6 Barely Noticeable Ways Movies And TV Messed With Your Head

Filmmakers long ago grew bored with making their audiences feel pathetic regular emotions like joy or sorrow. That’s kid stuff. The real pros work to fill their audiences with a complete sense of bewilderment, whether it’s with an insane plot, bizarre structure, or bamboozling Easter eggs. But even among these ranks, a few movies have managed to mess with viewers’ heads in a way that most people never even noticed. For instance …

6

The Layout Of The Hotel In The Shining Is Deliberately Confusing And Impossible

Stanley Kubrick was a perfectionist. Whether the task at hand was copying the inside of a bomber which no civilian had ever seen, carefully detailing how to work a space toilet, or providing custom translations for an insane manuscript, every element of his movies was considered down to the smallest detail. Which means it probably isn’t an accident that the setting of his “Crazy Jack Nicholson” opus The Shining is the most nonsensically laid out building in cinematic history.

When someone analyzed the design of the Overlook Hotel by consulting the documents used to build the set, it was clear that Kubrick mapped the Overlook to subconsciously fuck with the audience’s brains. In the same way that the hotel drives Jack insane, Kubrick is trying to give us architectural vertigo. The building is filled with hallways that make no sense, balconies and doors that appear and disappear at will, internal windows with sunlight streaming through them, and corridors running into dead ends with no warning. These designs make it clear that the bad guys aren’t the ghosts and demons that haunt the Overlook; it’s the Overlook itself. Its isolated location, bloodsoaked history, and “shine” all contribute to the family’s misery.

Warner Bros. Pictures
The decoration too.

There’s nowhere that this phenomenon is on show better than when it comes to the hedge maze. Here it is when we’re first introduced to it:

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

Nothing weird there, other than the inherent creepiness Nicholson brings to any scene. But seconds later, the shot cuts to an overhead of Wendy and Danny exploring the maze:

That is not the same maze. There are many ways to read this. Was the hotel trying to trap Wendy and Danny in the maze? Or did it realize that Jack was studying the maze and showed him a different setup to try to trap him in it later? Or was it Kubrick’s attempt to madden people like us, who relentlessly obsess over movie details?

Well … uh, joke’s on you, Stanley, because it super didn’t work.

5

The X-Files Had A Cockroach Run Across The Camera In Its Killer Cockroach Episode

The third season of The X-Files sees Mulder and Scully face down a swarm of maybe-extraterrestrial, definitely killer cockroaches in a small town. Standard X-Files stuff so far — just throw in some sexual tension and trench coats and you’re done. But it probably wasn’t fun if you had a cockroach phobia, and there was one scene in particular which would have been extra terrifying.

Yes, that’s a cockroach scurrying across the screen. You might laugh and say that this sort of schlocky trick could only fool the pre-modern rubes of, um … 1996. And, well, you wouldn’t be wrong.

But it turns out that Generation Netflix isn’t exactly brimming with stoicism either:

There are certainly more subtle tricks on this list, but for the record, we are totally on board with anything that makes people think they live in an insect-ridden filth pile. Might encourage you all to clean up a few dishes, at least.

4

TV Characters Are Always Referencing The Days Their Shows Are Airing

It’s always nice when a show drops clever in-jokes which its dedicated fans can get. Not consistent writing or meaningful character development or useless crap like that — no, we’re talking about the real cool shit, like constant references to the day the show airs on.

In Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Buffy’s dialogue is regularly peppered with references to Tuesdays. It’s not because that’s a supernaturally important day, but simply because that was the day that her quipfest aired. Who could forget these gems:

And in House, Cuddy cuts off the hospital’s cable as a way of saving money and tells House to make do with broadcast channels, to which he responds “I’ll be fine on Tuesdays,” which was, of course, when House aired on FOX. Curiously, he doesn’t seem perturbed by the implication that his life is being broadcast, like The Truman Show if Truman had a crippling pill addiction.

In one episode of Doctor Who, the Doctor is having a predictably wacky rant about his time-travelling shenanigans when he starts reeling off his least favorite days of the week, before concluding that Saturdays are the best because they’re “big temporal tipping points when anything is possible.”


Hey, can you guess what night Doctor Who airs in Britain? Or was that too subtle for you?

Supernatural was guilty of this too. In an episode wherein one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse shows up, they’re met with a pithy “Awesome, another Horseman. Must be Thursday.” Which … well that’s a direct ripoff of the Buffy line from above, isn’t it? We’d be madder if everything on Supernatural wasn’t a direct ripoff of something from Buffy. Seems almost necessary to include this one too.

Oh, and speaking of Doctor Who

3

Doctor Who Has The Viewer Stalked By Weeping Angels

Breaking into a new television show halfway through its run is always hard. There are unfamiliar characters, previous events being referenced, and a whole raft of in-jokes to pretend you understand. You’d expect then that by its fifth decade, a show like Doctor Who would be an incomprehensible mess. But it isn’t! Most of the time!

For instance, the episode “Blink” barely features the Doctor at all, and instead focuses entirely on new characters, new locations, and a new monster. The episode sees a woman named Sally Sparrow investigating an alien race known as the “Weeping Angels” — basically, living statues that can’t move when anyone is looking at them. They’re like Schrodinger’s Cat, except they’re dead when observed and zapping you back in time when they’re not. That’s where the episode title comes from; if the characters look away from an Angel for even the length of time it takes them to blink, that’s enough time for them to strike.

But hold up, what about the times when the characters aren’t watching the Weeping Angels, but they remain motionless? Well, someone is watching them: us, the viewer. And the rules hold for us. Watch what happens when Sally momentarily blocks our view of an Angel lingering in the background:

The importance of the viewer to the plot is stressed again in the ending, when the Doctor directly warns the viewer: “Don’t blink. Blink and you’re dead,” before cutting to various shots of real-world statues. The implication is clear: This wasn’t a work of fiction, and every statue wants to feast on your innards. Use the buddy system in every museum you visit, people.

2

Adaptation Becomes An Insane Action Movie Because The “Idiot” Character Wrote That Part Of It

Adaptation is a movie about a writer hired to adapt a nonfiction book into a film. In the process of writing, he also manages to embroil himself in a bizarre criminal conspiracy — a stark contrast to the lives of most writers, who can literally do a day’s work without leaving bed. It’s a crazy premise, in other words, but it’s only when you really peer into the movie’s soul that you understand what happens.

The main character is Charlie Kaufman, played by Nicholas Cage. And yes, he’s nominally playing the real Charlie Kaufman, who wrote the movie. As the movie explains, while tasked with adapting a book called The Orchid Thief, Kaufman decides he can’t do it, and like a complete asshole, he turns the script into a movie about himself trying to write the movie. Which implies to the audience that the movie they’re watching is in fact the movie they see him trying to write. This is made clear fairly soon in the story, in a scene in which he’s dictating his ideas into a tape recorder:

“We open on Charlie Kaufman. Fat, old, bald, repulsive, sitting in a Hollywood restaurant, across from Valerie Thomas, a lovely, statuesque film executive. Kaufman, trying to get a writing assignment, wanting to impress her, sweats profusely. Fat, bald Kaufman paces furiously in his bedroom. He speaks into his handheld tape recorder, and he says: ‘Charlie Kaufman. Fat, bald, repulsive, old, sits at a Hollywood restaurant with Valerie Thomas.'”

And guess how the movie opens? With Charlie Kaufman (fat, bald, repulsive) sitting in a restaurant across from a film executive getting the job:

There’s a wrinkle, though. Cage also plays Charlie’s twin brother, Donald Kaufman … a brother the real-life Charlie Kaufman doesn’t have. In the movie, Donald is a buffoon and a writer of hacky action/thriller movies. Shortly after Charlie acquiesces to Donald helping him write The Orchid Thief, the third act of the film becomes a ridiculous action film starring Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper as a pair of vicious drug dealers, and Donald dies. The meta implication is that after Donald died, Charlie decided to use his notes to end the very film we’re watching, and credited him on the movie’s real-life poster.

1

Alien Works An Accidental Camera Bump Into The Plot

The Alien movies have their share of moments both subtle and clumsy, from the brilliant tension of the ventilation duct scene, to the, well, entire back half of the franchise. But there was one moment in Alien that was so brilliantly subtle you may have missed. Just like with Doctor Who, you the moviegoer appear to influence the plot, like someone reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book published in Hell.

The moment occurs shortly after Ripley realizes that Ash deliberately allowed the crew of the Nostromo to become infected. He attacks her and nearly kills her. But midway through the fight, he pauses momentarily. Why? Because you distracted him.

Check out the wind chimes. They’re moving, but there’s nothing that could have made them move … except for the camera (read: the audience) bumping into them as it pulls into the corridor. This distracts Ash and he turns his head to look before throwing Ripley into them.

This has a pretty significant impact on the plot. Ash pummels Ripley, but you blunder in and distract him before he can finish the job. If you hadn’t distracted him, he could have killed her right there, but the pivotal hitting of the chimes buys more time for the rest of the team to arrive and destroy Ash.

You’re the reason Ripley survived Alien! Without you, we’d never have got Aliens! Which means you’re also the reason we got Aliens 3, Alien: Resurrection, both Alien vs. Predators, and, weirdly, Carnosaur 2.

Congratulations.

Adam is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter about depressing history which you can just go right ahead and subscribe to. He’d also like to thank David Christopher Bell for his help with “Adaptation” and Dan Olson (aka: FoldableHuman) for pointing out that thing in “Alien.”

For further mind-bending insanity, watch anything by Peter Chung, the creator of Aeon Flux and contibutor to The Animatrix and Firebreather.

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