It's All Junk
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Some items, such as photographs, jewellery, stuffed toys and family heirlooms, are imbued with more worth than money can buy. They have sentimental value, and are a powerful link with a person or a memory. They can't be replaced on an insurance policy if they get stolen, because even if the replacement is identical, it doesn't have the same value as the original—it lacks the same connotations.
As such, these items are protected zealously, both in real life and in fiction. Sometimes they act as comfort blankets, when the protagonist is far from home and missing his mother. Sometimes, they're all they have to remind them of a Doomed Hometown. Either way, the audience is usually informed of these items' deep significance.
But occasionally, there comes a time when you decide that whatever that trinket represents is no longer important, or, more drastically, you come to realize that the person or memory it binds you to are not people or memories you want to be associated with any more. Maybe the boyfriend who gave the heroine her heart-shaped pendant has been two-timing her for the past year, or an ice skater finally realizes that they're too badly injured to make it as a champion, making their favourite skating boots a painful reminder of their lost dream. Either way, it's time to get rid of the MacGuffin.
Usually, the said item is an innocent scapegoat - the pendant itself didn't betray its owner, and the ice skates weren't driving the car that hit the protagonist. It's just that the hero(ine) can't actually get their hands on the person that's caused the problem, especially if the change or misfortune is down to nothing more than luck or time. Characters who can get their revenge, and have no qualms about doing so, don't tend to bother with destroying jewelry - they just go and punch the offender's face in. It's the gentler, less violent characters, or those who really have no actual person they can blame, who decide It's All Junk and get rid of a fairly innocuous item. Their destruction is purely symbolic, to show that the character is finishing a chapter of their lives and starting a new one.
It is quite rare for these objects to be sold, even if they are actually quite valuable. They're either destroyed or discarded (if the hero is getting rid of them because they want nothing more to do with what they symbolise) or passed on to someone else (if the hero is acknowledging that their time in a particular role has passed and wants to hand the item down to someone who can make better use of it). By not even claiming the money they would make from a sale, the character further acknowledges that they reject their trinket and everything it stands for.
Sometimes it's not even a trinket - it can be something as big as a house or even a home town. Rarely, it might be a pet, though this has to be dealt with sensitively.
Broadly speaking, the destruction of an item in a fit of It's All Junk can be quite sad; chances are, the audience will feel much the same about what the thing represents as the character does. If it's something established to have a personality (a pet or Empathic Weapon) it can be downright heartbreaking.
Certain significant items, however, may refuse to be discarded...
- In Haibane Renmei, Kuu, the smallest of the Haibane, gives a large winter coat to Rakka, the newest Haibane. Rakka appreciates the gift, but only fully realizes its significance when the others explain to her that Kuu had kept the coat, which was too big for her, in the hope that she would eventually grow into it. By passing it over to Rakka, Kuu accepts that she will never grow to be as big as the other members of her group. This is a major turning point in the series - shortly afterwards, Kuu ascends in her "Day of Flight," which the Haibane can only achieve after dealing with their personal issues. In Kuu's case, this seems to have been disappointment in her status as a small, "unimportant" member of their society - which Rakka helps her overcome, by accepting Kuu's guidance and acknowledging the little Haibane as her senior/sempai. By giving the coat to Rakka, Kuu showed that she was content with who she was, and prepared to move on rather than chase the impossible.
- Juri, in Revolutionary Girl Utena, has a locket with a picture of her unrequited crush, Shiori. She throws it into the lake in an attempt to distance herself from the manipulative Shiori (water seems to be a popular method of disposal for such items...) only to have it return to her later in what seems to be a case of the Clingy MacGuffin it's not really - the locket doesn't make its own way back to Juri, someone plants it where Shiori will find it, and she then uses it to taunt Juri. When Utena finally destroys the locket in a duel, Juri finally begins to move on with her life rather than mourn her unrequited love.
- Manga angstfest MARS sees the painting that brought the Official Couple together in the first place incinerated, when the two lovers begin to doubt whether they can stay together.
- In Cowboy Bebop Jet keeps a broken pocket watch as a memento of his former lover Alyssa, who had walked out on him one day and left only the watch and a goodbye note without an explanation. Eventually Jet returns to Ganymede and meets up with Alyssa, now running a failing bar and having hooked up with a former criminal. She explains that she left Jet because she was tired of being taken care of and controlled, and prefers to try living on her own merits even if it means failing. Having obtained the closure of an explanation and realizing he's been unhealthily hung up on his own past (symbolized by the 'frozen time'), Jet tosses the broken watch into a canal and moves on.
- Although it wasn't entirely Sara's choice to have her musical necklace stolen in Soukou no Strain, nor was it Ralph's to have his crayon drawing blown to bits later on, it still strongly symbolizes that their connection has been severed and one of them will have to kill the other, Big Brother Worship or not.
- In Planetes, Yuri loses his wife in a spaceship accident in the opening seconds of the series. Her antique compass was in her hand, and it contained a message Yuri never got to read. He passes up lucrative opportunities in space industry to be an orbital garbage collector, secretly hoping against phenomenal odds to find that watch. By a small miracle, he manages to collect it; the message was "Please Save Yuri". However, as he finally comes to terms with his loss, he gives the watch to his co-workers brother, an amateur rocket builder, and tells him to put it back in space.
- Throughout the first season of Code Geass, Suzaku hangs onto his father's pocketwatch despite the fact that it was broken a long time ago; later on, after Lelouch shoots Euphemia dead, he leaves the watch with her corpse. Rather than marking the point where he leaves the past and looks towards the future, however, this serves to further reinforce his being tied to the past, but now by his rage over Euphy's death rather than his own guilt over killing his father.
- America tries to do this with all the gifts England gave him, but can't pull it off.
- At the beginning of the '90s revamp of Green Arrow, Black Canary burned her (ugly) Eighties costume, calling it "trash". Which would have been a bit more plausible if the story introducing the costume hadn't had as a plot point that it was extremely fire-resistant.
- An especially poignant example from Preacher (Comic Book), where the "junk" is the Saint of Killers' corpse, the skeleton of his mortal body before he became Heaven's hit man. Jesse Custer digs it up to get the Saint's attention; the Saint says "This ain't but bones" and smashes it.
- An interesting example in Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan had always treasured a picture he has of himself when he was normal and his ex-wife. He just went ahead and dropped it on the ground showing him disregarding his last ties to humanity.
- The trope name comes from Labyrinth, when Sarah is offered the comfort of all her childhood belongings in return for giving up the quest for her baby brother. At first reassured by the familiarity and sentimental value of the possessions -- many of which had long since been lost or thrown out by her parents -- she suddenly realizes "It's all junk!" By rejecting her childhood memories and everything that reminds her of them, she breaks away from the past and is able to move ahead in the Labyrinth.
- It could also symbolize Sarah's realization that she has to grow up and move past her childhood, as popular fan-speculation is that the movie is all about Sarah coming into her sexuality and identity as an adult.
- Judging by the "making of" documentary, fan speculation would seem to be on the money. Jim Henson states more than once that much of what happens in the film is powered by Sarah becoming aware of and dealing with the new, adult feelings she's simultaneously drawn to and a bit scared of.
- That would certainly explain Bowie's, er... eye-catching costuming...
- It also shows her becoming less childishly selfish, given that the choice is between her things and the welfare of another person.
- It could also symbolize Sarah's realization that she has to grow up and move past her childhood, as popular fan-speculation is that the movie is all about Sarah coming into her sexuality and identity as an adult.
- In International Velvet, a teenage girl, Sarah Brown, works hard to earn money in order to buy a foal her neighbour owns. When she finally has enough, she goes to make the purchase, only to find that the horse has already been sold. Bitterly disappointed, she throws the tin with all her cash into a lake. The symbolism is, of course, that she considers the money worthless in itself - she only obtained it in order to get her horse. It turns out to be a What an Idiot! moment however, since it was her aunt that bought the horse as a present for her, and he's in the paddock waiting Sarah when she gets home. Given what the upkeep of a horse actually costs, the discarded money would have come in handy...
- In Hook, Captain Hook tricks Peter Pan's son into destroying the watch his father gave to him, by convincing the boy that his father doesn't care about him.
- You make it sound like he had to try, though. Jack was already 99% there, he didn't need convincing, just a hammer.
- In Titanic elderly Rose discards with the "Heart of the Ocean" diamond which she'd carried around all these years and shown to no one, as while she still cherishes her memories of Jack she's finally told her tale and no longer needs to have it weigh on her soul anymore. It might have been nice of her to give it to the guys who spent bazillions looking for the damn thing instead of dumping it in the ocean, mind you.
- In an alternative ending, Rose shows the crew the necklace before throwing it back into the sea. Although they understand why she's doing it, they're still very disappointed.
- In The Royal Tenenbaums, one of the things keeping one of the characters from getting over the death of his wife is her dog, which is the only thing that survived her plane crash. It's run over and killed in the end, and that along with his increasingly strengthened relationship with his father finally gets him to get over her.
- At the end of Top Gun, Maverick throws Goose's dog tags into the ocean to symbolize him getting over the loss of his navigator. Of course, it does raise the question of why Maverick, rather than Goose's wife, wound up with them in the first place.
- This scene is parodied in Hot Shots, where Topper has his father's eyes and tosses them into the ocean in an identical scene.
- It raises a bigger question, in that dog tags are military property and go to very specific places (for record-keeping) if a service member is killed in the line of duty.
- It's not always the character that owns it that realizes it's all junk -- in the movie Richie Rich, the antagonist goes to incredible lengths to get into the Rich family vault, convinced that it's full of gold, jewels, money, etc. When he finally gets Richie's parents to open up the vault, he finds that it's full of... bowling trophies, tricycles, and baby shoes. The Riches firmly believe that A) sentimental value is much more important than fiscal value and B) the best place for money is in a bank or investments, where it'll make more money. The antagonist, predictably, is annoyed by this healthy and fiscally responsible outlook.
- Saw III has a brutal forced example of this trope. Protagonist Jeff has lost a son; Jigsaw wants to help him move on. Being a psychopath, he does this through agonizing tests, one of which requires Jeff to destroy all his son's toys (which he's been keeping in pristine condition).
- Up uses this as a central narrative device where Carl associates his house and its contents as his link to his late beloved Ellie. While it's cool how he has it take to the air in the beginning, it eventually becomes obvious that it has become a millstone. When he realizes that Russel and Kevin are more important and need his help, he does not hesitate to throw everything out as so much ballast to enable the house to fly again - although he did (inadvertently) place his and his wife's chairs together in exactly the same position, and although he snatched all the pictures off the walls he put them in a box. At the climax at the villain's defeat, the house is lost in the process, but Carl's loved ones are saved and that's all that matters to him. Of course, it helps he has traded up for a magnificent Dirigible in the process.
Carl: It's just a house, Russel.
- Citizen Kane uses this as a central theme, of Charles Foster Kane, a man who devotes his life to gaining objects, which moves to treating people like objects and in the end, mere objects is all he has. This is epitomized by the climactic scene after his second wife walks out on him, Kane totally trashes her room like a mindlessly destructive machine rebelling against the superficial materialism that has helped ruin having any real meaning in his life.
- In Inception Cobb no longer cares for the totem top when he is back with his kids.
- There's a darker interpretation to that. After he spins the top the final time, he doesn't wait to see if it falls. Cobb no longer cares if he's still in a dream or not.
- If you substitute a zealously pursued goal for a sentimental item, Danny's refusal of the band award at the end of Brassed Off fits the trope pretty well.
Danny: The truth is I thought it mattered. I thought music mattered. But does it bollocks? Not like people matter.
- See scene from film version of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, in which Brick furiously destroys most of his family's (and his father's) treasured possessions and keepsakes, in a desperate plea for his father to understand the value of love as opposed to possessions or personal wealth.
- Done in Taxi Driver. After Betsy rejects Travis for taking her to a porno for their date, Travis buys her a bouquet of flowers. She sends them back and he keeps them in his apartment just as they were. They eventually die. When he finally goes off the deep end he's shown burning the flowers in the sink, driving the symbolism home.
- Arguably, this trope is the entire point of Toy Story 3... with the twist being that the story is told from the junk's point of view.
- Tamora Pierce's novels frequently deal with growing up, and the things we leave behind as a result:
- Alanna's sword, Lightning, was given to her by the gods in a dramatic scene. Imbued with magic, it was almost a character in itself. However, it is broken in the novel The Woman Who Rides Like A Man and, to repair it, she merges it with an "evil" crystal sword. Lightning is never quite the same afterwards, and Alanna finally abandons Lightning for good when she uses it to kill her nemesis and leaves it embedded in his corpse, to make sure he doesn't resurrect himself. Again. The loss of Lightning coincides with Alanna's acceptance of adulthood and its responsibilities, and the end of her life as a free roaming teenager/young adult.
- Protector of the Small uses the pet version of It's All Junk, but in a more gentle manner than usual. When Keladry leaves the palace to begin her apprenticeship as a squire, she leaves behind most of the sparrow flock she took care of as a page. Only a few of the most prominent birds follow Kel on her journey as a squire.
- In Circle of Magic, this is done to the point of overdose in The Will of the Empress. The now-grown up quartet of mages, Tris, Daja, Sandry and Briar, must leave Winding Circle Temple, their home, as no-one is allowed to stay there past the age of sixteen without becoming a Dedicate (priest/priestess). The house they grew up in, "Discipline Cottage," is now home to a new generation of troublesome mages. Even more poignantly, Tris leaves their pet dog, Little Bear, at the temple to keep the youngest of the new Discipline residents company. The Circle must begin their adulthood with little left but their magic and each other.
- In the Discworld novel Carpe Jugulum, the pastor Mightily Oats' most valued possession is his copy of the Book of Om. However, when Granny Weatherwax is freezing to death, he uses the book to start a fire. This is a major step on his journey to becoming a Badass Preacher
- Initially played straight in Wintersmith, when Granny Weatherwax makes Tiffany get rid of her precious silver horse pendant to stop the Wintersmith from following her. Of course, it finds its way back to her. Later averted; once the danger is over, Granny offers to teach Tiffany all her magical secrets if she'll throw it away. She refuses, which is probably the right answer.
- The novella The Pearl end with the titular object being tossed back into the ocean after the struggle over it cost the life of the main character's son.
- In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, aspiring writer Francie keeps all her beautiful "A" Compositions. When her father dies, she starts writing more realistic stories about her father and how despite his faults, namely alcoholism, he was a good man. Her English teacher calls these stories "sordid" and tells her to burn them. Instead, she realizes the "good" compositions were cliched and insincere, and burns them.
- The Three Musketeers has the sapphire ring Milady gives to d'Artagnan. It was a gift from her ex-husband Athos who inherited it from his mother. The ex protests quite a lot when d'Artagnan tries to restore the ring to him and ultimately sells it.
- In Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, the traumatized soldier's foreign wife takes off her wedding ring after coming to England to be with him, only to have him descend into madness and neglect her. She tells him that it was because it doesn't fit in her finger anymore (she's lost weight because of their poverty), but he sees it as the end of their marriage. Somewhat subverted in that she didn't destroy the ring (not that one), but we're told puts it away in her purse instead.
- The Boyhood of Grace Jones shows the titular tomboy winning a gold ring for "Best Female Student" at the end of the year. She is proud and pleased, until the Best Male Student is announced, and it's a kid that never stands out in any way. Grace realizes that the two of them were merely chosen as the "students who caused the least problems to teachers," and is so disappointed that she not only gets rid of the ring, but forbids her proud parents from even mentioning it.
- Come to think of it, Grace's entire life is a series of It's All Junk moments.
- At the end of Primeval Series 2, Nick Cutter tears up his photograph of lost love Claudia Brown, which was the last proof she existed at all.
- On The George Lopez Show, George inherits a watch from his deadbeat father, and his father's will also asks George not to go to the funeral, in order to keep his father's secret about having abandoned his wife and son. Because George is offended by the latter request, he destroys the watch in a fit of rage. Then he talks to his mother about it, and it is clear that he hadn't even considered the idea that it might have been better to sell the watch, and he clearly regrets overlooking this possibility.
- Taken to extremes on Track Me If You Can, a Discovery Channel program on how to avoid surveillance. The show's host demonstrates how to abandon your old life and go into hiding, by discarding everything that might tie you to your former identity: home, job, relationships, electronics, habits, preferences. Tossing out old mementos is just the beginning on this show.
- White Goods is a virtually unknown ITV drama (with a surprisingly awesome cast including Lenny Henry, Ian McShane, Rachel Weisz, Chris Barrie) about a severe falling-out between two families after they win a bunch of stuff in a game show and can't agree on how to divide up the loot. Lenny Henry's character eventually decides to burn the lot.
- An interesting contrast occurs in the Battlestar Galactica Reimagined episode "Final Cut": Adama finds some old Caprican magazines left in a Raptor from a civilian run. Racetrack tells that she was gonna throw them away but Adama tells her to put them somewhere safe instead.
- An interesting case in True Blood. Back during the first season, after Gran is killed, Sookie seems to get violently attached to a pie that Gran had made, including rather violently screaming at a woman who took it out of the fridge to make room. A little later, when the denial and anger wear off, and acceptance starts to creep in, Sookie sits down and forces herself to eat the whole thing as a way of letting go.
- In the Tabletop RPG Exalted, it's become canon that a sorcerer has to make a sacrifice to enter the art, and increasingly greater sacrifices to go deeper into the art. Then again, these sacrifices don't have to be negative; the first sorceress is said to have learned the art by sacrificing her indecisiveness.
- In Avenue Q, Princeton gives Kate his lucky penny. When Kate believes Princeton had stood her up, she throws it off the top of the Empire State Building. Ironically, Kate inadvertently gets her revenge from this, since Lucy (who caused the whole mess) was passing by, and the penny nails Lucy in the head, knocking her into a coma.
- The titular dolls in the Australian play Summer of the 17th Doll.
- In The Cherry Orchard, Ranevskaya's estate and the orchard itself serve as a link to her happier childhood. In contrast, for Lopahin and the other former peasants and serfs, it serves as a reminder of their miserable past. Ranevskaya isn't really able to let go of the past until Lopahin buys the estate in a mandatory auction and gets ready to chop down the orchard in order to put summer cottages there, forcing Ranevskaya to find happiness elsewhere.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Aang's glider-staff is one of his few remaining links to his dead-and-gone people, and was a personal gift from his father figure; it's not just tremendously useful, it's deeply sentimental. But at the start of Season 3, Aang and friends have to go undercover in the Fire Nation to prepare for their best chance at routing the now-unopposed power, and his glider-staff gets busted up badly. Accepting his inability to repair it, and that it would have too easily given away his identity, he stabs it into some rocks near a lava flow, where it bursts into flames. Even after he gets a new glider-staff later, it will never be that glider-staff (even if it does have a snack compartment).
- Zuko also burns some family pictures while he, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee discuss the ways in which their respective childhoods sucked.
- In The Simpsons Movie, Marge tapes a "Dear John" message for Homer and runs off. The kicker is that she deliberately erases their wedding video in the process, thus signifying that she really means it this time: it's over. Of course, it isn't.
- In an early episode of The Simpsons Marge reveals that when she was a teen, she used to paint portraits of Ringo Starr, only to be ridiculed by her art teacher. She left the paintings in the attic(except for one she mailed to Ringo) and never lifted a paintbrush again for years, until Lisa located the paintings and encouraged her to continue paintings, and after Ringo mailed her back to thank her for the painting.
- Played surprisingly straight on Futurama, when Fry decides not to resurrect his dog's fossilized corpse. Though a form of subversion does appear, it's a rather brutal one the reason Fry decides not to do so is because he believes his dog lived a full life after he (Fry) was frozen, however the audience finds out that his dog never did anything but keep waiting for Fry. This was eventually retconned in the first Futurama DVD movie.
- Many fans speculate the retcon was done exclusively because of how horrifically sad the original ending was.
- Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke Wellington was an accomplished violinist in his youth. The last thing he did before leaving his home to start his military career was to burn his violin.
- Many people have this experience—or desperately try to avoid having it, and end up with too much junk—while doing "spring cleaning".
- Traumatised by the First World War, the war poet Siegfried Sassoon threw his Military Cross into the River Mersey.
- On a similar note, J.R.R. Tolkien apparently never even collected the medals he earned during the war. (This may have been less this trope and more a manifestation of his hatred for the French, though.)