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?”

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?

war-is-over
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 Die Hard 2 is a Better Christmas Movie Than Die Hard

It’s the season of Die Hard. The season of “Die Hard is the best Christmas movie.” Or, at the very least, “did you know Die Hard is a Christmas movie.”  

Die Hard is, inarguably, a Christmas Movie. This is an accepted reality in our zeitgeist. Many have argued for it, with the majority of the arguments tracing their roots back to a simple Cracked article from 2009.

But what troubles me is that, lost in the shuffle of this omnipresent conversation is that its sequel, Die Hard 2, is everything that Die Hard is and more. More Christmas movie. More ’90s action movie. More Die Hard. Hence the subtitle, Die Harder.

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So, let’s investigate how Die Hard 2 is everything that Die Hard is, and more. Continue reading “Why Die Hard 2 is a Better Christmas Movie Than Die Hard”

9 Reasons to Start Reading Moby-Dick on its 166th Birthday

It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big Moby-Dick fan. Or, if it was a secret to you, then this might be the first thing you’ve read by me. Which is cool, if that’s the case (thanks!).

Anyway, in honor of Moby-Dick‘s 166th birthday, here are nine reasons that you finally need to read it. Now.

Ishmael is an extraordinarily funny narrator.

You’ve probably heard a lot of reasons to read Moby-Dick in your life. Great American novel and foundation of all literature and a genuine masterpiece and so on. But something that seems to be often lost in its recommendations is that it’s a genuine laugh riot.

Oddly enough, I’ve noticed a trend in which readers of Moby-Dick find it funny, yet think that the humor is something they’re discovering for the first time, like this listicle of all the sperm references and this thread in the /r/mobydick subreddit.

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Admittedly, not all of it is funny. The cover page is a little dull.

The reality is that, yes, Ishmael is a very funny narrator and Moby-Dick is a very funny book. As pointed out in this NPR article, it’s a good idea to read it looking for humor and “see almost immediately that Melville’s tongue couldn’t have been more in his cheek.” And yes, you’re not imagining it: there really are tons of phallus jokes, with the entire 95th chapter dedicated to “a very strange, enigmatical object” which is none other than a whale’s penis.

Ishmael is a wise and thoughtful and oddly progressive narrator.

He’s not just funny, of course. He’s also wise and poignant, with enigmatic, zenlike musings including:

“It is not down in any map any map; true places never are.”

And:

“Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.”

And:

“Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.”

It’s that third one that has sparked endless conversation, centered around the relationship between the “heathen” Queequeg and his bedmate Ishmael. Of course, the line above isn’t the only reference to the depths and threads of their relationship. Throughout the entire book, Ishmael and Queequeg form an intimate bond, to the extent that Moby-Dick has been considered the first depiction of same-sex marriage in American literature.

Of course, there are many stories and subplots in Moby-Dick, but the liberal Ishmael (and his partner Queequeg) is a constant reason to keep reading. Continue reading “9 Reasons to Start Reading Moby-Dick on its 166th Birthday”

No, the Alien Covenant Ending Was Not an Obvious Twist. It Was Dramatic Irony.

It was the best of Alien films, it was the worst of Alien films, it was the sequel to Prometheus, it was the prequel to Alien, it was the story of David, it was the story of Lucifer, it had an awesome ending, it had the worst ending ever — in short, Alien: Covenant was so much like the entire Alien series that many of its audiences and critics have insisted on discussing it in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Immediately, let’s note that Alien: Covenant could never accurately be considered the best or the worst Alien film. The only contenders for best Alien film are the original Ridley Scott masterpiece and Aliens, the James Cameron action sequel. The worst, depending on who you ask, is the third or the fourth installment, or, if you’re considering them as contenders, the Alien vs Predator movies.

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Rather than discuss the film as a whole – as there are many critics whose job it is to review films in depth, and many armchair critics whose hobby is the same – I’d like to focus on one small aspect of Alien: Covenant that I think was missed by many of its viewers. The film was derided by various bloggers, commenters, and critics as having an “obvious twist ending.” As you know, based on the headline of this article, my argument is that this should not be called either a twist ending or an obvious twist ending.

I’ve also waited long enough to write this so that a) no one is talking about Alien: Covenant anymore b) I’ve had enough time to consider it to know that this is how I feel, and c) we know how well the film did at the box office (not quite $250 million on a nearly $100 million budget, so not awesome.)

First, let’s recap the Alien: Covenant ending, before debating its flaws and strengths

Before calling it a failure or a success, let’s analyze what actually happens at the end of the film. (Note: if you have somehow read this far without seeing Alien: Covenant, this is your moment to either stop reading or to know that any element of the ending will be “spoiled” from here forward.) Continue reading “No, the Alien Covenant Ending Was Not an Obvious Twist. It Was Dramatic Irony.”

Sick of Reboots, Sequels, and Extended Universes? Blame Classic Literature

We find ourselves in the midst of another summer and with it, an endless brigade of sequels, prequels, reboots, requels, and the ongoing march of extended cinematic universes. A new Mummy. A fifth Transformers. A new Baywatch. A third installment in the third imagining of Planet of the Apes. A third actor playing Spider-Man in the last decade. A sequel to the Alien prequel. Another damn King Arthur. Another three Marvel shows on Netflix springing up for every new Marvel film, perpetual menaces likes heads of the hydra.

cruise-mummy
The Mummy we deserve

And while the tastemakers and critics bemoan this ongoing onslaught of tired ideas and bloated franchises, it’s worth pausing and reminding ourselves that there is nothing novel about this. This lack of new ideas is not new. Sure, 2017 is bloated with stories and characters lacking originality, but so was 2016, 2007, 1997, and 1597.

If you’re really looking for someone to blame for these endless reboots and expanding cinematic universes, it’s not Michael Bay or Vin Diesel. Blame the real culprits: William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and all the other writers throughout history who did the same thing we’re seeing today on the screen.

So, dear reader, it’s time for you to sit back, hold your rebuttal until the end, and consider the following list of explaining how the current “lack of originality” is neither original, nor a problem.

Sequels Upon Sequels Upon Prequels Upon Sequels are Nothing New

Surely you’re familiar with The Three Musketeers, the swashbuckling adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas. Perhaps you’ve read it, or perhaps you’re seen one of its screen adaptations, of which there have been many.

3-musketeers
But where’s d’Artagnan?

But here are a few things you might not know about The Three Musketeers and Dumas:

  • The Three Musketeers has two sequels by Dumas, Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne.
  • The Vicomte de Bragelonne is often published as three different books instead of one as it’s extremely long, meaning that The Three Musketeers effectively has four sequels.
  • The third part of the third Three Musketeers book is the famous The Man in the Iron Mask.
  • All of these novels were originally published in serialized form, being released in installments over time. The Three Musketeers took four months to be released, much like a television show is released today.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, another novel by Dumas, was originally serialized in 18 parts and ran for over two years.
  • When each of these novels were released in English, they were also serialized, often seeing competing versions and abridgments being released at the same time.

Of course, Dumas invented neither the sequel nor the serial. The following authors also followed their novels with sequels that followed the same characters and cashed in on the popularity:

  • Lewis Carroll, after releasing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, followed it up with a sequel, Through the Looking Glass, six years later. He then wrote The Hunting of the Snark, an epic poem published in 1876 that features a few characters and creatures from Through the Looking Glass.
  • Leo Tolstoy might be famous of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, but his first published novel was Childhood, which launched him into popularity. He wrote two sequels to the novel, called Boyhood and Youth.
  • The famous novel we know today as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was initially two different novels, called Little Women (1868) and its sequel, Good Wives (1869). Not stopping there, Alcott published another two sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys.
  • Sherlock Holmes might be one of the most ubiquitously adapted characters today, which certainly wouldn’t be the case if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hadn’t cranked out sixty sequels to his 1887 success A Study in Scarlet.
  • Literary sequels to great works continued into the 20th century, including Joseph Heller writing a sequel to Catch-22 and Johns Cheever and Updike writing a few sequels of their own.

And of course, there is Mark Twain. But we are saving him for later in this list. Continue reading “Sick of Reboots, Sequels, and Extended Universes? Blame Classic Literature”

What References, Depictions, and Themes Should We Anticipate in Fargo’s Season 3?

While this blog’s last Fargo article gave you a list of ways to get hyped for the forthcoming third season, it didn’t go very deep into what we’ve seen in Fargo so far and what we can expect in the third season.

The following is some of what I expect to see in this upcoming third season. Of course, I do not know for certain what to expect. I have not seen it yet. But this is some of what I hope to see, based on what we’ve seen before.

Innovative and realistic depictions of Minnesotans

Minnesota is known for many things, but rarely is it known for being a setting for violence, tales of organized crime, and conspiracies of murder. This is arguably because of misunderstandings and stereotypes in the media. As noted in my previous blog post on the matter, there are plenty of violent moments in Minnesota’s history but Fargo seems to be one of the few mainstream fictional works interested in this ugly history.

Fargo‘s second season also contains one of my favorite descriptions of the typical Minnesotan male. It occurs when protagonist Lou Solverson first comes face-to-face with Mike Milligan, one of the many violent main characters in the story. Lou learns that Mike met Hank, his father-in-law, earlier that day, and refers to Lou (and Minnesotans in general) as friendly.

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Ted Danson as Hank Larsson in the second season. 

Milligan disagrees with this assessment, offering one of my favorite summations of so-called Minnesota nice:

“Pretty unfriendly actually. But it’s the way you’re unfriendly. You’re so polite about it. Like you’re doing me a favor.”

Perhaps the media will never really get Minnesota right, largely because it just isn’t depicted enough. But Fargo does so much better than most of its predecessors. Let’s anticipate more of such in its upcoming season.  Continue reading “What References, Depictions, and Themes Should We Anticipate in Fargo’s Season 3?”

Twelve Ways to Get Hyped for Fargo’s Third Season

The trailers are out for the third season of Fargo and there isn’t much more to say about them than “okay then.” As in, it looks good. Pretty darn good.

But it’s not here yet. The third season of the anthology will premier in late April, giving us time to either rewatch the first two seasons in anxious anticipation or get hyped for it by consuming some other media with similar themes and settings. The following list contains a number of films, shows, and books, all of which can be recommended to an enthusiastic Fargo fan. Many of these are either set in Minnesota, created by Minnesotans, or have some other Midwestern connection.

Many also share at least one of two other traits with Fargo: a sense of humor and a sense of violence.

Watch A Serious Man by the Coen Brothers and Starring Michael Stuhlbarg

Filmed in Minnesota’s Saint Louis Park, A Serious Man is arguably the most autobiographical film that Ethan and Joel Coen have made. But the setting and the creators aren’t the only reason to watch this film in anticipation of the upcoming Fargo season.

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A Serious Man

This 2009 film stars Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik, a Minnesotan man who finds his life unraveling much in the style of Job. If you’re not immediately familiar with the name Michael Stuhlbag, you might know him better as Arnold Rothstein in Boardwalk Empire. Or, you might not be familiar with him at all… but you will be, assuming you watch the upcoming series of Fargo, in which he plays the character Sy Feltz. (It’s also worth noting that Stuhlbarg isn’t the only Boardwalk Empire alum in this season of Fargo; Shea Whigham will also be in this season.) Continue reading “Twelve Ways to Get Hyped for Fargo’s Third Season”

Let’s Hope the New Beauty and the Beast Ends with Gaston Killing the Beast

Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast is almost here. And while the majority of the conversation has circulated around its awe-inspiring special effects, its loyalty to the original, and Josh Gad’s portrayal of Disney’s first openly gay character, there is a different conversation I’m interested in having. Specifically, this new adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is an opportunity to give a new, honest ending to the classic story. It’s an opportunity to kill the Beast.

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If you’re wondering why, the reasons are simple:

  • The original 1991 Beauty and the Beast movie has a very disturbing story, in which Belle is  a Patty Hearst subjected to bestiality and manipulated by a castle of malevolent ghosts.
  • Gaston is right to be concerned about Belle’s mental health. He and the other pitchfork-wielding townsfolk are right to try to rescue her. She is not making healthy decisions.
  • Do we really need another narrative in 2017 defending a character who was mean and course and unrefined?

Not sold yet? Let’s investigate. Continue reading “Let’s Hope the New Beauty and the Beast Ends with Gaston Killing the Beast”