The Departed Fan Theory: Mark Wahlberg’s Dignam Used to Be Nice

Another edition of Fan Theory Fridays

This post is part of Fan Theory Fridays, in which we share and explore a new fan theory about a film, television series, book, or other fictional narrative. For more on what a fan theory is—and what it isn’t—please read D. F. Lovett’s previous explorations of the subject.

During a recent viewing of The Departed—a film I saw twice in theaters, have blogged about before, and have seen somewhere between 10 and 1000 times—something occurred to me. Something I hadn’t considered before. A question that seemed unanswered.

That question is this: was Staff Sergeant Dignam normally a nice guy?

“Maybe. Maybe Not. Maybe Fuck Yourself.”

This fan theory’s origin rests in one simple, throwaway line delivered by Alec Baldwin as Ellerby. The line occurs around the 25 minute mark. Baldwin delivers it at the end of a briefing scene, during which Dignam insults a team of cops investigating Frank Costello, including the resident FBI agent who is cooperating on the case.

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One of his best scenes, and the one that inspired this fan theory,

At the end of the conversation—after insulting the FBI agent, the entirety of the room, Ellerby and Ellerby’s wife—Dignam departs on the line that “…feds are like mushrooms. Feed ’em shit and keep ’em in the dark.””

Baldwin’s subsequent line in this scene is the following, referring to Dignam after Dignam leaves the room:

“Normally, he’s a very, uh, nice guy. Don’t judge him from this meeting alone.”

Of course, the entirety of this theory rests on Ellerby’s statement in this scene being taken at face value. This might seem challenging, at first, considering that all of Dignam’s behavior throughout the film suggests he is anything but a nice guy. Continue reading “The Departed Fan Theory: Mark Wahlberg’s Dignam Used to Be Nice”

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Is John McClane in a Bad Mood Because He Loves Christmas?

A minor Die Hard fan theory

This post is part of Fan Theory Fridays, in which we share and explore a new fan theory about a film, television series, book, or other fictional narrative. For more on what a fan theory is—and what it isn’t—please read D. F. Lovett’s previous explorations of the subject.

Much talk is made every year about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas film. This article does not seek to resolve, or even directly address, that debate.

Instead, I’d like to highlight one aspect of that film that occurred to me on a recent viewing. While it’s never stated in either Die Hard or any of its sequels, I think that a close viewing of Die Hard suggests that John McClane is a huge Christmas guy. Like, a major Christmas guy. And that this detail of his personality explains a lot of his behavior throughout the film.

“Got any Christmas music?”

During the first scenes—and opening credits—of Die Hard, a few details are revealed in short succession about John McClane:

  • He doesn’t like flying
  • He’s married
  • He’s a New York City cop (and has been for eleven years)
  • He smokes cigarettes
  • He brought an oversized teddy bear on the flight, presumably as a gift for someone
  • His wife lives in California and he lives in New York and he doesn’t like talking about it

But there is one more detail about him. A subtle one, that isn’t stated as blatantly as the other exposition above… John McClane likes Christmas music.

Before the Die Hard title card flashes onscreen, the limo driver Argyle puts a cassette in and Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” begins to play.

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John McClane: Don’t you got any Christmas music?

Argyle: This is Christmas music.

Now, let’s reconsider everything we’ve seen until this moment. John McClane is anxious, confused, overwhelmed, and doesn’t seem to like California very much. He’s also carrying a giant teddy bear with a big red bow on it. Is he anxious because he’s about to see his estranged wife?

Or, is he anxious that his Christmas is getting ruined? Continue reading “Is John McClane in a Bad Mood Because He Loves Christmas?”

Did Tony Stark Disparage Bloggers to Dissuade Peter Parker’s Vlogging?

A Fan Theory of the MCU

This post is part of a new series called Fan Theory Fridays, in which we share and explore a new fan theory about a film, television series, book, or other fictional narrative. For more on what a fan theory is—and what it isn’t—please read D. F. Lovett’s previous explorations of the subject.

One of my favorite films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is 2017’s Spiderman: Homecoming, starring Tom Holland as Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (Iron Man). While I haven’t yet seen the new Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse animated film, its release did inspire me to re-watch Spider-Man: Homecoming… which, in turn, inspired a new, minor fan theory.

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A theory about this guy and his sorta father figure

A Radically Condensed Summary of Spider-Man: Homecoming

Part of the film’s appeal is its relatively simple narrative. Unlike most Marvel films, it contains only two superheroes and a straightforward coming-of-age plot. There’s no convoluted storyline, no over-elaborate villain backstory, no shoehorning-in of extraneous characters. It doesn’t even bog itself down with an origin story or a montage dedicated to learning superpowers.

The plot is, more or less, this: Peter Parker tries to a) be his friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and stop a bad guy from doing some bad things b) impress a girl at school and c) impress Tony Stark enough to join the Avengers.

He succeeds in all three, to varying extents, enough so that the film ends with Tony Stark inviting Parker to the Avengers headquarters in upstate New York and giving him a “welcome to the team” speech. Said speech ends with one of the better lines Stark has had:

There’s about fifty reporters behind that door. Real ones, not bloggers. When you’re ready, why don’t you try that on [gesturing to a new Spider-Man suit] and I’ll introduce the world to the newest official member of the Avengers. Spider-Man.

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The scene in question. Which yes, while good, does remind one of Tony Stark’s terrible fashion sense. 

It’s a great line, both because it’s very fitting for Tony Stark and because of, well, the degree of truth to it.

The controversy you missed because only bloggers care

Since I first heard this line, I assumed one thing: “that probably hurt some feelings.” Continue reading “Did Tony Stark Disparage Bloggers to Dissuade Peter Parker’s Vlogging?”

Home Alone is a Dickensian, Supernatural Test of the McCallisters

A Fan Theory

This post is the first in a new series called Fan Theory Fridays, in which we will share and explore a new fan theory about a film, television series, book, or other fictional narrative. For more on what a fan theory is—and what it isn’t—please read D. F. Lovett’s previous explorations of the subject.

I thought I hated Home Alone.

So when a friend invited me to attend a matinee viewing of it at the new Parkway Theater in south Minneapolis, I wasn’t sure whether to accept. The idea of watching the film did not spark nostalgic giddiness or ironic snark, but more a sense of nameless dread that I would be trapped in a dark room for two hours with a swarm of squirming children and a few of my fellow childless buddies, wondering why we had thought this a good idea.

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Classic.

Of course, despite my dread, there were a few reasons I went. Namely: my friend had already bought the tickets and he assured me it would be “more hipsters than children”. That, and as he reminded me, “it’s a John Hughes movie with Joe Pesci, John Candy, and Katherine O’Hara in it.” Finally, I’m currently writing a novel partially set in the ‘90s and I thought it would be good to subject myself to a forced trip down memory lane.

Here’s the thing about Home Alone: I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a much better film than I remember it being and probably a better film than you remember it being. The plot structure should be taught in film school. The performances are sublime. The John Williams soundtrack is masterful.

There was, however, one thing that threw me off about the film: it was both much darker and more vaguely supernatural than I recalled it being.

I remembered the bed wetting subplot but had no memory of Kevin’s uncle calling him “a little jerk” or the objectively bad parenting that resulted in Kevin being left home alone in the first place. I remembered John Candy’s role as a polka king but had forgotten his haunting story about forgetting his own child in a funeral home for an entire day.

I remembered the scary old man and Buzz’s tall tale that he was a murderer or something. I did not remember that his name was Old Man Marley. I did not remember his story about being estranged from his son. I didn’t even remember him serving as a Deus Ex Machina, arriving to save Kevin from what would have been certain death at the hand of two bumbling crooks who, in the film’s final moments, escalate from cat burglars to attempted child murderers.

While Home Alone is indeed better than I remember it, that’s not what I’m writing about today.

I have come not to review Home Alone, but to theorize about it. And, specifically, the role played by Old Man Marley. Continue reading “Home Alone is a Dickensian, Supernatural Test of the McCallisters”

Is Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” a Christmas Song?

Every year, a few conversations begin to occur simultaneously before, on, and after Thanksgiving and continue through the new year. There are things you can expect to talk about with friends, family, coworkers, and passing acquaintances. Most are safe but, like all things holiday-related, are accompanied by a certain level of mild controversy and the potential to boil over until genuine disagreement.

Here are a few of the American holiday conversations one can be sure to experience annually:

  • “Can you believe _____ put up their Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving?”
  • “Guess which radio station already started playing Christmas music?”
  • “What’s your favorite Christmas song?”
  • “What’s your favorite Christmas movie?”
  • “We don’t say Happy Holidays in this house! It’s Christmas, damn it!’

It’s two of those that demand further inspection in this moment. Before answering the question of favorite Christmas song or favorite Christmas movie, we have to give further consideration of what constitutes a Christmas song or movie?

The Rise of the Unconventional Favorite Christmas Movie

Over the last few years, society has realized and embraced that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. This began, by most accounts, with a Cracked dot com article and now stretches across conversations, advertisements, and the internet. (My mother texted me this week that even an Xfinity ad recently highlighted Die Hard as a holiday favorite).

In response to this, it has become a meme to identify other unconventional Christmas movies, with examples including:

  • Batman Returns
  • Die Hard 2
  • Gremlins 
  • The Thing
  • The Thing (1982 remake)
  • Lethal Weapon 
  • The Shining 
  • Eyes Wide Shut
  • LA Confidential 

This conversation has been tackled by various blogs and writers, some of whom have tried to put the conversation entirely to bed by writing pieces like 538’s “The Best Movies That Are Kind Of About Christmas” or Vulture’s “10 Great Christmas-Adjacent Movies That Aren’t Die Hard”.

Music, meanwhile, works differently. It seems there is a clear line about whether something is or is not a Christmas song. It appears to be more straightforward: Christmas music is music for and about Christmas. (However, there are a few occasional comedic takes on what it is to be Christmas music, including popular comedian Brock Wilbur claiming every Ben Folds song is a Christmas song.)

Which brings me to the question I’ve asked here today…

Let’s Talk About “Happy Xmas (War is Over”) by John Lennon

This post is prologue so far. Here’s what I really want to talk about, what the top of the page exclaims, what I’ve been thinking about for years: is the song that begins with John Lennon whispering Merry Christmas to children really a Christmas song?

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This song.

Originally I intended this to be a parody of such reads as “is gremlins a Christmas movie” and my own “why die hard 2 is a better christmas movie than die hard” or the recent, delightful “Is Holiday Classic It’s A Wonderful Life Secretly (or Actually) a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Movie?”

However, as I set out to write this, I realized that wasn’t the article I was writing. Continue reading “Is Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” a Christmas Song?”

Why is Google Displaying False Info About GRRM’s Fire & Blood?

I have not read the latest George R. R. Martin book, but I do know a few things about it.

Here’s what I know:

  • Martin’s Fire & Blood came out on November 20th, 2018, and tells the story of the vintage Targaryens
  • The book was hotly anticipated by many fans, while many others asked “why did you write this instead of The Winds of Winter?”
  • It’s apparently packed with fan treatments and Easter Eggs, some of which involve literal eggs.
  • It’s getting mixed reviews
  • Google is displaying false information about Fire & Blood

No, this is not a book review of Fire & Blood. I haven’t even read it yet. This is about the fifth bullet point above, which I have not seen covered yet: why is Google displaying false information about this book in its search engine results pages? Continue reading “Why is Google Displaying False Info About GRRM’s Fire & Blood?”

Why Doesn’t Google Know About The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug?

An investigation into a major hole in Google’s knowledge

I discovered something strange yesterday. It began when, in an effort to make a stupid joke on Twitter, I tried to figure out the names of the Hobbit movies. What baffled me was that this quickly turned out to be a harder task than anticipated when Google refused to tell me the name of the 2nd Hobbit movie.

Now, to clarify, I’ve never seen a single Hobbit. While I’m a big Game of Thrones fan and I understand that George R. R. Martin’s work would not exist without J. R. R. Tolkien’s, I also think that Peter Jackson doesn’t make movies I enjoy and that three Hobbit movies seemed like nothing more than a money grab.

These are the things I knew—or, at least, thought I knew, before I started using Google to get some answers:

  • There is one Hobbit book (which I’ve read and mostly liked) and three Hobbit movies.
  • Peter Jackson made the three Hobbit movies. By all accounts, he probably should’ve just made one. But he did, certainly, make three.
  • The first is called “The Big Journey” or something. The second is called “The Hobbit Versus the Dragon Smaug.” And the third is The War of the Five Battles or something.
  • Yes, I knew these weren’t exactly what they were called, which is why I had to google this.

My awareness of The Hobbit has remained heightened over the last several years, largely due to the ongoing YouTube series On Cinema, in which Gregg Turkington repeatedly mentions The Hobbit movies as some of his favorite movies.

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A moment from an early gem by Tim and Gregg

Turkington’s obsession with The Hobbit—and his self-proclaimed status as a #hobbithead—is one of the most compelling running themes in On Cinema, including his running belief that a write-in vote will help The Hobbit sweep the Oscars.

As mentioned before, this went from a simple search of “hobbit movies” to going down a bizarre search engine rabbit hole, in which I realized that the Google Knowledge Graph appears to have no knowledge regarding The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

This entire thing is a perfect blend of two major interests of mine: search engines and pop culture. For an example of something else I’ve written in this vein, check out the article I wrote and accompanying research about Game of Thrones and fan theories.

Before we continue this investigation, let’s briefly discuss what the Google Knowledge Graph is. If you are among the initiated with a thorough (or at least competent) understanding of Google’s Knowledge Graph, feel free to skip past this next section and jump back into the Hobbit stuff. Continue reading “Why Doesn’t Google Know About The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug?”

Why Your Westworld Fan Theory is Not a Fan Theory

Madness descended upon the internet earlier this week when the Westworld showrunners stormed into a the /r/westworld subreddit for what proved to be one of the larger online pranks in recent history.

The gist of the prank was simple: the Westworld team announced that they would be spoiling the entirety of the show for the Westworld superfans. Their logic was that the fans of Westworld seem to love guessing spoilers, so they might as well have them all revealed in advance.

In reality, they had crafted a beautiful new Rickroll. You can view it here:

This was a clever stunt, a well-executed, but most importantly: the Westworld team had created a genius act of public shaming that should bring into focus the absurdity of many aspects of internet fan culture.

The real message here is this: The very concept of fan theories needs major examination. Continue reading “Why Your Westworld Fan Theory is Not a Fan Theory”

The Homage is Not Enough: on the Limits of Nostalgia-First Narratives

In the summer of 2016 everyone started telling me that I had to watch a show called Stranger Things. I was reluctant. The reluctance came from the way it was sold: the entire series was one large nostalgia fest for ‘80s Spielberg, Stephen King novels, and Dungeons and Dragons.

It’s not that I don’t like Stephen King or Indiana Jones or battling bugbears. But I had just finished consuming two pieces of media that banked heavily on nostalgia and ham-fisted homages: the show Mr. Robot and the novel Ready Player One.

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A poster for the upcoming Ready Player One, which this is not a review of.

I had walked away from both Mr. Robot and Ready Player One with a general uneasiness, a queasiness, the stomach ache that comes from too much of any one sweet thing. In the case of both of these, that one thing was the overdose of both

  1. knowing that I had consumed something whose originality was constantly undermined by heavy doses of allusion and homage and
  2. knowing that I had consumed something for which I, a heterosexual white millennial male with an English degree and a penchant for science fiction and a job in digital marketing, was the target demographic.

When I finally did watch Stranger Things, it did not disappoint me in the way that Mr. Robot and Ready Player One both had. Sure, the entire thing has major IT and The Body vibes and there was even a moment where a character is reading Stephen King’s Cujo. The entire thing is, as Stephen King himself said, crowded with Stephen King easter eggs and nods:

But there’s something different about Stranger Things. Something deeper. More tactful, subdued, and thoughtful.

(Stranger Things is not the only nostalgic work that works. FX’s Fargo, crowded with references to O. Henry and Samuel Beckett and, naturally, the Coen Brothers, is a good example of another show that executes where others fail.)

What is it that made Stranger Things work while Ready Player One and Mr. Robot both, in this blogger’s opinion, come up short? It’s a very fine line, but also a bell that, once crossed, is hard to unring, regardless of whom it tolls for. Continue reading “The Homage is Not Enough: on the Limits of Nostalgia-First Narratives”

Why Game of Thrones Fan Should Hop on the Minnesota Vikings Bandwagon

We are nearly two weeks away from the Super Bowl. The Big Game. The Final Battle of the latest NFL season.

And while being a fan of the NFL can be trying (see this article from two years ago for more on the topic), this has been a good year to be a good Vikings fan. But rather than keep my Vikings fandom to myself, I would like to take this moment to try to convince all my fellow Game of Thrones fans that they should be Minnesota Vikings fans as well.

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I will assume you’re already familiar with this moment.

Let’s consider a few reasons:

They are the Kings of the North.

This isn’t just something I say, although it is something I do say. During the latest season–upon clinching the NFC North title–shirts began circulating declaring the Vikings to be the “kings of the north.”

And it’s not just that they’re kings of the North. Defending the North has become a war cry among Vikings fans, just as the North has become a way to describe Minnesota itself. Continue reading “Why Game of Thrones Fan Should Hop on the Minnesota Vikings Bandwagon”