Cigarette Burns: Words can’t hurt you?

I’ve found that as I watch more and more films, I notice the increasing use of lazy cliche comments that act as a shorthand information provider for the viewer. You see, words come loaded with meanings, and through the arrangement and clever use of these words, meaning can be implied, suggested and even explicitly stated. This is how words work “numb nuts”…You see? I’m stating that you have nuts, and they’re numb. It works on two levels.

Now, certain expressions have become so overused in popular media that they now don’t so much create meaning but remind us of other occasions that such words were used. Por examplar:

If someone says ‘*blank*, I am your father’, your mind is called back to Star Wars (1977) and thus can create links in your head. This effect is used for comedy purposes particularly well, but only works with the specific, not the general. Otherwise you’d be pissing yourself every time someone said “hello” in a movie or, even worse, in real life.

“Hello?! Are you quoting What Women Want? You know, the Mel Gibson film?”
“No. I was just saying hello.”

So there are a fair few expressions/phrases that have become so overused, and are so general, that they don’t register in your brain at first but are cleverly designed to recall moments of prior use so that the precious audience doesn’t have to work quite so hard (bless). In no phrase is this more apparent than with:

“Looks like we’ve got company.”

This phrase is used everywhere. There’s even a YouTube video that compiles its uses, and it’s all over a plethora of film scripts. It’s laziness to the point of coma. The enemies arrived? Quick, someone say ‘Looks like we’ve got company’ – then the audience will be in no doubt as to the nature of this unexpected arrival. In fact, so powerful is the phrase that we don’t even need to make it clear who these people are through character identification or a decent narrative arc.

“I guess that makes us even.”

By no means as prevalent but equally annoying, this phrase is used to indicate that there are now no hard feelings. This sentence is often spoken to something which cannot talk and seems only semi-sentient, rendering the need to say it at all slightly suspect. It’s solely for the audience, for anyone who may not have been paying attention but beyond that, it acts as a way of “closing the case”. It’s a way of saying, “OK, by all conventional logic, this fight isn’t over but keeping this feud running makes things quite difficult for us so we’ll call it quits and never return to its thorny issues again”. Next plot point please.

“It’s almost as if he wanted to get *blank*.”

The runt of this particular litter but still fantastically irritating. The most common replacement for the *blank* is ‘caught’ or ‘captured’ or ‘arrested’, but other examples exist. It acts as a neat bit of verbal shorthand that indicates quite clearly, that “This ain’t over” e.g. If he wanted to get caught/captured/arrested there must be something more to this than meets the eye! However, even with this intense indication that something is awry, no one ever devotes the rest of their time in working out why this is. If I went out of my way to give you a cake, you’d be confused and you’d ask a lot of questions but depending on your relationship to with me, that would either be it or it wouldn’t even be close to being ‘it’. If you didn’t trust me because I was a murderer/werewolf/other generic antagonist and I was offering you cake, I think it would be fair to say that you’d tell me where to get off, whilst also declining the sugary prize.

 I’m not here to debate stupid things people do in films, simply the stupid things people say, and my anger is directed at the lazy, lazy scriptwriters and their cliché-ridden exercises in churning out things that sound strangely familiar and require your brain to do a lot less work.

Alex Riding