Subliminal Tyler Durden

Been watching Fight Club and noticed a weird flash around 06:00. I thought it might have been a misplaced “Coming up next…” overlay, but when I scrubbed back, I was blown away. There it was, Tyler Durden, together with his shadow (which proves it was deliberate and carefully crafted), long before the character even appeared in the movie. (Later I found there are at least six such occurrences).

It’s actually funny (and self-referencing), as one of Tyler’s jobs in the movie is to do the exact same thing:

He flips the projectors, movie keeps going and the audience has no idea.
Why would anyone want this shit job?
Because it affords him interesting opportunities.
Like splicing a frame of pornography into family films.


This is an allegedly powerful concept of sending subtle messages to the audience, too fast for the eye, but not for the brain. The use of such subliminal imagery in the movies is supposed to evoke strong emotions of fear — some even claim unexplained fear.

Although Wikipedia seems to question its effectiveness, there’s been quite some movies which use it, or at least claim they use it.

Regarding the most famous example, the Exorcist (1973), there’s some controversy whether the imagery inserted there was truly subliminal (and whether you’ve actually seen it or not: it was apparently removed and reintroduced in different editions).

But the most gruesome sequence I’ve ever (knowingly) seen (and deconstructed), was one of the final scenes of the Event Horizon. Strangely, I was unable to find any images from that movie, so I had to find a short clip and resort to mplayer1 to split it into frames. A selection of frames (viewer discretion is advised) is available here: Event Horizon subliminal pics. Some of the images are present for no more than a single frame, so there are many you’d have missed when watching the movie.

Does it work? Who knows. Some say it does, or at least hint it does (e.g., Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The power of thinking without thinking), others claim it’s nonsense. Either way, I don’t want anyone to feed me images like these without my knowledge. There’s a fantastic analogy I’ve read somewhere: If someone came to your home, entered your living room and emptied the trash on your carpet, you’d probably kick his ass. But when someone empties mental trash in the living room of your mind, you don’t even register. Unless you pay really close attention.

  1. mplayer -vo jpeg videofile splits videofile into frames []