From Nietzsche to Lynch: A Selection of Truly Highbrow Moments From ‘Clueless’


Clueless turns 20 on July 19, and Flavorwire is celebrating all week with a series of tributes to Amy Heckerling’s era-defining teen film. Click here to follow our coverage.

If you’re about 30 years old, like I am, chances are your lifelong romance with Clueless probably began with a mall multiplex, some spilled popcorn, and weeks of quoting such catchphrases as “whatever” and “as if.” But you probably didn’t quite realize — I certainly didn’t, at least — until years later that Amy Heckerling packed her movie full of cultural references of all kinds. There are even plenty of highbrow shoutouts in Clueless. Here’s a selection of favorites, from Nietzsche to Lynch.

Mr. Hall Cher A secret admirer sends Miss Geist a love poem that sounds awfully familiar. “Phat, did you write that?” asks Dionne. “Duh, it’s like a famous quote,” Cher informs her. “From where?” Dionne wants to know. So Cher tells her: “Cliffs Notes.” (It’s actually Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.)

Josh, dressed in all black and wearing sunglasses, reads Nietzsche poolside.

“It’s like that book I read in ninth grade that said, ”Tis a far, far better thing, doing stuff for other people,'” Cher muses. The book she’s misquoting is, of course, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

When Elton tries to kiss Cher — and she realizes he was always interested in her, not Tai — our heroine (in the film’s parlance) wigs out. “Ooohhh, I’m having a Twin Peaks experience,” she says.

Christian reads William S. Burroughs’ Junky while Cher tries to make him jealous with the flowers she’s sending herself. Maybe she would have gotten the message if he’d picked up Queer instead?

Christian: You like Billie Holiday? Cher: I love him.

Cher begins her big movie date with Christian by taking him on a tour of her dad’s investments, er, sculptures. Christian recognizes a Claes Oldenburg. “He’s way famous,” Cher assures him.

“Christian had a thing for Tony Curtis, so he brought over Some Like It Hot and Sporadicus,” Cher explains — failing to realize both that the movie is called Spartacus and that her love interest’s choice of films are another clue that he might be…

“… a disco-dancin’, Oscar Wilde-readin’, Streisand ticket-holdin’ friend of Dorothy,” according to Murray. (It’s a line that hasn’t necessarily aged well, though in general Christian holds up far better than most gay characters of the mid-’90s. Remember when he rescues Tai from those two jerks who dangle her over a railing at the mall?)

Clueless‘ fountain scene — “Oh my God. I love Josh!” — was inspired by this other fountain scene, from Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 musical Gigi.