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Five Jarring Moments in Major Motion Picture History

Updated on March 25, 2017

Don't Spill that Popcorn!

If this alien emerged ten inches lower, it would be just as scary, but for a totally different reason.
If this alien emerged ten inches lower, it would be just as scary, but for a totally different reason. | Source

Don't Be Misled By a Title

When I was eighteen, a cute guy asked me out on a first date. I'd just arrived in Missoula, and a Goldie Hawn-style comedy at the Wilma Theater in Missoula sounded like a great break from demanding studies. The movie was called One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. A light, chirpy movie, great for a first date, right?

Instead of driving me back to my dorm room, my frazzled date could have booted me out of his VW van at the curb of the psych ward at St. Pat's. I was a wreck. I was so emotionally vested in Jack NIcholson's portrayal of an abused mental patient that I huddled on my extra-long twin bed, wrapped in a stadium blanket for a full day after I saw the film.

Why isn't One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest on my list? As a recently displaced college freshman, expecting a "la-de-da" distraction, I wasn't the least bit prepared to see this movie. I'm not sure other people needed to be peeled off the wall like me.

I darn near pulled out my tail feathers after I saw this movie. I'd just seen Jack Nicholson in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. I had no idea...
I darn near pulled out my tail feathers after I saw this movie. I'd just seen Jack Nicholson in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. I had no idea... | Source

Number Five: The Crying Game

It's one thing to go to a gangster film and see someone turned into Swiss cheese (sorry, Sonny, but The Godfather doesn't make the cut). You don't pay for a ticket to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre thinking that Busby Berkeley did the choreograpy. But when you get a seat to see The Crying Game, unless someone (like me) spoils it for you, do you really expect THIS?

Not whipping out what you expect...
Not whipping out what you expect... | Source

Number Four: Deliverance

James Dickey, the author of the novel upon which the movie Deliverance is based, is well known in erudite circles for his poetry. Back in 1972, his novel about naive city guys in the (ahem!) back country rekindled an interest in folk music: the theme from Deliverance, 'Dueling Banjos' was actually a guitar and a banjo...The jarring scene from the movie is definitely two banjos.

If you don't know the theme song to the movie, listen to this link.

I don't think repeating the Pledge of Allegiance is going to make Ned forget what happens next.
I don't think repeating the Pledge of Allegiance is going to make Ned forget what happens next. | Source

Number Three: Pulp Fiction

This movie is the Mason canning factory of jarring moments. It processes viewers like a farm wife puts up tomatoes: it blanches 'em, skins 'em, packs 'em tight and boils 'em. Weeks after seeing Pulp Fiction, people's lids were still pinging from the pressure.

There's nothing as primal to the inoculation generation as a hypodermic needle. It's bad enough to take one in the arm or backside, hoping it saves you from some cold-war-era disease; seeing Uma Thurman getting shot in the chest to save her from her own vainglorious stupidity is, well...just another day in the life for QT.

John Travola Ready to Prick
John Travola Ready to Prick

TIED: Number Two: Misery/The Godfather

Just when you thought you'd seen it all.

There is something so abjectly cruel here--and Kathy Bates' character is so unstable--that, until you hear James Caan's scream, you really aren't sure that she's going to go through with it.

If this scene is described, it sounds bad, but what makes it so powerful is Kathy Bates' misguided 'cruel kindness.' Worse things happen in the movies, but they are never done any better than this.

A pedicure, the hard way.
A pedicure, the hard way. | Source

Sometimes, we're relieved to see karmic justice onscreen. Sometimes, we feel empathy for the character. When cruelty involves an animal, it's just plain repulsive.

What makes this scene even more powerful is the reaction of the character that inflicted this horror. Sonny flicks away the incident like it was a dust bunny on a lapel, instead of a prize stallion on this poor sucker's silk sheets.

Source

Number One: Alien

Forgive me for the disclaimer, but I'm over fifty. Surely there are more shocking moments in movie history...but I will stand my ground: there is something seminal about this moment--even when you know it's coming.

The casting and acting in Alien are superb, but this is a scene where special effects win the day. This phallic creature has within it all the DNA for a dozen generations of unfriendly movie aliens.

It's been 36 years, and every time anyone near me gets indigestion, I step back, just in case.

Your Turn

Which movie has the most jarring moment?

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    • lyoness913 profile image

      Summer LeBlanc 2 years ago from H-Town

      I think the movie 'The Thing' scared the crap out of me with the hot wire in the blood! Great article, very interesting. I've never watched the whole movie Deliverance, I need to make a point to watch it.

      -Wendi

    • profile image

      Mark A Mathison 2 years ago

      Deliverance was the first R rated movie I saw. I was 15. Bill McKinney scared the south right out of me.

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