Most films are straightforward and descriptive in their naming - Three Men and a Baby, Aliens, (sigh), Snakes on a Plane, etc. - whereas others are a bit more cryptic or downright baffling when it comes to their titles.
With the latter type of movie, there is often a point in the film where the title, which was at first puzzling, is explained by the on-screen action or dialogue in such a way that a light bulb flicks on in the viewer’s head and the connection is made clear. There have been times in the cinema where such a moment has occured and I couldn’t help but feel an (albeit completely unspoken and silent) ‘Ah!’ ripple through the audience. I expect a few heads to turn and a few 'Eureka!'s to erupt but they never do.
As an example, imagine a completely hypothetical Gulf War II movie named Blueberry Pancakes. There is no initial forthcoming connection between the war in Iraq and blueberry pancakes but there might be a key scene in which a marine, who’s been instructed to torture an Iraqi prisoner in order to discover a rebel hideout, talks to his captive about his mom’s blueberry pancakes from back in Oklahoma and how he misses these pancakes so much and that the army issue pancakes are completely different. Pining for pancakes could be signs of regret at signing up or isolation in the desert or some other symbolic allusion. The fact that the jarhead decided not to torture Ali and instead talk to him about asinine subjects such as his mom’s pancakes could be seen as important commentary. This scene could be a major focal point or hinge for the plot, themes and/or messages of the movie and thus it might be seen as worthwhile to name the film ‘Blueberry Pancakes’ despite the fact that the audience will be wondering ‘what the hell?’.
What are the best examples of those moments where the title of a film is made clear? Bonus points if the title is only said once throughout the whole movie after an overwhelming build up of some sort.
It’s set up early, when Atticus is explaining to Jem that if he wants to shoot at birds, he should shoot at bluejays because they are pests to people. Mockingbirds only sing beautiful songs, so “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” It’s meaning for the title comes at the end of the novel when Scout argues against trying to make a hero of Boo Radley because it would be like killing a mockingbird.
The movie The Squid and the Whale is not about sea creatures. Its title comes from a diorama at the Museum of Natural History depicting a giant squid and a sperm whale, taken as a metaphor for the battling parents in an unhappy family.
I don’t know whether anyone but me remembers The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. The title refers to a science fair experiment that is a metaphor for a young girl’s life in an abusive household.
All Quiet on the Western Front is an example of that. It depicts a group of German soldiers in WW1 who volunteered straight out of school. At first they are enthusiastic about the war but soon they recognize the real horror. At the end of the film, after the last soldier of the group has been killed, we are told that the Army’s report for the day contained only the line “All quiet on the western front.”
Yeah, this was pretty much the only real-life example I could think of as I composed the OP, although I purposefully omitted it so that somebody could suggest it.
I tend to think that the majority of films with a cryptic title earn a certain cachet. If Silence had been titled ‘Skinning Women for Fashion’ or similar then I believe it would have lost some intrigue and creative ‘smarts’. Come to think of it, The Silence of the Lambs is a pretty effin’ awesome title in that regard. It’s just so cool and utterly nonsensical at the same time. Perhaps it’s just the snob in me picturing the Joe Sixpacks and Jane Boxwines feeling lost because they expected the movie title to act as a complete synopsis…
<cletus>Hey Brandine, there ain’t no mute ovines in this here motion picture</cletus>
As for books, Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park series of books all have titles that seem to alude to one thing, and end up aluding to something completlley different and usually more important towards the end of the book.
As for movies, the only thing I can think of is Iron Eagle, where the title doesn’t get aluded to in the movie itself until after Chappie is shot down and Doug plays the tape Chappie recorded for such a scenario.
IIRC (It’s been a long time since I read it), it’s something that looks natural but is mechanical inside: the parallel is to Alex being “reformed” not due to any conscious decision on his part but due to the mechanicalistic conditioning he has undergone. It looks like he’s reformed, much like a mechanical orange might look like a real fruit, but it’s not a true change, which has to come from free will.
While watching TV, it occurs to me that “Remember the Titans” has a good title reveal in one of the later games, while the assistant coach is giving a speech to his defensive team, though in this case, he said that they would always remember the night they played the Titans.