I managed to dodge many classic films when growing up, whether they were before my time, too mature for my age, or just didn’t catch my attention. I still built a respectable cinematic vocabulary, and was aware of the influence many of them had on film and pop culture. However, having been immersed in pop culture long enough to absorb vague plot details and thus understand most references, I never felt the need to watch them.
This has resulted bemused reactions from friends when I’ve attempted to describe movies I have never seen. Below I have briefly described what I believe are the plots to several well-known films. There are probably no spoilers.
It is some time in the future. There’s no grass – everything is concrete and metal buildings. Very depressing. Harrison Ford is there. There are robots who don’t know they’re robots, and robots who do. Robots want to be treated like people. Harrison Ford doesn’t want that. Harrison Ford wants to kill the robots that want to be people. They run and he chases them. At some point he questions his humanity. What is man? Is he man? Is robot man? Is he robot? “All these moments lost, like tears in the rain. Time to die.” A robot dies in the rain. It isn’t Harrison Ford. Is Harrison Ford the good guy? We just don’t know. He is probably very sad at the end.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Harrison Ford is here as well. This time he’s Indiana Jones, an archaeologist and a teacher. In his spare time he likes visiting ancient historical sites and taking things. He triggers a trap in one by taking a golden monkey and replacing it with a sack of sand, and has to run from a giant boulder. Indiana hears that there’s been some news regarding the location of the Ark of the Covenant, so he decides to go and find it so he can take it. Unfortunately, there are uniformed Nazis who also want it. At some point Indiana and a lady are captured and tied to a pole. The Nazis get the Ark but then they open it and it melts their faces off. Indiana doesn’t like snakes.
A man and a woman are in love, and they rob a diner. They are not Uma Thurman and John Travolta. Uma Thurman and John Travolta dance awkwardly in a club. She does drugs and he has to look after her, because she’s dating somebody important and he works for that person. She does too much drugs, and John Travolta panics. There’s probably a cool car at some point. Samuel L. Jackson is there. He holds a gun and swears. There are two men tied up in a basement on their knees, and someone says, “Bring out the gimp.” I think the gimp is a person, in which case it seems mean they don’t call him by his name.
Jack Nicholson is a writer named Johnny. He has writer’s block, so he takes his wife and son to a hotel so they can have a holiday in the snow and he can focus on his work. He starts getting weirdly obsessive about his book and doesn’t want to participate in the family holiday, and his wife gets upset about it. Johnny overworks himself, becoming paranoid and hallucinating. He thinks his family is out to sabotage his writing. He thinks he is writing a great story on his typewriter, but all he is doing is repeating “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over.
Johnny’s son rides a tricycle in the hotel hallway (which doesn’t seem like it should be allowed but there aren’t any hotel staff around). The carpet pattern is cool. He meets twin girls who want to play with him, but they’re creepy and probably supernatural? The hotel might be supernatural. That might be why Johnny went mad. There’s also a wave of blood in the hallway at some point, but it’s just a hallucination. Johnny comes after his wife with an axe because he’s mad she’s impeding his writing. “Here’s Johnny!” He breaks down a door with the axe and his wife tries to escape. “Red rum” is “murder” spelt backwards.
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
Cowboys. Probably there’s an outlaw terrorising a town (the bad) and an idealistic gunslinger thinks he can take him down (the good). But then a gruff, seasoned gunslinger who has seen too much begrudgingly takes the case (the ugly). The idealistic gunslinger tenaciously follows the gruff gunslinger, and they learn things from each other. At the end they defeat the outlaw but the gruff gunslinger dies, and the idealistic gunslinger inherits his legacy. Look, I have no idea about this one, I’m going entirely off the title. John Wayne is probably there.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Jack Nicholson is a reporter going in undercover in a mental health institution. Things get too intense for him and he wants out, but he can’t get out because everyone thinks he’s a patient. The nurses make him take pills he doesn’t need, and Nurse Ratchet is sadistically mean to him. He regards her his nemesis. His world gets very small, consumed with the drama inside the institution. He doesn’t care about his article any more, he just wants to get out. Jack Nicholson tries to break out violently, but doesn’t succeed. Eventually he becomes mentally ill and is stuck there forever.
The ex-girlfriend of a man who runs a gin joint visits the gin joint. She didn’t know that it was his. They’re reunited, but he is unhappy about it because he is still angry about how she left him. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walked into mine.” The piano player, Sam, is the gin joint owner’s confidant. “Play it again, Sam.” At the end the woman leaves, but they’ve made peace with each other and part on amicable terms. The gin joint owner holds nostalgic fondness for the past, but sees now that he’s better off without her. “Here’s looking at you, kid.” (The ex-girlfriend is the kid.)
A Clockwork Orange
Some really bad men in bowler hats, eyeliner and jumpsuits commit horrible crimes while singing “Singing In The Rain”. Their leader gets caught and given electroshock therapy, and then he no longer commits crimes. I think it’s supposed to be sad that he’s lost his identity and conformed, but that seems like a messed up message considering he was terrorising people.
There are some criminals in suits with a cool car. They have names like Mr Pink and Mr White – pseudonyms, probably. They spend a lot of time talking about doing a crime but not actually doing a crime. One of them probably betrays the others, and they all fight amongst themselves (mostly with words).
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Jim Carrey discovers that blue-haired ex-girlfriend Kate Winslet has undergone a procedure to erase both him and their relationship from her memory. He decides to do the same to her in retaliation, employing Elijah Wood to do so. (Elijah Wood has a crush on one of his fellow brain-wipe technicians, which is a subplot.) We go into Jim Carrey’s mind where he talks to Mind-Kate-Winslet and realises that he doesn’t want to forget her. They run through his mind, trying to escape from the erasing process, which is erasing locations where they spent time together. They are unsuccessful in the end, so they say goodbye and it’s a bittersweet ending.
“I’m walking here!” Robert De Niro drives a taxi in New York. He considers himself a tough guy, a free man unbound by common courtesy, and admires himself in the mirror: “You looking at me?” He gets irritated at the busy businessmen who catch his taxi, whom he considers fake and conformist. However, by the end of the film it’s clear that his disdain for others keeps driving his life in futile circles, while the businessmen he despises have comfortable lives and are achieving things. Robert De Niro isn’t in the taxi for the two most-quoted scenes, so I question how much he actually drives the taxi.
Weekend At Bernie’s
There’s a rich guy named Bernie. He has a cool house with a pool, and his friends want to hang out with him and swim in the pool. But then he dies, and they’re like, “Oh man, I wanted to hang out by the pool, though.” So they figure they can pretend he’s alive and still have fun. They put a Hawaiian shirt, sunglasses and a hat on him and carry him around, pretending he’s alive so they can use the pool. At one point they put him in a car, I think because they want to take a joyride in his car. I think it’s a convertible.
A mayor wants to turn his beach town into a prime holiday destination, but there’s a really big shark eating people and it’s a problem. He doesn’t tell anyone because he doesn’t want tourists to stop coming and the local economy to suffer. Instead, he hires some shark hunters on the down low to get rid of the shark, only they’ve never dealt with a shark so big. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” The shark is strangely aggressive for a shark and chomps a lot of boats and people (who are still swimming because they don’t know about the shark). The shark hunters kill it at the end, and the mayor gets in trouble for not telling anyone and endangering people.
This article has been updated since its original publication.