shown), leading to the murderer looking different in each attack.

It’s not easy to get that from the classic thriller set up (or that the investigation side of things is slightly fictitious), but the real point of the film is to explore the process, not the answer. Who was the Zodiac? Who knows, but certainly not the film.

5. The Screens At Rekall Show It’s All A Dream – Total Recall

Like Inception for people who like cheesy one-liners, Total Recall ends asking if Arnie awake or asleep; is he really a secret agent who saved an entire planet, or just a construction worker whose got lost in a commercially available fantasy? We can be here all day debating the implications of “blue skies on Mars” and the walls “crashing down” because, thanks to Paul Verhoeven smartly letting those bigger theological questions not get in the way of gracious violence and some still-impressive practical effects, that’s only half of Total Recall’s fun.

Unlike Inception, it’s not the sort of movie that wants to be getting you musing on the finer things. However, for those of you looking there are some resolute clues to the true reality. While Schwarzenegger’s Doug Quaid is prepping at visiting dream-company Rekall, the background monitors are full of elements relating to his later events – the alien air-production plant, his request for a brunette, athletic, sleazy and demure love interest produces Melina’s image on the screen – immediately revealing everything that happens afterwards as a fictitious construct.

These clues are so often overlooked in favour of the more obvious verbal links, but are much harder to easily dismiss as mere coincidence.

4. The Truth Behind The Bond Codename Theory: Revealed – Skyfall

The James Bond franchise has a notoriously flippant approach to continuity. It bounds from one movie to the next only caring about what came before if the predecessor was particularly successful and refusing to acknowledge any plot holes that arise even within a single actor’s tenure. And yet through various castings of M and Q you can trace the modern, Daniel Craig iteration all the way back to Dr. No, even though each new actor is pretty much taken as a restart of the series. It’s a headache for those looking for the wonderful consistency of many other lengthy franchises.

The solution to all this? Well, some fans dreamt up that James Bond, like the digits 007, is a codename given to a certain set of MI6 secret agents. It started as a jokey suggestion, but as the franchise went on and on, especially after Daniel Craig’s iteration was introduced as a newly minted double-0, it really took hold. Although it’s never been directly addressed by the films, Skyfall threw out a background clue that passively disproves it.

While at the eponymous childhood home of James Bond, we see a tombstone for Andrew and Monique Delacroix Bond, his parents, proving once and for all that it’s his real name (unless it’s a really, really unlucky coincidence). Not everyone spotted it, and not all those who did bought into it, coming up with complex theories of how it’s all part of some big MI6 brainwashing game. But now with Spectre, which has a plot even more seeped in Bond’s past, there’s no really avoiding that James Bond is his real name. And that the 007 series just doesn’t have any continuity.

3. You Can Actually Hear What Bill Murray Says – Lost In Translation

“Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun,” is my favourite quote from Lost In Translation. Delivered with almost absentminded insight, it’s a wonderful summation of the film’s exploration or longing and regret, hanging over the whole thing like a Suntory-induced hangover. However, it’s only really my fav because nobody aside from Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson knows what the most important line from the film even is.

At the end, just as Murray’s successful-but-empty actor prepares to leave Tokyo for Japan he spots Johansson’s equally-lost soul in a crowd and they embrace one last time, where he whispers… something… in her ear.

What is it? Who knows – the line wasn’t in the script, instead created on the spot by Murray and kept purposefully ambiguous to leave the audience aching for for more just like the characters. Except, there is actually an answer (still doesn’t topple my top quote though).

The words Murray spoke are actually in the background of the sound track and, with some clever enhancement you can make out that he’s saying “I have to be leaving, but I won’t let that come between us.” Awwww.

2. A Split-Second, Out-Of-Focus Shot Reveals Deckard’s A Replicant – Blade Runner

Whether Deckard is a replicant or not is still one of the most hotly debated questions in sci-fi cinema, despite the Ridley Scott having come out multiple times and confirming that, yes, he is. Not that he needed to explicitly say it at all. Ever since he reedited in a deleted scene of Harrison Ford dreaming of an electric unicorn back in 1992 the ending went from being a metaphysical tease to a forceful nudge; former Blade Runner Gaff revealed, through the use of origami, he knows Deckard’s true origins. But all that’s not really necessary; there’s a shot (present in all earlier cuts) that gives it away only an hour or so into the film.

It’s established very early on that the key to telling a replicant from a human is the eyes; the eponymous detectives use an optical test to question suspected androids, while the film repeatedly gives replicant’s irises a hollow red glow when viewed from a certain angle. And, what do you know, when Deckard takes a stunned Rachael back to his flat, in one slightly out-of-focus shot his eyes flash red, if anything (given Blade Runner’s meticulous visuals) a more telling clue than that foil unicorn.

Some fans of the human Deckard theory like to claim that him being a replicant is merely retconning care of Scott, but this shows that it was always meant to be, at the very least, ambiguous.

1. Everything Is A Clue – The Shining

Taken at face value The Shining is the story of a crazy, violent man who takes his family to an isolated hotel where he proceeds to become crazy and violent (shocker), either because he has no beer (not a Simpsons reference – that’s genuinely part of the film) or general ghost meddling, with an odd subplot about a psychic son. Then at the end he somehow ends up assimilated into the hotel’s past, because reasons. It’s a chilling film, one that uses constant foreboding to build up an increasingly oppressive tension, but pinning down the point of it all (and because this is Stanley Kubrick there’s definitely a bigger point) is tricky. Although naturally, again because this is a Kubrick film, there’s clues to that bigger picture hidden in the background (and pure composition) of each frame.

The Overlook Hotel is absolutely littered with Native American iconography, from the tapestries hanging in the main room to a specific brand of baking powder in the fridge, and is even built on an “Ancient Indian Burial Ground”. Contrast that with the more overt hints at the general weirdness of the hotel (skiing adverts for a resort with no skiing) and you’re left with a film all about the appropriation and decimation of persons and culture (kinda ironic given how much Stephen King hated this adaptation of his book). That is, of course, one reading, but shows how so much of the film is hidden in the little scenery choices.

Naturally some people have taken it all rather far, with the documentary Room 237 not only highlighting the Native American theory, but also some more bonkers ones about it being Kubrick’s confession for faking the moon landings and him superimposing his face into the opening credits for no discernible reason. Hmm… maybe it is possible to read too much into a film.


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