Top 5 Uses of the ‘S’ Word in Movies
By Bret Dorman
(As always, possible SPOILERS! for each movie in the Top 5)
This week is the Fourth of July week. Earlier I wrote a Minutia Monday article on Terminator 2, stating that Arnold Schwarzenegger embodied the American Dream and that the good ol’ USA would eventually be taken over by robots. In keeping with all things American, I decided to write a Top 5 on one of the best things ever in the whole wide world. Not apple pie. Not base ball. Swearing.
Swearing is usually seen as a crude or vulgar way to express oneself. It is looked down upon or used to insult. But lets face it, sometimes the best way to say something is to let the expletives fly.
Fuck is very handy. Often considered the worst of all swears. Of course there’s also the rarely used (in America) Cunt, which may hold more shock value. Bitch isn’t so bad, but only really used against women or to insult men’s ego. Bastard has lost its true value. Hell and Damn are child’s play. Instead I’d like to take a (look at the versatile and under appreciated) Shit.
5) “Five-foot-nine, I didn’t know they stacked shit that high!”; Full Metal Jacket
Using a swear word as an insult is probably the most common form of swearing. But there’s insults… and there’s breaking down a person to rebuild them as a killing machine. That’s what Sgt. Hartman does. He doesn’t want to just poke some fun, have a roast, bond with you, and be friends. He’s going for the jugular. He wants you to fight back so he can pummel you or to have you cry in front of everyone and embarrass you. The introduction to his character (and the movie) is him on a tirade of insults. There’s a lot of great ones in there (the reach around one is my personal favorite).
There’s plenty of people using Shit as an insult in movies. A lot of good ones. But with R. Lee Ermy’s actual Drill Sargent experience you can feel the hate and bile coming from this one…
4) “We did it. We’re in Mexico! We’re fucking in Mexico you little piece of fucking shit! “; From Dusk Till Dawn
The opposite of using a curse word as an insult would be using it as a term of endearment. Even though The Gecko Brothers are the captors of The Fuller family, Seth doesn’t mean to be rude. Seth and Jacob even have a nice little conversation about how if Jacob helps Seth get into Mexico, Seth will keep his brother Richie from doing his… ‘thing’… to Jacob’s daughter Kate. And according to Seth, Freedom (and Mexicans) are in Mexico.
So it makes sense that once they get past the tense border check, Seth wants to celebrate. He obviously doesn’t care about Scott, but as he rubs his head childishly he can’t help but play with him a bit, using the only vocabulary he knows, the vulgar kind.
3) “It isn’t even dented! Oh shit! What are we going to do now?”; Transformers: The Movie
I never was big on Transformers as a kid. So when a bunch of my friends decided one night to get drunk and watch the animated movie I was game. Did I mention we were drinking? That’s important.
So a bunch of craziness starts the movie off. As I said I wasn’t into Transformers, but I loved how balls-to-the-wall insane the movie started. And it didn’t hold your hand or explain anything. If you didn’t follow the cartoon and decided to check out the movie you just jumped into the deep end wearing concrete shoes… after already holding your breath for as long as you could before making the jump. One of the characters dies right off the bat and the movie cuts in and out of random fight scenes and characters without any explanation or mercy. This movie is like the cartoon version of Crank. A glorious mess of ‘who cares as long as its cool.’
So imagine our surprise when in this PG kids movie (the pacing/absurdity already having thrown us for a loop) and we see the classic action cliche of one character blows up another, the smoke clears, the blown up character is unscathed… and then…
(the rest of the night was us drunkenly shouting “Oh shit whuddoo we do nooooowww?!?!”)
2) “Holy Shit-tuh!”; Animal House & “The old man called the shit poop!”; Billy Madison
At first I debated putting two picks for this slot. Then I thought, “Hey, if I’m writing a Top 5 about the swear word used to describe fecal matter it makes sense my #2 slot would have 2 picks right?” That and both of these are perfect uses of swearing as comedy. When people curse for humor, sometimes it can just come off as lazy. But sometimes, as with these picks, it can actually create a good laugh.
For Animal House, Bluto and D-Day decide to prank new pledge Flounder by convincing his to ‘kill’ the Dean’s office and kill his horse (which they brought). Bluto and D-Day are under the impression that the gun is filled with blanks so nothing can go wrong. Just a harmless little joke. Despite Flounder shooting away from the horse and the gun having blanks, the poor horse has a heart attack. Omega Theta Phi is already (constantly) on thin ice and this could mean the end. John Belushi’s reaction while the other two try to figure out the logistics is pure comedy gold.
Billy Madison, similar to the young men of Animal House, is stuck in an adolescent phase. Yet he enjoys adult “privileges” such as getting porn, drinking booze, and of course, cursing. So when he plays a prank on an old man by lighting a bag of shit on his doorstep and watching him stomp it out, he can’t help but be extra pleased and a bit surprised when the old man calls says the bag is full of poop. Opposite of how people try to use swear words to make other people laugh, Billy gets a bigger kick out of the cleaner version of the same word.
1) “Oh, you’ve got to be shittin’ me!”; Darkman
Question: You’re just a normal scientist dude. Your girlfriend is a lawyer. A bunch of goons attack you to get some legal papers and in the process burn your entire body and destroy your lab. You decide to get revenge. So far your revenge getting is going pretty good. You’ve even figured out a way to temporarily be with your girlfriend again. Then the head goon discovers your secret (rebuilt) lab. He sends in a bunch of henchmen in to kill you. On top of that, he is riding a helicopter and firing grenades at you. What do you say to this?
Answer: “Oh, you’ve got to be shittin’ me!”
In action movies its nice to have the witty, situation-appropriate one liners, but sometimes its the honest reaction that gets the biggest laugh. Darkman isn’t trying for a laugh. He’s not going for witty. He’s not keeping calm under this extreme situation, nor flipping out completely. He’s simply frustrated. Sometimes the best uses of swear words are the ones that catch us off guard yet are so appropriate. They aren’t directed at anyone or anything in particular, just a way to express a specific feeling at a certain moment. I am reminded of Tom Cruise’s great “No Shit!” moment in M:I:4 or the vulgar free “Are you serious?!” in Temple of Doom as the walls close in on Indy.
My favorite uses of swear words are the ones where no other word can fit. Whether you’re trying to hurt someone’s feelings, jokingly roast a friend, shocked by something unbelievable, find something hilarious, or are being shot at with grenades from a helicopter… sometimes the best, and only, word to use is an expletive. As far as “Shit” is concerned, I find it to be the most versatile and scenario-appropriate word for most occasions. A lesser curse word may not quite have the umph you’re looking for. A stronger one may seem like you are trying to hard. As I said, I’m sure you can find plenty of other great uses of the word in cinema… but I don’t give a shit. (not true! comment below with your personal faves!)