Pop Culture

Breaking the Fourth Wall

A few days ago I watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and George of the Jungle, back to back. It wasn’t planned, I just had nothing to do and they were on neighboring channels, which made it easy to decide. Those movies have almost nothing in common, except that I really enjoy them, and that at some point a character breaks the fourth wall.

Mary touched on this in her “What 30 Rock Meant to Me,” as 30 Rock was a show that often broke the fourth wall, either through directly looking at the camera and acknowledging the audience, or through other subtle acknowledgements of their TV or movie format.

Example: Liz Lemon breaking that fourth wall:

I cannot tell you how much I enjoy when someone breaks the fourth wall; if it’s setting up a great punchline, or driving home a poignant scene. It’s such a great way to say to the audience, “We’re in on the joke with you.” It might seem cheap, or easy, but breaking the fourth wall effectively takes serious skill. If done poorly, it can be grating or exhausting to audiences. It can also be really cheesy.

Here are some of my favorite examples:

A classic example of breaking the fourth wall, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, where most of the action hinges upon the audience building a rapport with Ferris. We have to care about Ferris, or else he’s just some punk kid cutting class and being obnoxious, rather than a champion for those who just want to fully live their lives.

Mel Brooks loves breaking the fourth wall in his movies. Possibly the best example is this great scene from Spaceballs, which hopefully will remind everyone that Rick Moranis is amazing and we can’t wait for him to come back to Hollywood.

When I was about 14, I watched Psycho for the first time with my dad, late one night. Definitely after midnight. About halfway through the movie, my dad turned off all the lights and went to bed, leaving me to finish the film in the pitch, black living room. Why? I don’t know; my dad is a ridiculous, and sometimes unknowingly cruel, person. As the movie ended, and Anthony Perkins smirked into the camera, I was completely frozen with fear. I won’t lie, thinking about that and rewatching this clip reminded me that I’m alone in my apartment, which means I’m sleeping with all the lights on, again.

I couldn’t end this list without the two movies that started it, so:

Here is the scene from George of the Jungle (starts at about the 2:50 mark),

and here is the (spoiler-filled) end scene from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, where Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer address the audience in a pretty great (and slightly profane) way:

There are many, many more examples of breaking the fourth wall, if TV Tropes is to be believed. I didn’t list all of my favorite ones (like the ending of both Secretary and Amelie), but I’m sure there are more that resonate with people in different ways.


By Karishma

Karishma is a twenty-something living in New York City and is trying her hardest to live out every cliche about Millennials. This involves eating her feelings, drowning in debt and mocking infomercials. She likes sociology so much that she has two degrees in it, and is still warding off her parents' questions about a real career.

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