Metaphors are underlying, but sometimes obvious, symbols that enhance a work of writing or a film. They strengthen a film’s theme and can help add layers of depth that contribute to a movie’s meaning.
Here are ten popular films that use metaphors you might not have ever noticed.
10. The Shining
The hedge maze in horror flick The Shining is a stunning visual representation of Jack Torrance’s disoriented mind. This element was added to Stephen King’s version of the story by director Stanley Kubrick.
James Cameron’s Alien movies, starring Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, have rape and the complications of motherhood as central themes.
Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon says “[o]ne thing that people are all disturbed about is sex… I said ‘That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going to go after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number.'”image source
8. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Though this film looks like a fun children’s movie, it has a more sinister undertone. The human-cartoon divide in this animated film represents early 20th century US racism and segregation.
Humans and Toons live in separate parts of town, ride different elevators, and use different drinking fountains. The plot follows a human private eye named Eddie Valiant, whose brother was killed when a Toon dropped a piano on his head. Valiant is hired by a cartoon named Roger Rabbit, who has been framed for murder, and has to overcome his “Toonism.”
Spiderman is a pretty obvious metaphor for puberty. Mysterious hair growth, muscle development, new powers, and a white sticky fluid?
Not too subtle.image source
The character RoboCop is Jesus.
In futuristic Detroit, a police officer is murdered by a gang of thugs, and is resurrected as a crime-fighting cyborg. During one of the movie’s final scenes, RoboCop even appears to walk on water.
5. E.T.The Extraterrestrial
Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extraterrestrial is another movie character representing Jesus. A few of the similarities:
- Jesus was innocent, sent from above, and prayed to God; E.T. was also innocent and sent from above, and “phoned home” to his kin.
- Jesus was chased by Herod the Great and protected by three wise men, and E.T. is chased by scientists and protected by three children.
- Jesus was a carpenter, and E.T. is discovered in a shed, which could suggest that he’s a woodworker.
- Christ spent his life preaching goodness, and E.T.’s first words are “Be good.”
4. No Country For Old Men
The Coen brothers’s neo-Western thriller features plenty of violence, bloodbaths and brutality. But there’s a softer meaning underneath the gore. The film’s main character is an aging sheriff afraid of receding into the obscurity of old age, and the central theme of the movie is angst about aging and retirement.
The film’s title comes from a William Butler Yeats poem, Sailing to Byzantium:
That is no country for old men. The young In one another’s arms, birds in the trees Those dying generations at their song
Fantasy/Science fiction film series X-Men is about gay rights.
Director Bryan Singer sat down and discussed his problems growing up gay with BBC Films. “… [A] gay kid doesn’t discover he or she is gay until around puberty. And their parents aren’t gay necessarily, and their classmates aren’t, and they feel truly alone in the world and have to find, sometimes never find, a way to live, he says. What better way to explore those personal issues “than in a giant, action, summer event movie! I could think of no better place to spill out one’s own personal problems and foist them onto the world.”
2. Alice in Wonderland
The animated Disney version of Lewis Carroll’s tripped-out 1865 novel is rife with metaphors and symbolism, but Alice in Wonderland’s primary underlying theme is the inevitable loss of innocence that comes with the end of childhood.
One example of this is the Caterpillar’s mushroom. The mushroom, with its phallic shape, is a symbol of sexual virility. Alice has to eat pieces of the mushroom to control of her rapidly fluctuating size, which represents the bodily changes brought about by puberty.image source
The lead character in Misery, Annie Wilkes, represents Stephen King’s cocaine addiction.
In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, horror author extraordinaire Stephen King opened up about a massive alcohol and drug addiction he’d had in the 1970’s and 1980’s: “I was usually pretty good about it. I was able to get up and make the kids breakfast and get them off to school. And I was strong; I had a lot of energy. I would’ve killed myself otherwise. But the books start to show it after a while. Misery is a book about cocaine. Annie Wilkes is cocaine. She was my number-one fan.”