The Walrus Was Paul

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Sub-trope of Mind Screw where the creators are intentionally trying to confound explanation. Whether they're poking fun at the fans' tendency to explain and codify everything, trying to express that Real Life doesn't always have clear-cut answers, or simply more interested in evoking a mood than communicating a specific message, they'll make the weirdest, most incomprehensible work they can.

When adding examples, remember that the authors need to have stated their intent to dish out a Mind Screw (quotes are good here). Subjective guesses and theories go in 'normal' Mind Screw.

Often used to subvert What Do You Mean It's Not Didactic?, by means of not having any deeper meaning. Compare Faux Symbolism, where it's merely "throw some meaning at a wall and hope it sticks", Criminal Mind Games, when this is done in-story to throw the pursuers off-track, and Cow Tools. Contrast The Chris Carter Effect. See also Shrug of God and Teasing Creator.

Examples of The Walrus Was Paul include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Revolutionary Girl Utena—like many 'deep' anime series—was put together to promote differing interpretations and discussion. Ikuhara Kunihiko once admitted flat-out that he and the rest of the production team hadn't really kept track of the symbolism in show and the film because they thought the point was for people to interpret it in their own way. They didn't want Word of God to narrow the fans' focus, embracing something many directors often forget: past a certain point, meaning is ascribed to a series by the viewer, not the creator.
    • He admitted in one interview that the reason he turned Utena into a car in the movie was because he always wanted to see a beautiful girl turned into a car. No further reason. Doesn't stop fans from having braingasms trying to figure out what it meant.
  • Serial Experiments Lain was supposed to be this once exported, but the creator was dismayed to discover that foreigners interpreted it pretty much the same way the Japanese audience did.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Word of God stated numerous times that this work was generally designed with Mind Screw first, plot second. This became more and more apparent in later episodes with all of the symbolism and Freudian imagery splattered all over the place in an ambitious and disjointed fashion, mainly in the form of jump cuts.


Comic Books[edit | hide]


Film[edit | hide]

  • David Lynch's works are explicitly this. So much to the point where if anyone on the set of Inland Empire asked him what's the plot/symbolism/whatever, he'd quote a passage from an Asian text that basically meant, "We make our own meanings."

"We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe."

  • "If you understood 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise more questions than we answered." — Arthur C. Clarke
    • There is enough contradiction between the book and movie to allow for multiple interpretations anyway, as Kubrick was not involved with the former and Clarke never had the last say on anything in the latter (his script having been changed a lot).
  • Certain of David Cronenberg's films, particularly Videodrome and its Spiritual Successor eXistenZ.
  • The Tokyo driving sequence in Andrei Tarkovsky's film Solaris. This four minute black-and-white sequence consists solely of Burton and his son driving aimlessly through 70s downtown Tokyo.
  • A Serious Man aggressively and deliberately pursues this trope, to the befuddlement of viewers and critics everywhere. Some argue that several of the Coen Brothers' other films, particularly The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink, exhibit this as well.
  • Subverted by Donnie Darko, which features a director's cut that explains every possible ambiguity in the original film... which more than a few people couldn't understand either. Double Subversion?
  • Southland Tales
  • According to the director of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, the infamous beard shaving scene was there just to provoke the confused, conversation-sparking reaction that it did.
  • The clearest statements anyone has ever got from Quentin Tarantino himself and his collaborators regarding the contents of the mysterious glowing suitcase in Pulp Fiction all unequivocally agree that the whole thing was just there for the sake of providing a mystery. Word of God stated:

"Originally the briefcase contained [the] diamonds [from Reservoir Dogs]. But that just seemed too boring and predictable. So it was decided that the contents of the briefcase were never to be seen. This way each audience member would fill in the blank with their own ultimate contents. All you were supposed to know was that it was 'so beautiful.' (from an interview for Roger Ebert's "Questions for the Movie Answer Man").

  • Inception is clearly designed to provide ammunition for numerous different interpretations of the ending (and the whole film).
  • In Blade Runner, there is intentional ambiguity over whether or not Deckard is a replicant, though some versions of the film are less ambiguous. Ridley Scott saying he is and Harrison Ford saying he isn't. Clearly meant to leave the audience thinking...
  • This and Faux Symbolism are mercilessly lampooned in the famous What Do You Mean It's Not Didactic? "art gallery" scene from L.A. Story.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: In his introduction, Khan makes a show of removing his left-hand glove, but leaves his right-hand glove on for the rest of the movie. According to director Nicholas Meyer, this was meant to provoke this reaction. When people ask for an explanation, he likes to reply, "Why do you think he left one glove on?"


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy: Robert Anton Wilson has said the whole point was to pile up enough conspiracy theories so that no one could be sure what was 'true' by the end.
  • James Joyce said he hoped Ulysses would "keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant."
    • And damn it all to hell, the old bastard was right!
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events gets this way toward the end, with the Lemony Narrator outright admitting that there are no straight answers and we must keep on questioning.
  • This is a major theme of Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. A woman finds a piece of graffiti on a bathroom wall that prompts her to investigate what is either an Ancient Conspiracy, an elaborate hoax by her dead ex, or her own desire to be a detective.
  • Similar to the Joyce examples (and it may have helped inspire them) is the second part of Goethe's Faust. The poet said in a letter to a friend toward the end of his life that all he had left to do was "wrap a few mantle folds around it so that it may remain an altogether evident riddle." Much earlier than that, he poked fun at his scholarly interpreters for their "allegorizing of this dramatic-humorous nonsense [the witch's arithmetic of Faust, Part I], which has never gone very well. One should indulge in such jokes more often when one is young." As the icing on the cake, he once summed up the ethos of this approach in a single sentence: "The more incommensurable a work of art, the better." In the scholars' defense, since the play begins and ends in heaven, one can hardly blame them for their Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory-style intellectual acrobatics.
  • The Notes at the end of The Waste Land, which aren't necessarily as helpful as one might like. Easy to imagine T. S. Eliot having a chuckle at the expense of the critics.
  • Alternately and/or concurrently played straight, subverted, inverted, lampshaded and transcended in the works of Philip K. Dick.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • BBC's Robin Hood has a scene in season 2 in which Sir Guy has a dream where Marian massages his shoulder and says that she "Should have let [him] take care of [her]" then Marian turns into Allan who say "I'm your boy" "I should've let you take care of me". The scene pleased many slash fans, but the writers admitted that it was just to get people talking.
  • The ending to The Prisoner. Patrick McGoohan wanted people to scratch their heads and cudgel their brains out trying to understand the final episode. He did too good a job—apparently disgruntled or just plain confused fans showed up at his house demanding to know what it was all about.
  • In the final "dream" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 4, Joss Whedon placed a weirdo with cheese on his head spouting nonsense lines. Although the rest of the episode is heavy with symbolism, he specifically wanted something in each dream sequence that meant absolutely nothing whatsoever. Of course, this doesn't stop fans from trying to explain it anyway.
  • Twin Peaks, which despite its apparent Myth Arc, was simply David Lynch making things up as he went along.


Music[edit | hide]

  • The Beatles: "I Am the Walrus". They later turned this into an art form with "Glass Onion", the source for the Trope Namer, which consists almost entirely of cryptic Shout-Outs to the group's earlier songs.
    • It's safe to say it's not just "I Am the Walrus", but half the songs John Lennon wrote. His quote pretty much proves it: He was so fed up with fans trying to find hidden allusions in their songs that he decided to write a completely nonsensical one—namely, "I Am the Walrus". Lennon allegedly said, "Let's see the fuckers figure that one out" after finishing it. Which, in an ironic twist, was still searched for "clues". But Lennon had the final word during his post-Beatles career when, in his song "God" he sang, "I was the walrus, but now, I'm John."
      • "Come Together" has the same origin.
    • After making a particularly good point during a TV interview in regards to The Beatles' waning popularity among teeny-boppers, John Lennon looked directly into the camera and said "Isn't that right, Harry?" Who's Harry? He doesn't exist. John randomly chose the name to keep the audience guessing.
  • Veruca Salt parodied/homaged the "Glass Onion" example in the bridge to "Volcano Girls" -- "Well here's another clue if you please/ the Seether's Louise", referring to a member of the band and the song "Seether", which had lyrics that were often debated over by fans. It was probably just meant as a tongue-in-cheek reference to interpretations rather than an actual mind screw though, as they'd already said in interviews that "the Seether" was a personification of anger.
    • It's actually a very good homage to the original mind screw, though, right down to the misdirection (just as it was John and not Paul who sang lead on "I Am The Walrus", it was Nina and not Louise who sang lead on "Seether").
  • Don McLean, when asked what the meaning of "American Pie" was, said something like, "It means I never have to work again."
    • There is one thing mentioned in the song that's definite, "the day the music died", which refers to the plane crash that killed Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper. That, more than anything, is why this song has been picked to death.
  • The art-rock group Tool pretty much runs off of this. They put a huge emphasis on personal interpretation of the imagery used in their songs, to the point where they never release official lyrics with their albums.
    • Not to mention their early endorsement of lachrymology, a fabricated philosophy that was basically psychobabble.
  • David Bowie has written most of his songs this way. When asked about the meaning of lyrics, he's given different answers, but most recently he's claimed that he sometimes just picks words out of magazines and strings them together because he likes the sound.
  • Bob Dylan, when asked what his songs were about, replied "Oh some are about three minutes, some are about five minutes."

Interviewer: What's your message?
Dylan: [mortally offended] What's my message? [brandishes mercury light] Keep a cool head and always carry a light bulb!

  • Much of composer Erik Satie's music poked fun at the idea that music needed to serve some grand purpose or be consciously about anything.
  • Carly Simon has given many utterly contradictory hints over the years as to who the subject of "You're So Vain" is. She changes her answer to a different clue, each just as incompatible with the others, every decade or so. The likeliest explanation of the song is that she originally wrote it without intending it to be about any actual, existing, specific man, and was as delighted as she was surprised by all the endless speculation and debate, so she decided to take the misconception that the song refers to someone in particular and run with it for as long as she could.
    • There is one guy, in the entire world, who knows for certain who the song is actually about -- TV executive Dick Ebersol. He won the answer in an auction in 2003, and Simon made him sign a non-disclosure agreement. It lasts at least until Simon dies.
    • Technically speaking unless the above theory is correct, there are two guys in the world who know for certain; the one it's about is the other one.
    • Hints and clues that Simon has given out or allowed to be given out since 1972 suggest that the song is actually about three different men -- one for each verse. Two of the best candidates -- supported by back-masked speech in a particular version of the song -- are actor Warren Beatty (confirmed by Simon in 2015 to be the subject of the second verse) and record executive David Geffen (who she had not yet met when she wrote the song).
  • The singer Seal intentionally does not put out official lyrics to his songs, feeling that if someone realized the lyrics were something other than what they thought it was, it would rob them of what they feel the song's meaning is to them.
  • Adriyel's "Natasha/Natalie" features lyrics such as "You're a person, and a concept / You're both and neither I suppose", insisting that "this audience will never know / what you mean and what you show" and referring to the narrator's fun times with the girl in question, despite the fact that the girl in question has never met him, doesn't know who he is, and apparently doesn't even speak English because she's from the Ukraine. The only definitely solved mystery is of the two names: in Russia and the Ukraine, the names Natasha and Natalie are interchangeable.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Arguably Killer7, or any other game by Suda51.
  • Silent Hill: Even the stuff that's All There in the Manual doesn't help anyone make sense of the series. It's not meant to. Even the fans' most cherished theories have never received any confirmation more solid than a shrug or an inconclusive Sure Why Not from the producers. Among other things, they claim that the only canonical conclusions to each game are the UFO Endings.
  • The Mirror Lied: A complete and deliberate Mind Screw. To quote the author: "It has no defined story by me, that's certain -- but its point is to be on the extreme end of the scale as far as ambiguity goes, for the sake of a possibly refreshing experiment of interpretation for some."
  • Yume Nikki is a dialogue-free, non-linear journey through the dream world of a girl who won't go anywhere while awake except for her bedroom and adjacent balcony. Good luck getting any answers about what any of the dream symbols mean, what the heck happened in the ending, or what the fuck is up with Uboa.


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Andrew Hussie is well known for mercilessly toying with the concept of Word of God by trolling factoid-hungry fans, memorably claiming that the faces of Homestuck's trolls are actually collections of specialized genitalia that happen to look like an angry face to the human eye, and that all trolls have two penises, one for love and one for hate. When asked why he does this? "Because it's fun!"


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • This completely random YouTube Poop, as evidenced by this conversation in the comments:

sfraser0: i don't get it.....
CornIceProductions, the guy who made the video: I do


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Aeon Flux messes with your head constantly, and Peter Chung has gone out of his way not to explain anything, in hopes that the viewers will derive their own meanings. This approach eventually backfired badly on him, though. The plot of the film, almost universally considered terrible, had its genesis in the scriptwriters' own interpretation of the mind screwiest episode of the series.
  • 12 oz. Mouse.


Other[edit | hide]

  • The whole basis of Dada.
  • Jackson Pollock's legendary "dribble" style of painting evoked many debates that persist, even after his death, to this day regarding their meaning. When asked some paintings' meanings, Pollock would often describe his definition of the painting in an almost-outlandish fashion.