Although Mom, Dad and school played a role in developing my aptitude for learning, I attribute much of my worldly wisdom to movie-going. Thanks to the big screen, I’m well-equipped to deliver a baby from the backseat of a car stuck in traffic and I know exactly which wire to cut should I ever be used as a human explosive device in a bank robbery. I can read you your Miranda rights, cauterize an open wound with gun powder, and scale an elevator shaft with no fear of said elevator ever succumbing to gravity. More practically, I also know how to order a beer in Spanish.
I know these things not because I watched Speed thirty-two times in the spring of 1995, but because these scenes play over and over again in movies through the ages. And while some clichés – like those of the call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house variety – get a little tired, I like to think that most of them are just learning experiences. The more times we watch, the more adept at life we will be.
Here are some of the most important things you can learn from favorite clichés:
How to identify the bad guy: Be wary of men with European accents and facial hair. If you miss him the first time around you’ll get another chance – he’ll be the one narrating your demise as a grunting henchman straps the alarm clock to your new vest.
How to threaten legal action: Throw out a few menacing phrases like “lawyer up,” “turn state’s evidence,” or “mounting a case.” If that fails, just “file an injunction.”
How to find a sad loved one: If the sadness comes post-funeral, look for the nearest swing set. If you’ve finally come to your senses after a breakup, look for your scorned lover in a taxi on their way out of town or sitting in the “O” on the Hollywood sign.
How to survive anything: Align with a snarky yet intelligent youngster.
How to make a desert island home: First wait out the inevitable rainstorm, then round the bend to the field of perfectly-sized bamboo. Fight the urge to add the wrap-around veranda to your abode – you’ll be glad you have the leftovers when it’s time to build your raft.
How to turn a team of misfits into state champions: Start the big game with an elaborate synchronized dance number. It will serve the dual purpose of distracting the opposing team and inspiring the quiet second-stringer to make the winning play.
How to reinvigorate your marriage: Admit you work for the CIA.
How to conjure stuff: Read aloud from a dusty book found under a floorboard in your basement. Most effective when accompanied by spotty candlelight and children chanting in Latin.
How to find the perfect outfit: Gather your best friends and a bottle of champagne, crank up the volume on your favorite girl-power song, and rummage through the closet/dressing room/wedding boutique. Whatever you’re wearing when the song ends is the one.
While not every movie cliché is a valuable learning experience (I’m not convinced a little eraser dust will help me bypass the lasers guarding the Mona Lisa), there’s something to be said about having a mental guidebook drilled into your head to help you through potential obstacles. Knowing that nine out of ten helicopter pilots are corrupt, a standard issue briefcase holds exactly one hundred thousand dollars, and that it’s really easy to get in touch with the President’s secretary is information that may come in handy someday.
What have you learned from movie clichés?