Conspiracy theories: they’re as fascinating as they are maddening. For every ridiculous idea that the stoner in your life insists on telling you about every time you see him/her, there’s another theory that sounds like it could just be true. Here at Flavorwire this week, we’re investigating conspiracy theories in pop culture: yes, it’s Conspiracy Theory Week! Don’t tell the Illuminati.
The most intriguing of today’s DVD and Blu-ray releases is Room 237, director Rodney Ascher’s ingenious montage documentary showcasing the wildest fan theories about Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining. Among them: that the film is an apology for the genocide of the Native American, that it is an examination of the crimes of the Holocaust, and (best of all) that Kubrick helped fake the Apollo moon landings while making 2001, and though he could never tell the truth about that job, he inserted various clues and explanations into The Shining as an apology/confession. Sounds crazy, huh? Well, there’s plenty more, even stranger movie theories floating around the Internet, and since we know how much you love this sort of thing, here’s a few of the odder ones.
The Three Men and a Baby Ghost Theory
Arguably the most famous of these theories, and certainly the oldest — dating back to 1990, when such theories were spread by word of mouth and checked out via VHS (leading to a spike in sales immediately before Three Men and a Little Lady hit theaters, prompting whispers of an altogether different conspiracy at work). Curious parties put their finger on the pause button for the scene where Jack (Ted Danson) is visited by his mother (Celeste Holm). As they walk by one of the many windows in Jack and his buddies’ bachelor pad, a short male figure can be glimpsed, unnoticed, in the background. The story is that the figure is the ghost of a little boy who committed suicide in the apartment where the film was shot. (The grislier variations even hold that he did the deed with a shotgun, which you can see the figure holding if you squint just enough.) The boy’s mother was shocked when she saw the film, and asked Disney to remove the scene; when they refused, she appeared on Geraldo, Donahue, and several other shows to tell the grisly tale before (in some versions) going insane. The trouble with the story, as Snopes points out, is that the movie wasn’t shot in a real apartment building, tainted by suicide or otherwise: it was shot on a Toronto soundstage. The figure in the window is a cardboard cutout of Danson (who plays an actor), leftover from a cut storyline about him doing a dog food commercial.
The Pulp Fiction Briefcase Theory
As Pulp Fiction captured the pop culture imagination following its release in the fall of 1994, one question was on everyone’s mind: what was in that briefcase? The film’s opening segment finds enforcers Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) going to an apartment and killing three men to retrieve a briefcase for their boss, Marcellus Wallace; in the final sequence, Jules is willing to turn over a giant wad of cash to diner robbers Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer), but not the briefcase. Its contents are never revealed; all we know is that it emits some kind of a golden glow, and that, in Pumpkin’s words, “It’s beautiful.” So what was it? In those early days of the Internet, a theory surfaced: Jules and Vincent’s boss, Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) had sold his soul to the devil, and they were sent to retrieve it — and it was being held in that briefcase, which, significantly enough, had a combination of “666.” And because they were doing God’s work of saving a soul from the devil, God himself “came down and stopped the bullets” that should have killed them in that apartment. Co-writer Roger Avary rained on that parade, telling Roger Ebert that they were just diamonds. But Tarantino has said he loves these theories: “Stuff that’s open for interpretation, I want your interpretation. The minute I tell you what I think, you’ll throw away whatever you’ve come up with in your head. You can’t help it. I would too. You’d feel like a fool. So you tell me what’s in the briefcase. If you think it’s Marsellus’s soul and he’s bought it back from the devil, which is one guess I’ve heard, well, you are right: It’s his soul. That I actually did a movie that can inspire such wildly imaginative readings makes me proud.”
The Tarantino Universe Theory
Another interesting thing happened after Pulp transitioned from movie to full-on phenomenon: people started noticing similarities between Tarantino’s characters. John Travolta’s Pulp character and Michael Madsen’s in Reservoir Dogs shared a last name; Mr. White in Reservoir Dogs mentions a thief named Alabama, which was also the name of Patricia Arquette’s character in True Romance; he also mentions a parole officer named Scagnetti, which is the last name of Tom Sizemore’s character in the Tarantino-penned Natural Born Killers. The actual explanation is that most of these scripts were written at the same early period in Tarantino’s pre-fame career, with no guarantee that any of them would be made, and he wasn’t going to let cool names go to waste. But that’s boring; the explanation that was borne instead was that all of his films took place in the same “Tarantino-verse,” that the Vegas were brothers (whose own, spin-off prequel film was even proposed), and that all of his films were interconnected. Tarantino himself got into the act, telling Entertainment Weekly around the time of Kill Bill’s release that there were actually three universes in his films: the “movie universe” (“That universe is realer than real life”) where Pulp Fiction, True Romance and Reservoir Dogs took place; the “movie movie universe” of heightened films people in those movies would go see (Kill Bill, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Natural Born Killers); and then the “Elmore Leonard universe,” home to Jackie Brown (and other directors’ films, like Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, which also features Michael Keaton’s Ray Nicolet). The “movie universe”/”movie movie universe” theory also helps explain the similarity between Fox Force Five, the failed TV pilot Mia Wallace tells Vincent about in Fiction, and the subsequent Kill Bill, starring Uma Thurman — or is it Mia Wallace, in a film version of her unseen TV show?
As if all that weren’t exhausting enough, a new theory appeared after Inglourious Basterds. After Tarantino confessed that Donnie Donowitz (Eli Roth), the “Bear Jew,” was intended to be the grandfather of True Romance’s hotshot movie producer Lee Donowitz, followers of the Church of Tarantino realized that this would mean all of the films in that universe take place in a world where WWII ended as it did in that film: with Hitler’s brutal assassination in a movie theater. Reddit user “UOLATSC” expands: “Because World War 2 ended in a movie theater, everybody lends greater significance to pop culture… Likewise, because America won World War 2 in one concentrated act of hyper-violent slaughter, Americans as a whole are more desensitized to that sort of thing. Hence why Butch is unfazed by killing two people, Mr. White and Mr. Pink take a pragmatic approach to killing in their line of work, Esmerelda the cab driver is obsessed with death, etc.” And this, he goes on, is why the movies they go see (from the “movie movie universe”) are so violent. Could be! Or it could just be that we, as a culture, are plenty violent without a different outcome to World War II. At any rate, forgive the plug, but there’s much more on both of these theories in my new book on Pulp Fiction, out this November, sorry, sorry, carry on.
The Pixar Universe Theory
Writer Jon Negroni developed this detailed theory, which connects the numerous Easter Eggs and in-jokes among the Pixar films as proof that they all exist in the same universe: one where the magic of Brave connects to the superhumans of The Incredibles, where the toys and inanimate objects of Toy Story and animals of Finding Nemo achieve human intelligence, where the title characters of Cars populate the abandoned earth later attended to by Wall-E and roamed by the characters of Monsters, Inc., whose doors to the human world are time portals. Of the theory, Pixar’s Jay Ward responded, “I think somebody had a lot of time on their hands.”
The Aladdin Future Theory
And while we’re visiting the Mouse House, here’s a fascinating take on Aladdin, provided by Tumblr user silentcommentary. Based on its setting and the folk history story, one would assume that Disney’s 1992 hit Aladdin took place in the distant past. But the mysterious theorizer notes that Genie calls Aladdin’s clothes “so third century.” But if the Genie had been in the lamp for 10,000 years, he’d have no way of knowing what people were wearing in the third century — thus, if he went into the lamp during said century, he was released from it in the year 10,300 AD, and Aladdin takes place in “a post-apocalyptic world where only Arabic (and some Greek) culture survived,” along with such highly evolved artifacts as flying carpets and intelligent, conversational parrots. The best proof of the theory? The Genie’s impressions of “ancient, long-dead celebrities like Groucho Marx, Jack Nicholson, etc.” (Another alternate theory holds that the entire story is made up by the vendor in the film’s prologue, as an elaborate backstory to sell an otherwise worthless lamp.)
The James Bond Cloning Theory
The character of James Bond, secret agent 007, has been played by six different actors (seven, if you count the non-canon original 1967 Casino Royale). The reason is simple: those actors have either aged out of the role, grown tired of it, or the series’ producers grew tired of them. But an explanation is never given on-screen (as it isn’t for Batman or the Hulk or anyone else) for the change in personnel, even when other supporting characters (like Judi Dench’s M or Desmond Llewlyn’s Q) remain the same. In recent years, a theory has popped up to explain it: that not only is 007 is a code number, but James Bond is a code name, and when one James Bond is killed, the name and number are reassigned to his successor. (The fact that such a hand-off would actually make for compelling cinema has apparently not occurred to the theory’s disseminators.) And what about the shared memories and backstory of the character? Even better: part of the Bond-to-Bond changeover includes the implantation of his memories, which (as Open Culture’s Davey Peppers notes) sounds more like Moon than Moonraker.
The Fight Club/Calvin and Hobbes Theory
The name of Edward Norton’s character in the 1999 cult phenomenon Fight Club is never revealed. He’s credited only as “Narrator,” presumably to preserve the surprise when (14-YEAR-OLD-SPOILER ALERT) it is revealed that he and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) are the same person — or, more accurately, that Tyler is a figment of our man’s imagination. Galvin P. Chow takes that idea a step further, positing that the Narrator’s actual name is Calvin, and he is the grown-up version of another young man with a fictional sidekick: the young hero of Calvin and Hobbes. The theory is, it must be said, exhaustive, drawing a parallel beween C&H’s G.R.O.S.S. and Tyler’s Fight Club, noting the homophonic similarities between “Tyler” and “tiger,” and asking important questions like, “Tyler wears a fur coat near the end of the movie. What is the significance of this garment, given his past incarnation as a jungle animal?” (Another good Fight Club-related theory: that Tyler is to Narrator as Ferris Bueller is to Cameron, who imagines his extroverted best friend as a way to deal with his own insecurities and depression.)
The Willy Wonka Secret Ingredient Theory
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a mini-masterpiece. It is also, it must be noted, a creepy goddamn movie — and here’s a theory that makes it even creepier. When the film comes to a conclusion, we only see Charlie, the sole “survivor” (and recipient of the factory). What happens to the other children? Presumably, they go back out into the world, hopefully a little wiser from the experience. Or maybe they’re turned into candy. Augustus Gloop is sucked into a tube that’s far bigger than it needs to be to transport chocolate — and when the boat to terror appears afterwards, there are no empty seats left for Augustus and his mother, because Wonka knew he’d succumb to his chocolate river. (Reddit user “neverbinkles” also notes that the cream car only has four seats, for the two remaining kids and guardians.) Veruca, meanwhile, is sucked down a garbage chute, while Violet is transformed into a giant blueberry and Mike Teevee is shrunk down to (dare we say?) bite size. Why are they dispatched in such a grisly fashion? The answer is found in the story of Miranda Piker, a sixth Golden Ticket recipient who appeared in an early draft of the book but was cut from the final draft. At the conclusion of her chapter, “Spotty Powder,” the girl and her father take a tumble down a chute to a powder-grinding machine. Her mother accuses Wonka of trying to kill them:
“In two minutes my darling Miranda will come pouring out of one of those dreadful pipes, and so will my husband!” “Of course,” said Mr Wonka. “That’s part of the recipe.”
The Poltergeist Curse Theory
Tobe Hooper’s 1982 horror hit Poltergeist told the story of the Freelings, a seemingly perfect family who are nearly destroyed by ghosts from an Indian burial ground that their suburban home was (unknowingly to them) built atop. But in the years after the release of the film and its two sequels, a similarly spooky cloud was said to have formed over those involved in their production, with a “Poltergeist curse” taking the lives of four actors in the films: Heather O’Rourke (who played little Carol Ann, of “they’re here” fame), Dominique Dunne (older sister Dana), Will Sampson (who played the good spirit Taylor in Poltergeist II), and Julian Beck (who played his evil counterpart Kane). The exact reason for the curse was never properly explained (real ghosts who though the films were bad PR?), but it didn’t matter, because the whole thing was utterly silly. Sampson and Beck were both actors over 50 who died following long illnesses. Dunne was brutally killed by a mentally unstable ex-boyfriend shortly after the release of the first film, while O’Rourke (who died between production and release of Poltergeist III) died of septic shock caused by complications due to an undiagnosed case of Crohn’s Disease. The fact that the two actress both died so young was less a matter of a curse than of coincidence.
The “Suicidal Doc” Theory
Plenty of fan theories, urban legends, and irritating Facebook photos (for God’s sakes, the day in the future that Doc and Marty travel to won’t arrive until 2015, so quit it) have attached themselves to Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 sci-fi/comedy classic, but here’s one of the more intriguing ones: Another Reddit user (man, it’s like that place breeds this stuff), “mcjesse,” posits that on the night of the time machine test, Doc Brown was borderline suicidal. Libyans were after him, his only friend was a teenage kid, and by his own admission, most of his inventions had been miserable failures. “So during the moment when he’s about to find out if his life’s work was a huge success, or a complete waste, he not only drives the DeLorean towards himself, but grabs onto Marty when he tries to run away. If that first time travel test was a failure, they both would have been killed. Which is exactly what Doc wanted had the experiment been a failure.” And that’s all good and well for him — but taking Marty with him? Not cool, Brown. Not cool.