A look at Hollywood films with hidden messages incorporated into the plot

Oct 19, 2014, 05:22 IST | Shakti Shetty

Like the recently-released film, Haider, many Hollywood movies, too, have had subtle messages weaved into their plot. Zoom right in

When it comes to films, what you see is not what you always get. Plots conceal hidden messages; there are movies with scenes that boggle us at first but, in retrospect, it all falls into place. A case in point would be Vishal Bhardwaj's celebrated film, Haider, where the uncomfortable closeness between Shahid Kapoor's and Tabu's characters isn't what is being conveyed.

Their relationship has a strong metaphor in politics but who's going to explain that to us? Well, nobody. This art form is filled with clues and cryptic messages that one might miss — 70mm is a huge canvas, but not always enough to hold the filmmakers' imagination. hitlist tries to decode some remarkable films and things the filmmakers were trying to say all along.

The Deer Hunter (1978)
The Deer Hunter
Michael Cimino
Lowdown: A stinker to Vietnam War, the epic film walks us through instances of peace and war. While doing so, it makes subtle references to the Bible, especially in the enduring climactic scene. Robert De Niro, as a hero back from war, denies feeling anything while he got shot. This is before he lets his game escape.

The Shining (1980)
The Shining
Stanley Kubrick
Lowdown: Two years ago, a documentary titled Room 237 released to much fanfare. It tried to explain the mastery behind Kubrick's techniques. Going by the documentary, almost every second scene in this Jack Nicholson-starring thriller had a message. Furthermore, the absolute message being that people get killed when rationality is overlooked.

Scarface (1983)
Brian De Palma
Lowdown: Al Pacino's Tony Montana is an angry young man and he knows how to get things done. The only problem is he is not sure whether anybody loves him and even if they do, whether they do so out of fear or obligation. But he's sure about one thing: He loves his sister but he can't 'have' her. A reason strong enough to compel him to kill his only friend.

Goodfellas (1990)
Martin Scorsese
Lowdown: Scorsese is famous for ensuring his films have marvelous opening scenes. But what this crime drama has is beyond words. The two-minute-long shot — employing some genius camera work — takes you to Copacabana nightclub without revealing the real intention. The guy with the lady doesn't stand in the queue like others. He has contacts.

The Lion King (1994)
The Lion King
Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers
Lowdown: Disney outdid itself with this masterpiece of an animation. But then, we'd be remiss to not point out the hidden messages Disney films are famous for sneaking in for us. In this musical adventure film set in Africa, the starry blue sky is shown with a constellation that reads SFX — a tribute to the rise of Special Effects — or sex, depending on what you believe.

Gattaca (1997)
Andrew Niccol
Lowdown: Biblical references are common in Western films but seldom do we notice them in a sci-fi. This cryptic endeavour is a ready exception. Starring Ethan Hawke and Jude Law in conflicting roles, there comes a point it becomes obvious who is playing the devil despite his serpentine handicap. And everybody's talking about space, conveniently forgetting that they are indeed referring to heaven.

American Beauty (1999)
American Beauty
Sam Mendes
Lowdown: This remarkable film kicks off with a middle-aged man masturbating in the shower and culminates with him confronting the girl of his desire. But there's a catch there. When she unbuttons her shirt for him, all he sees is rose petals emerging out. That's the very instance you acknowledge that he has been desperately seeking beauty, not youth. Which also explains why he abandons her the way he does later.

Fight Club (1999)
Fight Club
David Fincher
Lowdown: There are few films that come along and leave behind so many symbols at once. Small surprise how Fincher ended up shooting material enough to last him three films! The distinction between what's real and what's not is beautifully showcased through Edward Norton's and Brad Pitt's convincing characters. Repeat value guaranteed.

The Machinist (2004)
The Machinist
Brad Anderson
Lowdown: Christian Bale's emaciated character in this film continues to drift from one horrific incident/accident to another. He has nothing but his sleeplessness to blame. But things improve when instead of turning left with his car, the thin young man takes a right turn — a subtle indication that he won't be making those wrong choices anymore.

A Bittersweet Life (2005)
The Machinist
Kim Jee-woon
Lowdown: Known for their realistic approach, Korean films tend to display it the way it is. The protagonist of this film goes through everything a man in love ever did before. Fortunately, he survives to tell the tale but he won't. The closing scene of him shadow boxing with his reflection on the window tells us that the world isn't done with him yet. And vice versa.

No Country for Old Men (2007)
No Country for Old Men
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Lowdown: Javier Bardem's Oscar-winning role personifies evil in its purest form. His dead eyes and cold mannerism are the kind of stuff the devil is expected to feel proud of. But something is consistent about him: he doesn't kill the protagonist in spite of murdering almost all other people on the big screen. Turns out, you can survive evil provided it hasn't met you.

Into the Wild (2007)
Into the Wild
Sean Penn
Lowdown: A young man sets out to “escape” society and pays a heavy price before relishing his solitude. In his attempt to stick to the wilderness, he depends on the forest for nosh and wonder. However, a scene where a grizzly bear approaches him only to sniff his hand and spare him justifies the film's title. He's finally a part of the wild and his teary bloodshot eyes substantiate the induction.

A Prophet (2009)
A Prophet
Jacques Audiard
Lowdown: Throughout this wonderful prison movie, you keep wondering why exactly is it titled so. And then a miraculous scene involving a car crash and a wild animal takes place. That's when you fully understand that prophets don't just roam around in biblical garbs giving out sermons. They are among us — simple beings — trying to survive in this big bad world.

A Serbian Film (2010)
A Serbian Film
Srdjan Spasojevic
Lowdown: Manto often wrote about female sex workers and their anxieties about ageing. In this often-panned film, the gender is reversed. A has-been porn star is hesitatingly put into the spotlight and whatever happens to him is a metaphor with what's happening with the country the film is based in. The seemingly sleazy and gross sexual misdemeanors are supposed to hold a mirror to the deteriorating societal and political situation in Serbia
post-2008 recession.

Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan
Lowdown: Although the final sequence involving a spinning totem has turned into cinematic folklore, what often gets overlooked is the film's original intent. Apparently, the film is less about dreams and more about the process of filmmaking itself. No wonder you get to see clocks and people sneezing — which are otherwise impossible occurrences during a dream, scientifically speaking — in this psychological thriller.

Only God Forgives (2013)
Only God Forgives
Nicolas Winding Refn
Lowdown: This harrowing masterpiece came from the director of Drive (2011). One actor plays God while another is a severe victim of Oedipal Complex. But you come to realise it much later into the film as agony becomes the key theme. All the confrontation scenes engage you in such a manner that you end up feeling sympathy for one of the two parties — without fail.

Enemy (2013)
Denis Villeneuve
Lowdown: Filled with ambiguous scenes, the entire story is open to several interpretations. But the message is clear: Everything is a mystery. Featuring Jake Gyllenhaal in his debut double role, connecting the psychological dots is a task in this film. However, nothing would prepare you for the climax that is as unexpected as the protagonist's adorable wife turning into a giant spider. Yes, no joke.


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