Why Do We Quote Films?
Some of these lines are award-winning, after all.
How many times have you stood on your porch and screamed, “I’m the king of the world!” Or wandered around in the dark and uttered “I have a bad feeling about this?” How about reassuring your mopey best friend that “you aren’t dying; you just can’t think of anything better to do?”
Some films have countless quotes that are distinct in their own right; others have one single line that defines the entire feature. Whether it is a niche film or a classic to this day, there is always something that will stand out, one way or another.
Often, we incorporate movie lines into everyday life, keeping the spirit of film alive. What makes a movie iconic is not always the actors, but the narratives they bring to the silver screen. The stories make the movie — and compelling, passionate characters — carry us from one end to another. They are simultaneously niched and universal, and you’ll never know if the next movie you’re about to watch is going to be your favorite, which is the beauty of the unexpected in film — and life. Characters become your friends, your family, and you sympathize with them the most once they realize everything that the audience already knows, thus peaking emotions.
The connections that I feel through characters are humbling, as you can say “that’s exactly what I feel like” when you cannot put your feelings into words.
I find myself quoting movies countless times daily. I’ll admit I go beyond solely that. I’ve ran miles in a garbage bag like Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook. I’ve rocked a Gryffindor scarf and crazy wavy hair like Emma Watson from the Harry Potter films. I own an aviator jacket, scarf and shades similar to the ones Leonardo DiCaprio wears in The Aviator so I can charade as Howard Hughes at my leisure. I even carry around a lightsaber in my bag just in case, and enjoy singing and dancing in a rainstorm. Even when part of a film can be such a nuanced one, using the right one at the right time brings us closer to the silver screen.
Quoting movies are an inside joke between the film and me-rather, the film and the viewer. Anyone who understands the reference or has seen the motion picture is in on it. However, when no one else laughs and I am stuck looking awkward for my allegedly irrelevant commentary, then I’m on my own.
Comparing film to life has become an enormous aspect of how I approach things. With every bad scene, there is a new one coming up. However, unlike film, life isn’t scripted. We have to “take life as it comes at us, to make each day count.” so, why do we choose to place someone else’s words into our own moments of victory or moments of pain? Why do we choose to cite something already there instead of making up our own lines to describe our highest highs, and our lowest lows?
Let’s take a look at the evolution of quoting. In general, it isn’t something new-the first thing that anyone quoted was the Bible. In the fifteenth century, the invention of the printing press caused the literacy rate to skyrocket. Once the majority of people were reading, the Bible was the go-to source to quote. People were able to reassert their religious knowledge, which also had a major impacts on religious reformations and revolutions otherwise.
Four hundred years later, the radio was invented and radio shows became popular. Programs like “The Shadow” were put on to listen to. Eventually, the line "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" became submersed into pop culture. By 1933, sixty percent of American households had radios and tuned in weekly to hear their favorite program.
Quotable quotes from the radio then evolved into television ones. Lines like “what’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” (from Different Strokes) and “No soup for you!” (from Seinfeld) became fads and are still used today.
Now, quoting movies is the current thing to do. Lines become trends; they are born from a film and once they reach their height, they either become a lexicon for the average vocabulary, or fade back to the film from whence they came.
Certain phrases from movies define an event of life or create more meaning to situations we face. For example, if someone says “we’re gonna need a bigger boat,” the reference to “Jaws” is a boating movie icon. Or when you hear “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” “The Godfather” is immediately what comes to mind. Later gangster films use this mentality when telling a story. John Belushi’s shouting “TOGA! TOGA!” from “National Lampoon’s Animal House” is quite often incorporated into movies about college life. Students even hold toga parties today in their dorms on campuses everywhere. “It’s in the hole!” from Caddyshack has become the lexicon for golf motion pictures. Iconic phrases become the lexicon for a movie genre.
Even “to be or not to be” from Hamlet is so often used. The four hundred year old quote is the most famous one of Shakespeare’s, as the matter of action versus inaction can be posed for virtually any situation.
The reason to why we quote films has actually become an interest for one professor, as he investigated why we quote films. Richard Harris, a psychology professor at Kansas State University has analyzed this. He has done extensive research on young adults’ memories of watching movies. By citing films in everyday life, you can make things more tangible to others. It is similar to telling a joke, even. Harris says “people are doing it to feel good about themselves, to make others laugh, to make themselves laugh.”
"Almost everybody has a very good memory for something," Harris said. Some people are hardwired to remember mathematical equations. Others are best at remembering every country in the world and its capital. If one can pull a line from a staged situation into a real life situation and apply it appropriately, then a film (or a portion of it) has impacted an individual only so much.
Quoting films is similar to telling a joke, as it forms a closer bond between people. Michael Friedman PhD., a clinical psychologist and member of the EHE International's Medical Advisory Board states that when co-watching a movie with others, brain waves are in sync with one another. This is a sign of communication which does bond people together, both long-term and short. It is a way for people to form a connection without any intimacy at all.
This, in my opinion, is remarkable. We are able to sit in a dark room filled with sometimes hundreds of strangers, and experience the same thing. We watch a film together, see the triumphs and the pitfalls together, and experience the same emotions. This kind of bonding is universal and intimate simultaneously.
By quoting films, we once more become a part of escapism, which is defined as the avoidance of reality through absorption of the mind in entertainment. Even though the moment is brief, we are connected to the film and temporarily escape reality through our own words.
Only few things can bring people together. Aspects of life such as food, music, books, and now film are the most universal parts of pop culture. Movie quotes unify people, now more than ever. So the next time you say “there’s no place like home” or advise someone to “keep their friends close, but their enemies closer,” you’re keeping alive the trend of quoting iconic movies. Every day, lines like these are becoming increasingly immersed into our culture.
About the Creator
Marina Caitlin Watts
Marina loves Frank Sinatra and hates decaf coffee. The native New Yorker and Cornell grad knows every word to "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and thinks Shakespeare is cool. If you need her, she's waiting for Godot. Twitter: @marina_caitlin
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