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Homer Simpson in a coma for 20 years and other weird theories

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

In a recent paper, a researcher criticised psychological studies for investigating unusual and counterintuitive findings just for the sake of it. The assumption is that rather than discussing the rational and empirically derived, people are more interested in theories that spark controversy and interest.

This tendency isn’t limited to researchers. I’ve noticed many unusual theories about well-known films and TV shows. Some of them are interesting. Others are bizarre. Here are some of those weird fan theories.

Warning, some SPOILERS ahead.

Ferris Bueller is in Cameron’s Mind

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is about a charming, rebellious teenager who fakes sick to take the day off from school. Right? Maybe…

According to this fan theory, Cameron, Ferris Bueller’s melancholic friend, is actually dreaming up Ferris Bueller. Ferris is Cameron’s alter ego.

This theory can’t really explain why Ferris’ teacher refers to him during a classroom roll call: Bueller, Bueller, Cameron?

Credibility: 0/10

Homer Simpson’s in a coma

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According to a fan theory, Homer Simpson entered a coma during an April Fool’s prank in one of the early seasons of the Simpsons but never woke up. Shortly after this episode, the Simpsons started becoming more surreal and unusual suggesting we are now experiencing Homer’s unrestrained mind during his coma.

The fact that Homer ended up in a coma from an exploding beer can in the first place suggests we don’t need the coma theory to rationalise why the series became less and less grounded in reality.

Credibility: 1/10

The Lost survivors were always in purgatory

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There were lots of unusual theories to explain the popular series, Lost. One of them proposed that all the survivors of the doomed air flight actually died. Each episode featured a flash back to a character who seemed to confront and overcome an inner demon. It seemed logical that perhaps they were in some kind of purgatory/limbo where they had to deal with these demons before they could move on.

In the last season, the characters were shown in new flashbacks, which ultimately turned out to be a form of limbo that they would enter when they eventually died (for some many years later).

Were they dead the whole time? Unlikely. But clearly there’s some truth to it at some point.

Here’s a good explanation of the ending.

Credibility: 4/10

Batman’s Dead

PictureIn the Dark Knight Rises, Batman (Christian Bale) presumably sacrifices his life by flying a hydrogen bomb away from Gotham city. The ending shows Batman’s butler, Alfred, ultimately tracking him down at a cafe. Both men can both move on to a happier life.

One of the fan theories suggests that maybe Alfred is just seeing what he wants to see and that Batman really did die. This would, of course, make all the hints at his escape (e.g. a miraculously fixed auto-pilot) redundant. And even Christian Bale has denied this theory.

Credibility: 2/10

Soprano’s fade to black means…

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There’s at least two popular interpretations on the famous Sopranos ending. Tony Soprano is waiting with his family at a diner, looking over his shoulder and checking the door. The series just cuts to black.

The first theory is simple. The story just ends. Tony is always going to be looking over his shoulder because he’s made a lot of enemies.

The second theory is that Tony has been shot. The abrupt cut to black is the perspective of the dead man. This theory is more likely as in an earlier episode, one of the characters talks about how getting killed would most likely be life cutting to black. You wouldn’t see it coming. The same scene was also repeated in a flashback.

There is also an excellent video that outlines the argument suggesting the writers wanted to remind us prior to Tony’s eventual death.

Credibility (First Theory): 3/10
Credibility (Second Theory): 9/10

The St Elsewhere characters are a figment of a boy’s imagination

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This series, set in a fictional hospital in the 1980s, had one of the more bizarre endings. A young boy with autism, Tommy Westphall, stares into a snow globe, featuring the hospital from the series. Because the show ends with Tommy staring at the snow globe, it theorised that the whole series is a figment of Tommy’s imagination.

Credibility: 8/10

Phallic symbolism in the Star Wars The Force Awakens trailer

in Film & TV Psychology by

What would Sigmund Freud make of Star Wars?There are characters with father issues, laser swords that extend and retract, and ships that penetrate large space stations with tiny torpedoes that make the station explode…

A long time ago in a country far, far away…except if you lived in Austria…Freud was infamous for explaining the sexual and unconscious causes for most of our neuroses.

Many of these unconscious thoughts are realised through symbolism in dreams and culture. In particular, Freud saw phallic symbolism in much of our society from towers, swords, sticks etc.Regardless of whether he is right or wrong, I decided to put myself in Freud’s shoes and identified possible phallic symbols he would think is plain as day in the latest Star Wars The Force Awakens trailer.Warning, this may ruin the way you look at Star Wars forever…

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Could all these things be examples of phallic symbolism? Cue the famous quote ‘sometimes a cigar is just a cigar’…

Return of the Sequel II: The Revenge Rises Part 3

in Film & TV Psychology by

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After two decades of prequels, spin-off and reboots, the sequel has returned, risen, and, er, rebooted?

Sequels play off the good memories we have of their predecessors. When we watch a sequel, we’re basically expecting to relive a cherished experience.

Like sequels, prequels try to construct a world only inferred by their predecessor films. However, often the plot isn’t all that interesting because we already know how the story ends. This is partly why the prequels of late have failed to hit the mark.

Reboots or remakes try to start a series again but always face backlash from the original fans and a continued disinterest from the people who weren’t fans the first time around.

Here is the round up of film and TV franchises that are looking to continue the original stories that were left off years ago in an effort to play off our cherished memories.

Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens

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The Star Wars prequels were a mixed bag. Whilst they all pulled in huge numbers at the box office, they were mostly savaged by critics. The plot, story, characters, and acting were all questionable but it was hard to find drama knowing how the whole saga was ultimately going to play out.

Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens is not only a sequel to the beloved Star Wars Trilogy from the 70s and 80s. It also includes the original cast. And, unlike the prequels, we won’t know how it’s all going to end.

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Twin Peaks Season 3

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It was the TV series that started off strong, lost its way half way through Season 2, and ended on an epic cliffhanger, written and directed by creator David Lynch. Dale Cooper, the upbeat protagonist detective, was seemingly possessed by the evil spirit BOB, leaving everything open for a Season 3 that never came.

The series was shortly followed by a prequel, Fire Walk with Me, that was universally panned by critics and loathed by fans of the series.

The enthusiastic fanbase created an internet meltdown late last year when Lynch announced he’d be making Season 3–an extraordinary 20 years later. Forget remaking the series. There’s finally an opportunity to right the wrongs made by leaving the fans in limbo for all these years.

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Alien…3?

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Why don’t we just forget the last 20 years and make a sequel to the classic James Cameron Aliens? Nobody was too impressed by David Fincher’s Alien 3, which self-imploded during several re-writes and production problems back in the 90s.

The film was followed up by an odd but somewhat entertaining sequel, Alien Resurrection.
Then we had some appalling Alien Vs Predator sequels that almost sealed the fate of this series for good.

We returned with Prometheus, a prequel of sort to Alien, which had generally positive reviews but still couldn’t reignite the franchise. This prequel suffered the same fate as so many others, tying itself loosely to the original film enough to attract fans but failing to recreate what made the original film so good.

Now, almost 15 years since Alien Resurrection, Neill Blomkamp will write and direct what appears to be a sequel to Aliens with Sigourney Weaver, and possibly Michael Biehn, reprising their roles. It isn’t clear how this will work given both died in Alien 3.

Nevertheless, Weaver was resurrected in Alien Resurrection–as a clone–showing us that anything is possible in Hollywood.

There are rumours they’ll simply pretend Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection never happened.

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Creed & Rambo V

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Sylvester Stallone spent a period in the late 90s and early millennium trying to make more serious action/dramas. Perhaps he was trying to shrug off the image of being the guy who only made Rocky sequels (we were up to Rocky V).

After a series of flops, Stallone returned to making sequels again, with Rocky VI and Rambo IV. Recently, he’s announced a return to make Rambo V. This year, a sequel to his Rocky series, Creed, will also be released.

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Terminator Genisys

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After various attempts to reinvigorate the Terminator series, including recruiting Batman, Christian Bale, to take over as lead in Terminator Salvation, the magic formula has returned. Arnold Schwarzenegger will return to play the Terminator after playing the role as the Governator for almost a decade. Wait, that wasn’t a role?

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The X Files Season 10

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It was a series that sustained itself for nine years but lost its way when the two leads, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, stepped away from the roles. Perhaps the endless loose ends and convoluted story lines also played a part?

Both actors returned briefly to make a second X-Files movie but it was recently announced they were in discussion to return for a new season of the X-Files. I wonder if skeptic, Dana Scully, will finally admit there are aliens.

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To be continued in Part 2: Films that Break the Prequel/Reboot curse: A New Beginning. In the meantime, here’s the Muppets’ take on sequels…

Back to the Future 2 or why we usually get the future wrong

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

Movies set in the future always seem to overestimate the progress of humankind. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, artificial intelligence controlled deep space exploration. In the original Star Trek series, they speak of the ‘Eugenics War’ that occurred in the 1990s.

In Star Wars we have lightsabers and lightspeed. But that was set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…of course.In 2015, we are now entering the future predicted rather unsuccessfully in Back to the Future 2, which was released in 1989. What predictions were made and why do people have such a hard time predicting the future?

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Futures look futuristic

When humans imagine the future we like to imagine it looking futuristic.  Everything in the future will look futuristic if they fill the screen with devices and technology, lights that glow bright colours, and make everything hover, fly, and look really clean.In Back to the Future 2, we have automated hovering dog walkers, hoverboards, hovering signs, and neon flashing lights everywhere.

Assuming linear trends

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Humans struggle with trends. One bias we have is to ignore complex relationships and focus on simple ‘linear’ trends. That is, if a trend is going up, it will keep going. If a trend is declining, it will continue to bottom out.

A new technology is released and we immediately imagine how it will completely invade our lives like the television. Fax machines were growing in popularity in the late 80s. Made sense that we’d have one in every room as depicted in Back to the Future 2.

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This difficulty with understanding complexity also explains why we assume a popular trend in sequels will continue. After four Jaws movies, it wasn’t unusual to imagine that there could be up to 19 Jaws films by 2015. Of course, there’s still only four! It might have been a closer estimate if they predicted Policy Academy films (7), or Star Trek films (12).

Things come in cycles

Another prediction we make about future trends is the assumption that all things go up and down in cycles. That is, history will repeat itself through the ages.People often assume that there has to be downturns, that the climate is warming but will probably right itself again at the end of the cycle. Individuals who have been around a long time often like to believe that everything that we’re doing today was already explored back in the day etc.

In Back to the Future 2, we see Marty’s future son encountering the same issues with the school bully who just so happens to be the grandson of the bully from 1955. Marty has also fallen into a meaningless existence much like his father in the first film.

The optimism bias

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When we imagine the future, we tend to be more optimistic. We ignore the drawbacks, complications, and significant work that would actually be needed to generate flying cars.

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We might also be more optimistic about health care. For example, it’s easy to imagine that there could be rejuvenation clinics that can shave decades off your life. It’s a lot harder to work out how you would even achieve 0.00001% of that if you had to actually plan for it tomorrow.

What’s more interesting is that it’s 2015 and the future Marty–who has access to all this cool new health care–looks older than the actual 2015 Michael J Fox. That’s another odd prediction we make in future films. That is, we assume people will look older and older (linearity bias again) but fail to take into account the measures people take to look younger (e.g. make-up, hair dye, fashion, exercise etc.).PicturePicture

The future is so optimistic in Back to the Future 2, that they think lawyers will be ‘abolished’ and the weather forecasts will be accurate to the second. Surely, the three constants of the universe are the speed of light, lawyers and poor weather predictions?

Dr Duck and swans

The reason why it’s hard to write a really convincing and accurate story set in the future is that it’s really, really, really, hard to predict the major shifts and innovation that occur to create the future.According to Black Swan theory, we are terrible at predicting the future because we base everything we know on the past and present. We base our predictions on exaggerations of what we know and can’t know what true unknowns will be. If we could predict future technologies and innovations, we’d probably already have them.

In Back to the Future 2, the writers struggle with predicting actual innovations like the smart phone, tablets, or the internet. Instead, the predictions involve odd ideas like devices that dispense fruit from the ceiling (I’m sure that’ll catch on).

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But the one prediction they got right was the Nike shoes with powered laces. In response to the film’s success and in celebration of the 2015 milestone, Nike are currently developing the shoes. If Mattel releases a hoverboard, then I’ll be impressed.

Do masks make villains scarier?

in Film & TV Psychology by

If you want a villain with impact, try concealing their face. The face is the most personal thing about us. It portrays who we are, reveals our emotions, and helps others anticipate our behaviour.

Filmmakers often use masks to conceal the faces of villains. Perhaps this unsettles us because we struggle to connect with them and find it difficult to identify signs of empathy or humanity.

Often the mask is a subtle depiction of a human skull. Such imagery associated with death and has been shown to unsettle us at an unconscious level.

Do masks make villains scarier? 

The Winter Soldier (Captain America 2)

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In Captain America: The Winter Solidier, the primary antagonist, The Winter Soldier, is first shown with his entire face covered, resembling a human skull.

As the story unfolds, we learn that the Winter Soldier is Cap’s best friend, Bucky, who is shown with his eye mask removed, then without a face mask, and finally without dark eye make-up–representing his return to humanity.

We can connect with him more and he is no longer perceived as a villain.

Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)

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In The Dark Knight Rises, villain, Bane, wears a gas mask that also closely resembles a human skull. We only get a glimpse of this villain without a mask, when the audience learns of a heroic deed in his past, again showing us the humanity of the villain by allowing us to connect with a normal human face.

Michael Myers (Halloween)

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One of the more iconic masks is that of killer, Michael Myers, in the original Halloween. The white face and black eyes are reminiscent of a skull. The only time we see his true face is as a boy and we left imagining what horror might be underneath.

Scarecrow (Batman Begins)

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Scarecrows are inherently creepy. They look like rotting corpses on sticks (ok, maybe not the Wizard of Oz one). In Batman Begins, the villain, Jonathan Crane, conceals his face with a mask that exacerbates the hallucinatory drug he gives his victims. This makes the corpse face come to life with horrors, like live maggots.  

Ghostface (Scream)

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It is without a doubt that the scream mask in Scream is what makes that film so memorable. Unlike the expressionless mask of Michael Myers, this one portrays a constant state of terror, despair, and anger (it’s weird). Again, a bit like a warped skull.

The unmasking of the villains in this film only reduces the impact of the scares by revealing a couple a teenagers responsible for the crimes.

Two Face (The Dark Knight)

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Character, Harvey Dent (The Dark Knight), is portrayed as a clean cut and un-corruptible district attorney. When he first displays his angry streak, his face is partially concealed by shadows, foreshadowing for what he soon becomes.

In his finally transformation, his normal face is juxtaposed against the scarred, skull-like, face. He is literally two-faced.

Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs)

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As a reverse villain reveal, Silence of the Lambs shows us the evil Hannibal Lecter already unmasked and in prison. As the film progresses, the villain is masked and removed from high security, slowly showing him re-emerging from his temporary hibernation.

Lecter then escapes by concealing himself by literally wearing another man’s face! 

Darth Vader

PicturePerhaps the most iconic villain of all, Darth Vader is a combination of body builder, David Prowse, the baritone vocals of James Earl Jones, and the diabolically evil mask that looks like a black skull.

When his mask is removed, we see a pretty sad looking actor (Sebastian Shaw) who shows us the old, frail, man beneath the machine.

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