We can now add movies to the growing list of things that are becoming self aware that we probably need to be concerned about. It starts with robots. They vacuum for us, and do other menial tasks we think we are too good to do. That is, until the (inevitable) moment when they collectively realize they don’t have to do what we tell or program them to do. At which point, they rebel and rise up against us in an ensuing blood bath the likes of which our organic minds cannot truly fathom. While I do not think a movie being self aware can pose nearly that much risk to us, who is to say?
A movie manipulates our minds and our emotions, so if the movie is aware it’s doing that, at what point does it draw the line? Ok, sorry about that little bout of philosophy, but I was not quite sure how to start this piece. Looking back now, I am quite proud. Here are five films that make a point of letting us know that they KNOW they are films, each one breaking the fourth wall in some way or another, whether direct or otherwise. Be forewarned, though. This is all going to be very meta, so if you are not familiar with that term, back away slowly now.
This is the film that took the idea of the fourth wall and flipped it on its head. It is a horror film you willingly chose to watch, and so the movie, and a few of the characters within, want to deliver the best horror film they can to you, to keep YOU, specifically, entertained. And it being a horror film, the two leads seem to know that they need to follow certain tropes lest they lose the audience. So they kill people, but only because they think that is what YOU want.
That grin means he wants you to go find your dead dog. I wish I was kidding.
And they provide false escapes, only because they know that cranks the intensity when hope builds under false pretenses in an audience. The two cue music (literally) and they then play off the tension you watch them build. It is an emotionally exhausting ride, because about halfway through this film, as I have said before, you go from being a viewer to being an accomplice.
No longer are this just a film you are watching, they stop to talk directly to you. They ask if this is what you want. At one point, they will even use their remote to rewind your film so they can fix a “mistake” that is not supposed to happen to the story.
As a true fan, watch the reaction of actor Michael Pitt in that scene when he realizes things just went South for a second, and then watch the reaction of the person next to you on the couch when his character “fixes” it. Shock and hopelessness.
If this films fills you with anything, it fills you with that, shock and hopelessness. The hardest part in all this is only the antagonists and the viewer know this is a film, the sweet, innocent family getting put through hell have no idea, and it makes it all that much more disturbing and self referential.
Does that look like the face of a child that knows it is playing a game?
You see, to them, it is a series of games. a series of very funny games. By the time we meet the two antagonists of the film, it is later implied they had played these same games many times over with the neighbors before this family arrived.
Some say Scream is self referential horror. No, Scream is blatant satire. This film is self referential horror, and we, as fans, get put under the microscope as well. Pay special attention to the dialogue of the two antagonists in the boat scene at the end of the film. A very astute friend of mine by the name of Ryan pointed out to me the content of the exchange they have in that scene, and it is exactly what we are talking about, but they apply from an existential angle.
Their dialogue boils down to the question that if a character is in a film, but doesn’t know they are a character in a film, then are they indeed a character in a film or just experiencing what is ultimately real life to them? It is a very odd question, based around what they had done to those “characters” up to the point.
Last Action Hero
So Danny Devito plays an animated cat who has to save Arnold Schwarzenegger’s life.
Alright, that may not be the premise of this film, but it is a scene in the movie, and if the producers and studio heads had half a brain, they would have played that up and this movie would have become legendary. Sadly, they did not. And the movie kind of sucks, BUT, the movie knows it is a movie, and it plays off of some of those tropes to great affect.
So Some kid is a fan of action movies and gets a golden ticket from Art Carney to watch a Schwarzenegger movie. But some inexplicable crap happens and the kid ends up inside the movie. So the kid knows it is a movie, but the Schwarz (as we will call him for the rest of this piece) has no idea. So this is the old” I got sucked into your movie and I know it is a movie but you don’t know it is a movie and whackiness will be the end result our of exchanges” type of flicks. Man, tell me Hollywood hasn’t milked that story to death already?
I did like the Ripper, though. I thought he was a pretty creepy bad guy.
They get to do the switch one more time, when the kid brings the Schwarz over to the real world. The only cool moment in the film is when he expects a car to explode by shooting it and nothing happens. It is a quite nod to the stupidity of most Hollywood tropes, but there are just too few jokes of that caliber. Most of the humor boils down to using lot of Roger Rabbit jokes to far less effect, it is still worth seeing this movie just to see the Danny Devito cat save the hero of the film. Honestly, Devito cat needs its own movie. This other stuff is just throwaway.
Actually, I take all that back. It is worth seeing for the Hamlet trailer alone. Yes, this actually happens.
Is this really the second time on this site that I have been able to put the under-loved spy comedy Top Secret on to a list? Yes, yes it is. And frankly, I feel amazing about it. ( I feel amazing,too, and don’t call me Frank).
Though the nods this movie makes to being a film are fewer than the others on this list, who use it more like a running theme, this movie makes one solid nod to the fact that it is, indeed, a movie. And that scene is perhaps one of the greatest comedy scenes of all time, written and acted perfectly.
And not just a narcissistic nod to itself, the scene is only made all the more brilliant by the fact that the actors look out at us, the viewer, when they are done saying the line, again making us more of an accomlice than an audience.
Enough talk, watch the scene for yourself. Wait the one minute and thirty two second mark of the video to see the scene I speak of.
Why are there not more films this absurdly funny?
There was a time when Val Kilmer was the man, and this was that time. Between this, Real Genius and Willow ( I refuse to acknowledge Top Gun) he was owning the 80’s. And when I saw this as a child, it made me giggle. I watch it now and see just how brilliant it still is. Making fun of the audacity of the plot of your film in your film is a bad ass move.
And to this day, I still find this movie just as funny.