"You feel my dick fuckin' your mind?"
It’s a source of continual frustration for me that word ‘nerd’ has suddenly gone from being an insult, hurled at marching bands by jocks since the dawn of time, to a fashion statement that comes bundled with a pair of thick glasses with no lenses in them and an ironic love of Star Wars.
Fortunately, as hipsters try to claw their way into the territory that we actual nerds earned through years of wedgies and late night Dungeons and Dragons sessions, the truest nerds among us have fled deeper from the mainstream with the proliferation of Alternate Fan Theories. I’ll explain in the next paragraph.
An Alternate Fan Theory is what happens when a fan base uses careful analysis and some educated guesses to explain away a film’s plotholes or give a deeper meaning to the story. Popular theories include: The suggestion that the events of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off take place entirely in Cameron’s mind (Cameron, miserable and sick with a fever, invents Ferris as a cool alter ego and imagines the adventures they’d have together, explaining the fantastical elements of the film), the idea that James Bond is simply a codename passed from one 00 agent to the next (explaining why there have been multiple different Bonds over the course of 50 years), and that The Office and Parks and Recreation take place in the same universe.
Yes, you’re reading that right: Not satisfied to simply watch and rewatch the same movies over and over again, nerds have instead begun to create competing imaginary movies running parallel to the real movies to enhance the viewing experience for themselves. I’m scared to think of what the fan theories for Inception must look like.
Last night, somebody on Reddit posted asking for the community’s favorite theories, and, being a nerd, I pitched in with my own personal favorite, which I first picked up from Cracked and then expanded on: The idea that every Quentin Tarantino movie takes place in the same alternate history universe. My theory turned out to be immensely popular, and as of this morning it’s been retweeted by over a hundred people and featured on at least half a dozen film blogs.
Before this whole thing gets too viral, I’d like to post my theory here, in detail, with my name on it. For those of you not interested in taking part in a huge movie nerd circlejerk, feel free to go watch Dance Moms or something. Everybody else, buckle in – it’s going to be a nerdy ride.
INGLOURIOUS HISTERY: THE FILMS OF QUENTIN TARANTINO
THE REALER THAN REAL UNIVERSE
It’s a pretty well established fact that most of Tarantino’s movies take place in the same fictional universe – the psychopath bank robber in Reservoir Dogs, Vic Vega/Mr. Blonde, is the brother of the dancing, heroin addled thug Vince Vega in Pulp Fiction, Mr. White refers to having worked with a call girl named Alabama, who was the lead in True Romance (which Tarantino wrote but did not direct), and Donny Donowitz, The Bear Jew from Inglourious Basterds, is the father of movie mogul Lee Donowitz, again from True Romance.
This isn’t even fan theory yet – this is factual information. Tarantino has confirmed in interviews* that his characters and movies are interrelated like this, and some fan theories go so far as to suggest that the timelines of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction actually overlap to some degree – the reason the police never get involved in any of the various public acts of violence in Pulp Fiction is because they’re completely overwhelmed responding to the botched diamond heist shootout and aftermath in Reservoir Dogs.
*"The Movie Lover", The New Yorker, October 20th, 2003.
Now, as you’ll remember, Inglourious Basterds comes to a pretty dramatic, if not factually dubious, ending: During the premiere of a Nazi propaganda film in 1944, the owner of the theater locks the audience inside and sets the building on fire. As screaming Nazis stampede for the exits, two badass commando Jews burst into the box seats and machine gun Hitler and Joseph Goebbels to death, then blow the entire theater up with dynamite.
So clearly, Inglourious Basterds takes place in a different historical continuity than our boring, whitebread world where Hitler killed himself in 1945 with nary a Bear Jew in sight.
But remember: All of Tarantino’s movies take place in the same universe. Since Inglourious Basterds is a part of that universe, what it means is that Tarantino’s subsequent films - Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, True Romance, et al. – take place in a world where the Allies won World War II by locking the Nazi high command in a burning movie theater and blowing it up.
At first, this seems like a minor, interesting tidbit, but the more you think about it, the more it starts to explain all the idiosyncrasies of Tarantino’s movies.
Why, for example, does everybody seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of movies and pop culture? Well, probably because they grew up reading in history books about how World War II ended in a movie theater, thanks to the efforts of a Jewish film enthusiast, a British movie critic, a famous German film actress working as a double agent, and the father of a successful contemporary movie producer.* America essentially destroyed fascism and saved the world with the movies – why wouldn’t Americans be obsessed with them?
*Full details about what happened in the theater would’ve survived with Marcel, the theater owner’s boyfriend and a co-conspirator in the plot who lit the fire and presumably escaped, as we do not see him die onscreen.
You might think this is a stretch, but consider how the real ending of World War II affected American culture: We invented nuclear weapons and dropped them on Japan, and for the next 50 years nuclear weapons played a huge role in movies, music, literature, and art.
"Atomic Bombs", Andy Warhol.
This also explains why people in Tarantino movies tend to kill one another so often without seeming especially fazed by it: They grew up reading in history textbooks about how the lynchpin in America’s defeat of the Third Reich was sending 8 angry Jewish American soldiers to Europe on a clandestine revenge mission to ambush and torture Nazis to death as an act of psychological warfare. Talk about being desensitized to violence – along with movies, killing people is practically our heritage.*
*Naturally, Regular America already has a crazy violent history, but I think the difference here is that virtually all public school curricula teaches that slavery and genocide against Native Americans was a terrible mistake made by an imperfect society. The Nazis, however, were the worst people imaginable, and I believe the history books would take a somewhat more lighthearted view of the Basterds’ actions.
This is why, after accidentally shooting an acquaintance in the face in Pulp Fiction, Butch and Jules are more concerned about cleaning up the car and playing the blame game than mourning their friend. Butch learns that he beat his opponent to death in the boxing ring and is unfazed by it; his cab driver, Esmerelda, is obsessed with death and demands that he tell her what it’s like to kill someone. In Reservoir Dogs, Mr. White and Mr. Pink have a fairly pragmatic conversation about killing in their line of work:
Mr. White: A choice between doing ten years or taking out some stupid motherfucker ain’t no choice at all.
Mr. Pink: I don't wanna kill anybody. But if I gotta get out that door, and you're standing in my way, one way or the other, you're gettin' outta my way.
In their words, the ends justify the violent means. Defeating the Nazis justified the Basterds’ Operation Kino.
So, to recap: Quentin Tarantino’s movies are stylized, hyperviolent, pop culture tributes because they’re all set in an America where violence and movies are patriotic. Take a moment to let that sink in.
Good. Now we’re going to talk about the other universe.
THE MOVIE MOVIE UNIVERSE
Tarantino has gone on the record and said that his films technically take place in two separate universes. There is The Realer Than Real Universe, above (his name for it, not mine – I would’ve picked something different) and The Movie Movie Universe. The difference between the two is that while The Realer Than Real Universe constitutes ‘reality’, films taking place in The Movie Movie Universe are films that Tarantino characters like Vince Vega or Mr. Pink would go see in theaters.
Movies that take place in The Realer Than Real Universe:
Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, True Romance, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds, and reportedly Django Unchained, Tarantino’s upcoming Civil War film.
Movies that take place in the Movie Movie Universe:
Kill Bill Volume 1, Kill Bill Volume 2, From Dusk ‘Til Dawn,, and Natural Born Killers - the latter two which were written by Tarantino but directed by Robert Rodriguez and Oliver Stone, respectively.
(Jackie Brown, as an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, exists in its own universe separate from both of these, hence why it features no characters from other Tarantino films and is generally less violent and more ‘normal’ than the rest of his canon.)
What stands out about the films in The Movie Movie Universe is that they’re grotesquely violent, even by Tarantino standards. Kill Bill is wall to wall blood geysers, From Dusk ‘Til Dawn features a band of vampires playing rock music on dismembered human body parts, and Natural Born Killers’ stylized hyperviolence was blamed for the Columbine High School shooting.
Keep in mind, within Tarantino’s continuity, these are the films produced by an especially callous and desensitized film industry. If every movie in theaters were that violent, it again stands to reason that ordinary people wouldn’t have as much of a problem with doing horrible things to one another on a regular basis.
This explains why characters from The Realer Than Real Universe never show up in The Movie Movie Universe*, but why Tarantino products like Red Apple Cigarettes and Big Kahuna Burger do – movie characters smoke Marlboros and eat Big Macs, but you can’t go join them.
*Tarantino has stated that The Wolf from Pulp Fiction and the sheriff from Kill Bill can jump between universes, but I think this is complicated enough already, don’t you?
This also makes Kill Bill significantly more interesting, at least for me. As you’ll remember in Pulp Fiction, gangster moll Mia Wallace (played by Uma Thurman) tells Vince about her role in a failed TV pilot called Fox Force Five, about a team of sexy assassins. Kill Bill is a film in The Movie Movie Universe about a team of sexy assassins (and one dude) in which the lead role is played by Uma Thurman – or is it Mia Wallace, returning to her acting career in a loose film adaptation of her failed pilot?
A few people on Reddit have called bullshit on this whole theory – they say it’s a stretch, or it’s too speculative, or completely unrealistic.
And to them I say this: It’s a goddamn fanboy theory about an imaginary alternate timeline in a couple of movies! It’s not meant to change the world or cure cancer or hold up in a court of law. It’s just a fun thing I like to think about when I watch Tarantino films, because, like all nerds, I like speculating and thinking about shit I find cool.
For me, it’s really revitalized my interest in Tarantino, who I used to think was a bit of a one-trick pony. Now, I’ve been rewatching his movies, making note of how everything fits into this alternate reality that I like to believe he’s consciously created.
I’d spend some time musing about whether it’s weird or not that I have to play imagination games with myself to enjoy movies, but my biology study group is meeting soon and I don’t want to be late. Coolcoolcool.
Truman Capps can’t possibly imagine why he’s still single.