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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

Left Vs. Right Brain Characters

in Film & TV Psychology by

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Although only loosely based on science, there is some truth in the idea that the left side of the brain functions differently from the right side.

The left hemisphere is traditionally associated with rational thought, logic, linear thinking and appears to be better at processing threats, and details. The right hemisphere is associated with intuition, creativity, emotion, and insight. Read more about this here.

Although there’s actually not much support for the idea that we are left or right brained, the term ‘left brained’ and ‘right brained’ in a convenient way to distinguish between logical and rational people versus creative and intuitive types.

Many of our favourite TV shows have established ‘left brained’ and ‘right brained’ characters who spend much of the time fighting.

Spock and Dr ‘Bones’ McCoy

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Much of the series Star Trek pitted the deeply logical and rational ‘left brained’ Spock against the passionate and very human ‘right brained’ Dr McCoy. These two characters were forever debating the merits of logic versus compassion.

Dr Jack Shepherd and John Locke

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Lost had a rich array of characters to call on but the show ultimately centred on two main characters. Jack Shepherd was the logical, ‘left brained’ leader who followed science. Locke trusted his faith and intuition and had genuine insight and awareness into the unseen weirdness of the island where they crash landed.

By the end of the series, Locke had perished and Jack carries on his legacy, perhaps showing that Jack had an awakening of insight or his right brain was finally let loose.

Fox Mulder and Dana Scully

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Agent Scully was the skeptic forced to go undercover to expose Agent Fox Mulder. Together they eventually formed a formidable partnership. Mulder believed in the unusual and weird and was willing to trust his instinct about the true nature of an alien conspiracy.

Scully would forever look for simple, linear, and rational explanations for all strange events, which became more difficult over the course of 9 seasons of freaks, aliens, and monsters.

Sheldon and Penny

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Pair physicist Sheldon Cooper (and his friends to a lesser extent) with actor neighbour, Penny, and the outcomes are inevitable. This duality plays out constantly on the Big Bang Theory.

‘Left brained’ Cooper is logical and rational to the extreme, almost operating and perceiving a different reality. ‘Right brained’ Penny flies by the seat of her pants, trusting her gut, following an unpredictable yet creative career path.

Walter White and Jesse Pinkman

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Some would argue Breaking Bad’s Walter was also a master ‘right brained’ thinker, trusting his insight and intuition. Others would argue that he was so strongly rational and left-brained that his cold, hard logic led to poor decisions, which alienated everyone around him.

Jesse didn’t seem to follow either hemisphere in the early seasons of Breaking Bad. However, the cold logic of Walter White, ultimately didn’t ‘feel right’ for Jesse who slowly became deflated and traumatised. Surely his ‘right brain’ was telling him something was off?

Films that activate your startle reflex

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

Surprise is an emotion we experience when an event sidesteps our expectations. A recent study showed that surprise is one of the four core emotions that we experience along with happiness, sadness, and anger. 

So it makes sense that so many films are written and structured to keep us on our toes. After all, films and TV shows are essentially designed to make us feel something.

Here are some films that have scenes that activate our startle reflex, a spine tingling experience that occurs when surprise–pleasant or unpleasant–occurs.

SPOILERS for those who haven’t seen these films.

No, I am your father!

In 1980, prior to the internet, there was no place for nerds to spoil and vent their surprise that the evil Darth Vader was actually Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) father. This scene, from the Empire Strikes Back, was so shocking that it is constantly (mis)quoted popular culture.

Why was it so shocking? Star Wars follows the typical hero’s journey archetype. This involves the hero overcoming adversity to ultimately slay the villain, his polar opposite. Until this point, we’d assumed Darth Vader was just a really evil guy. The reveal turned everything on its head.

 

Welcome to the real world

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The Matrix is a modern update to the hero’s journey. Instead of a simple farm boy going on an adventure, it was the modern equivalent: a run of the mill office worker, who goes by the cyber name, Neo (Keanu Reeves).

The pivotal ‘startle moment’ comes when Neo discovers he doesn’t actually live in the real world. Instead, like all human beings, he’s been trapped in virtual reality whilst machines use him as a glorified battery.

This reveal startles us because it draws us into something more epic and immense, playing on unconscious fears about freewill and conforming to society.

Who is Keyser Soze?

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It’s the twist that not only shocks but also makes the entire preceding film, The Usual Suspects, redundant. During a police interrogation, a unassuming, disabled criminal, Verbal (Kevin Spacey), walks a police detective through the various intricacies that led to a major heist.

Through the telling of the story, we learn the true mastermind is a character called Keyser Soze. When Verbal finishes telling his tale, he limps away but slowly begins to regain his mobility.

The audience and the detective start to piece together the real truth. Examining a notice board, the detective notices that Verbal has been using photos and other pieces of information as material to formulate his elaborate story.

Turns out Verbal is Keyer Soze and the whole story is one big lie. Cue goosebumps and confusion. End credits.

Don’t ever tell me what I can’t do!

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There were enough mysteries in Lost for 10 TV shows. The best and most memorable occurred in the first season with fan favourite, John Locke (Terry O’Quinn).

Of all the survivors of a doomed flight, Locke was most prepared. He arrived with a set of hunting knives, caught wild boars, and generally showed up to save the day time and time again. He was made for survival.

In a flashback, we learn he wasn’t some adventurer or hero. He worked in a box factory, and spent his evenings talking to strange women on a phone chat line.

However, the biggest twist occurs at the end of the episode when it’s revealed he’s also paralyzed from the waist down crying out ‘don’t ever tell me what I can’t do’ when he’s rejected from participating in an Australian adventure called a ‘walkabout’.

Suddenly, our interest in the character becomes less about who he is but why he can suddenly walk when he arrives on the island. It’s make the title of the episode ‘Walkabout’ especially clever and knowing.

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A double, no triple agent?

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Alias was a hit and miss series that never really tops the twist reveal in the first episode. Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) is an undercover agent working for a secret black ops section of the CIA. Or so she thinks.

When her fiance learns about her double life, the the black ops section executes him as per their protocols. But the biggest surprise comes when Sydney discovers she isn’t working for the CIA at all but an evil organisation who are their enemy.

Turns out she’s been working for the bad guys the whole time…I hate it when that happens.

Bait and switch with a couple of hundred barrels of gasoline

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In The Dark Knight, the Joker (Heath Ledger) regularly shows up to mix and blow things up. In the biggest twist in the film, he makes Batman choose between saving Gotham’s white knight, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and Batman’s love interest, Rachel Dawes.

Confronted with this decision, he doesn’t hesitate. Batman charges off to save the damsel in distress while the police try to get to Dent. Turns out the Joker intentionally gives Batman switched locations and Batman ends up finding Dent whilst Rachel blows to pieces.

How often does the love interest buy it in the second act?

What’s in the box?

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Se7en is a bleak police procedural involving the hunt of a serial killer who is punishing his victims for their sins. The entire film has horrible endings for characters deemed sinful (e.g. a man eating himself to death) but it’s the shocking ending that is most memorable.

Having punished people for 5/7 sins, only two remain: envy and wrath. The killer (Kevin Spacey) tells one of the detectives, David Mills (Brad Pitt), that he cut off the head of Mill’s wife out of envy.

The head shows up in a delivery van and Mills is faced with a dilemma. If he kills Spacey’s character, the killer has won. Mills has become wrath. He deliberates in incredible grief and only turns the gun on the killer and shoots when he learns his wife was pregnant.

Meanwhile, audiences all over the world walked out in shock and horror, realising they too had been punished by this grim and unrelenting film.

 

Hannibal Lecter escapes

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Hannibal Lecter is remembered for being a charming yet diabolically clever and evil villain. Trapped behind bullet proof glass and locked away in the basement of an insane asylum, there looks like no hope for his escape.

The Silence of the Lambs, based on the book of the same name, distracts us from the real story–Lecter’s escape–by showing Lecter working with FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to find another terrifying serial killer.

However, when Lecter is moved from his cell, as part of helping the FBI, he quickly disposes of the ignorant security guards, mauling the face of one of them with his small, white teeth.

A SWAT team assembles and tracks Lecter down. He appears to be hiding on the roof of an elevator. But it turns out he’s actually wearing the face of one of the security guards and has already been whisked away to safety.

When Lecter pulls back the dead man’s face, the entire audience recoils in terror!

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