Filmed in 1993, but not theatrically released until 1994, it cost $27,000 to make, roughly the same price as a new car at the time. The film's final cost was $230,000 after the rights to the film's grunge and punk oriented soundtrack is added in, making it one of the few films in history where the rights to the soundtrack actually cost more than the film.
Clerks was shot in the scenic QuickStop convenience store where Smith worked at the time and featured a cast made up of Smith's friends (such as Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes and Scott Mosier) and family (in various small roles), Smith himself, and a few local actors (such as Brian O'Halloran, who plays the lead role of Dante Hicks.) When released, the film made its budget back several times over. Its success enabled Smith to make several more films with some of the same characters and settings.
Surprisingly for a film with profanity and vulgar references, it manages to stay quite intelligent and upon release, it was well received by critics such as Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin. The film's success helped jump start the modern independent film industry (which actually began with Jim Jarmmusch's Stranger than Paradise, 1984 and Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, 1986, but was given a big kick by sex, lies, and videotape and Slacker, the latter of which Smith claimed was his direct inspiration for this film) and turned Miramax into a major distributor for said independent films, rivaled only by Polygram Filmed Entertainment and Fox Searchlight.
The film is about a day in the life of a pair of friends, Dante Hicks and Randal Graves, working at Quick Stop and RST Video, respectively. Another group of friends, Jay and Silent Bob, deal drugs and hang out around Quick Stop. Dante is forced to come to work, although he wasn't supposed to be there that day (as he will constantly remind you.)
Some time later, Randal shows up for work. He spends most of his day at the Quick Stop rather than working, though. Dante's girlfriend, Veronica, comes over to talk to him. There he finds out that she has... had quite a lot of fun. It's yet another thing Dante obsesses over.
Later on, Dante closes up shop, because he had a hockey game to play that day. They play on the roof, but after an annoyed customer comes up, joins the game, and loses the puck, they have to stop and get back to work. They also go to a funeral, meet up with Dante's ex-girlfriend, who goes through some trauma, and get in a fight. In the end, they stop arguing and close up for the day.
The first part of The View Askewniverse (though Mallrats, which came out later, depicts the events of the day before the events of Clerks). With the obvious exception of Jay and Silent Bob, Dante and Randal are the most frequently recurring characters in the verse, having starred in an Animated Adaptation, Clerks: The Animated Series, several comics and in 2006, a true sequel in the film, Clerks II.
This movie provides examples of:
- Accidental Adultery:
- Inverted in the backstory. Dante's girlfriend Caitlin once intended to cheat on him at a costume party and arranged to meet another guy in a darkened bedroom. She got the wrong bedroom and instead unknowingly had sex with Dante, who was there passed out.
- Played straight later in the film. Shortly after getting back together with Dante, Caitlin enters a darkened bathroom and has sex with what she thinks is an uncharacteristically silent and stoic Dante. It turns out to be the corpse of a man who had earlier suffered a fatal heart attack. Upon learning the truth, she goes into shock.
- Addiction Displacement: Subverted. Someone comes into the store to accuse the clerks of being "Death-Merchants" for serving people with cigarettes. He tries to convince every smoker to quitting smoking and start buying Chewlie's gum instead. He is then revealed to be a Chewlie's representative, merely out to sell more gum. Everyone gets kicked out of the store, and one smoker buys a pack of cigarettes before leaving.
- Alter Kocker: The old man who comes into Quick Stop to use the bathroom, dies while masturbating and whose body Caitlin has sex with in the dark under the assumption that it's Dante. He speaks with a broad Yiddish accent and calls Dante "boychik" at one point.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: The Quick Stop is still open today. The RST Video next to it, however, is shuttered (however, all the tapes and other signage can be seen inside the abandoned shop, collecting dust.) Fans of Kevin Smith see it almost as a pilgrimage to visit it.
- ...And 99˘: Dante remarks that all prices end in 0.99. And yet in the background, all the prices end with the number five.
- Anti-Hero: Dante and Randal are examples — not especially moral and not especially successful. Jay and Silent Bob also count, being crude, rude drug dealers who nevertheless dispense wisdom and help out the main characters — when they aren't the main characters themselves.
- Anything That Moves: Jay.
- Also Dante's discussion with Veronica about their respective past relationships wherein he admits to sleeping with 12 women. Veronica berates him for sleeping with anybody who pays him any attention. Dante doesn't deny it.Veronica: You men make me feel sick. You'll sleep with anything that says yes.Dante: Animal, mineral or vegetable.Veronica: Vegetable, meaning paraplegic.Dante: They put up the least amount of struggle.
- Also Dante's discussion with Veronica about their respective past relationships wherein he admits to sleeping with 12 women. Veronica berates him for sleeping with anybody who pays him any attention. Dante doesn't deny it.
- Arc Number: 37 gets bandied around rather a lot. It's the number of dicks Dante's girlfriend Veronica has sucked, including Dante (though not in a row).
- Armor-Piercing Question: "If we're so fucking advanced, what are we doing working here?"
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: A mother and small child come into the video store to order Happy Scrappy Hero Pup. Randal phones the distributors and orders a long list of increasingly disturbing porn titles, ending by turning to the mother and saying "Uh, what was that called again?"
- Artistic License – Film Production: Randal comes into the convenience store telling Dante he just had a revelation watching Return of the Jedi, however none of the sound effects are from it.
- As Himself: Zig-Zagged with Jay. Kevin Smith wrote the part for Jason Mewes because he wanted the rest of the world to see how naturally funny Mewes is. Everything Jay does is based on things Mewes would do to amuse himself, which is why Smith had to more or less teach Mewes how to do it in a way that'd be entertaining for other people.
- Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: The stupid customers...Video store customer: Do you have that one with that guy who was in the movie that was out last year?...Oooo! Navy SEALs!
- Author Avatar: Kevin Smith specifically wrote the part of Randal for himself ("Which is why he has all the best lines!") but found himself unable to handle such a big part in addition to directorial duties — which is why Jeff Anderson was brought in.
- Author Filibuster: In the last ten minutes, Kevin Smith's voice hops from one character to another every time someone opens their mouth. In fact, this tends to be the method by which he concludes all his films.
- Baguette Beatdown: Dante and Randal have a knock-down drag-out in the Quick Stop, during which Randal whacks Dante across the face with a loaf of bread.
- Bed Trick: Dante pulls an unintentional one on Caitlin Bree in the backstory. He passes out in a darkened bedroom at a party and wakes up to find Caitlin in bed with him. The two have sex, and he only later learns that she had arranged to meet another man there and believed herself to be sleeping with him. He counts this as the "half" of her eight and a half acts of infidelity. The incident is later inverted when she enters a darkened bathroom and has sex with what she believes is an uncharacteristically silent, stoic Dante, but is in fact the corpse of a man who had suffered a fatal heart attack hours earlier.
- Betty and Veronica: Dante is dating Veronica (Betty) when an old flame from high school comes back into his life, Caitlin Bree (Veronica). Veronica brings him lasagna at work and is trying to get Dante back in school. Caitlin is engaged (but calls off the wedding), and cheated on Dante in high school. He winds up trying to go for Caitlin, and losing them both. Veronica dumps him, and Caitlin goes catatonic after screwing a random dead guy in the Quick-E-Stop's restroom, thinking it was Dante.
- B-Movie: The film charts a day in the life of two shop clerks as they are annoyed by customers, discuss movies with each other, play hockey on the roof, deal with two stoners out the front, and one comes to terms with his girlfriend's promiscuous past. Made on a budget of with the director's friends and family, in the very shop in which he actually worked; it grossed million, pioneered The View Askewniverse, and kick-started the independent film industry.
- Black Comedy: The whole film qualifies, but especially the ending, which features Caitlin accidentally having sex with a dead guy and having a mental breakdown over it.
- Bland-Name Product: Zigzagged. Some brands have been covered up, like "Dave's Fruit Pies" instead of Hostess. And sometimes real brands are used, like Gatorade. During the conversation about the egg guy, the female customer briefly mentions "Food City", presumably the in-universe equivalent to real NYC-area grocery co-op chain Foodtown (which had a lot more stores then compared to now- an accounting scandal closed one franchise, and another franchise eventually became part of Stop and Shop).
- Blatant Lies: When Dante claims he was working "all day." Of course this backfires horribly.
- Jay's denial about dealing drugs in front of the storeDante: How many times have I told you not to be dealing in front of the store?Jay: I'm not dealin', man. What you talkin' about?Burner: Hey, you got anything, man?Jay: Yeah, what you want?
- Jay's denial about dealing drugs in front of the store
- Bottle Episode: The film is set almost entirely within a convenience store to keep costs down.
- Brick Joke: Randal mentions that he once had a cousin who died attempting auto-fellatio. (Which is later confirmed by the coroner attending Caitlin's situation.)
- Dante tells Randal a story about how Caitlin had sex with him in a darkened room thinking he was someone else. Caitlin would later have sex in the darkened bathroom with a dead man thinking it is Dante, who was also a brick joke, having gone back there in the first half of the movie.
- Brilliant, but Lazy: Randal. Cunning, manipulative, acid-tongued, and very obviously whip-smart, yet content (in a discontented way) with his lot in life as a store clerk (and he doesn't even take that seriously.)
- Dante too, according to Veronica; she thinks he's got a lot of potential that's going to waste in the Quick Stop and makes an attempt to push Dante into considering re-enrolling in higher education.
- Butt-Monkey: Dante, although it's largely his own fault.
- Can't You Read the Sign?: Many of the two stores' customers.
- "I'm not even supposed to be here today!"
- "I'll fuck anything that moooooves!"
- "Noise, noise, noise, smokin' weed, smokin' weed..."
- "Bunch of savages in this town."
- Chekhov's Gunman: The elderly, bathroom-using customer (see below.)
- Cluster F-Bomb: If the heading quote wasn't a warning, this is.
- So much so that the MPAA was originally going to rate the movie NC-17 solely for the language and sex and drug references.
- Clutching Hand Trap: The idiot customer with the Pringles can. Dante subtly points this out by pouring the remaining Pringles into his hand while telling the customer that "sometimes you just need to let those hard-to-reach chips go."
- Concept Video: The video for Soul Asylum's "Can't Even Tell" was directed by Kevin Smith, and includes all the characters from the film playing roof hockey with the band while Jay lip synchs the song by singing into a hockey stick.
- It's notable that the while the movie is in Black and White the Video is in color.
- Conversational Troping: The main characters discuss a lot of pop culture. For example:Randal Graves: Which did you like better? Jedi or Empire Strikes Back
Dante Hicks: Empire.
Dante: Empire had the better ending. I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader's his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that's what life is, a series of down endings. All Jedi had was a bunch of Muppets.
- Country Matters: One of the porno movies Randal orders is Girls Who Crave Cunt
- Covers Always Lie: By the look of the poster, you would think that Veronica, Caitlin and Silent Bob also are clerks.
- Cruel Twist Ending: The original ending: After Dante goes through hell on Earth during what was supposed to be his day off, a robber comes in and murders him. The end.
- Cult Soundtrack: After the film was bought by Miramax, the studio added a very contemporary grunge/punk soundtrack. It was the first time in history that a film's soundtrack cost more than the entire production of the film (film: $27,000.00 Music: $30,000.00.)
- A Date with Rosie Palms: An elderly customer asks Dante for a restroom, some soft toilet paper, and a girlie magazine. It doesn't end well.
- Deadpan Snarker: Randal Graves is this mixed with a generous helping of Jerkass.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Not for any artistic reasons, though. It was shot in mono simply because the cameras and film stock were cheaper.
- Dénouement: The film took out all the guesswork for its audience — "Dénouement" was the final title card.
- Deuteragonist: Randall is this to Dante's protagonist, with Jay and Silent Bob sharing the tritagonist slot.
- Diabolus ex Machina: The film originally ended with a robber killing Dante, but after the distributor complained that this was pointlessly violent and tragic, the scene was removed.
- Did Not Get the Girl: Dante has trouble choosing between his current girlfriend Veronica or his ex Caitlin. Ultimately he realizes that Veronica is the one he loves, but thanks to Randall's interference she believes he loves Caitlin and breaks up with him. Although the ending implies he'll try to clear things up with her, related material and future films have made it clear they never got back together (or if they did, it didn't last).
- Didn't Want an Adventure: Dante's day is spent in the purgatory of serving a succession of customers while bemoaning the fact that he is "not even supposed to be here today."
- Dirty Old Man: The customer who asks to borrow porno mags while using the bathroom and dies in there.
- Dismotivation: Dante.
- Downer Ending: In the original cut, an armed robber enters the store right after closing, shoots Dante dead and empties the cash register. The protests of the film's agent John Pierson, as well as those of damn near everyone else involved (most prominently supporter Bob Hawk and star Brian O'Halloran), led to Smith cutting the ending short, and he professes to liking the final version better.
- Bittersweet Ending: The cut ending is obviously less downbeat as no main characters die. Dante has pretty much completely fucked up his love life, that he's learned pretty much nothing from the day's events and that both he and Randall look like they'll be stuck doing their respective jobs until the day they die, but at least they've patched up their friendship.
- Dumbass Has a Point: Jay and Silent Bob makes a good point about Veronica being a good girlfriend.Silent Bob: You know, there's a million fine-looking women in the world, dude. But they don't all bring you lasagna at work. Most of 'em just cheat on you.
- Early-Bird Cameo: In the music video "Can't Even Tell," there's a little boy with a ball (just like the View Askew bumper) wearing a helmet.
- Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Dante is only in his early twenties and at least a bit of a loser being a pushover who works a dead end job. In a discussion with his girlfriend he revealed he has had twelve different sexual partners which is considerably more than the average man in a lifetime. Veronica reveals that she's performed certain...services for 37 men, though this is not treated as a normal amount.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Three guesses as to what this movie's about.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The movie opens with Dante getting woken up by a phone call from his boss telling him to come in on his day off, then follows him all the way to closing time at 9 PM, approximately 12 hours later.
- Failed a Spot Check: In the Quick Stop, a customer asks the camera how much something is. The camera then pulls back to show a display for what she's got, covered in signage advertising everything on that shelf was 99 cents. A similar joke was used moments before in RST, with the same customer asking where the new movies are.
- Fauxshadow: The film originally ended with Dante getting shot by a robber and bleeding to death behind the counter, and there are several orphaned references throughout the movie as a result.
- Dante bemoaning how he's "not even supposed to be here today."
- The discussion of how life is just a series of downer endings.
- Dante's claim that The Empire Strikes Back is the superior Star Wars film because "it ends on such a down note".
- The observation that all the prices end in nines. Guess what time Dante's shift ends?
- Even Randall's line referring to people putting gum in the locks, "Bunch of savages in this town" has an ironic ring in light of the ending.
- Filth: The scene where Randall orders new movies for the video store is a phenomenal example of how colorful fictional porn titles can get.
- First World Problems: Discussed and deconstructed. Dante acts as though his problems are out of his control, when really they're fairly normal obstacles that he could deal with if, as Randal puts it, he would just "shit or get off the pot."
- Focus Group Ending: The original cut shown to film festival audiences included a scene at the end in which Dante is shot and killed by a robber. Audiences, including a couple of Kevin Smith's personal mentors whose opinion he greatly respected, found it too depressing, so it was cut. Smith has since come around and agrees that the film is better without it, although the original cut is available on the "Clerks X" special-edition DVD so that audiences can judge for themselves.
- Foil: Two-person example. The Jay/Silent Bob duo is a Foil for the Dante/Randal one. Both of them are pairs of Vitriolic Best Buds, with a cocky, fair-haired Red Oni and a more cool-headed, dark-haired Blue Oni with a goatee. The difference is that (as Randal points out at the end) Jay and Silent Bob actually choose their bottom-rung jobs and freely embrace their status as hopeless lowlives, while Dante and Randal are still riddled with angst about theirs.
- Early in the film, Dante mentions that while they were going out, Caitlin cheated on him "eight and a half" times: at a party, Dante had passed out on a bed in a bedroom with the lights off and Caitlin had sex with him shortly afterwards under the impression he was someone else. At the end of the film Caitlin has sex with someone she believes to be Dante in a bathroom with the lights off.
- Dante also jokes that he's willing to fuck a vegetable because "they put up the least amount of struggle." What does Caitlin say when she thinks she and Dante had sex in the bathroom? "He let me do all the work."
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Dante is melancholic, Randal is sanguine, Jay is choleric, and Silent Bob is phlegmatic.
- Frothy Mugs of Water: Averted. That weed wasn't a prop.
- Funny Foreigner: Olaf, Silent Bob's Russian cousin.
- Gay Bravado: In their introductory scene, staunchly heterosexual (later confirmed to be deeply-closeted bi) Jay randomly tells his Heterosexual Life-Partner Silent Bob that he's "cute as hell" and wouldn't mind going down on him. He then mimes this, then realizes what he's doing, calls Bob a faggot and announced to no-one in particular "I LOVE WOMEN!!"
- Godwin's Law: The gum marketer compares shop-clerks who sell cigarettes to Nazis.
- Gilligan Cut: "Nobody's there, 4 o'clock on a Saturday. How many people ever come to the store at 4 on a Saturday?" Cut to an angry mob trying to get in the store.
- And immediately before, when Dante stated he would not close the store again.
- Gonna Need More X: The misquote ("We're...") of the Jaws example is used during the "salsa shark" bit
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Jay rambles about performing oral sex on Silent Bob (who remains completely deadpan throughout, suggesting he does this a lot), then leaps away, flexes menacingly and shouts, "I hate guys! I LOVE WOMEN!"
"Beautiful chicks with dicks that put mine to shame."
- Completely averted with Randal, who has no problem watching hermaphroditic porn.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jay and Silent Bob. Also Dante and Randal. Which leads to a fair amount of Ho Yay. (See YMMV tab.)
- Higher Education Is for Women: Dante dropped out of college to work in an awful job; his girlfriend Veronica stays in college and tries to persuade him to return.
- Hitler Ate Sugar: Used in a scene where a 'Chewley's' gum representative is trying to stir up anti-cigarette sentiment in order to sell gum as a substitute. He tells the protagonist that shopkeepers who sell cigarettes are equal to Nazis because clerks like him are only following orders, and so did the Nazis. This is ironic as the Nazis hated smoking. Granted it's a flawed argument considering he obviously has no choice in what he sells and nobody is forced to buy it, but his customers are stirred into pelting him with cigarettes anyway.
- Hypocritical Humor: After the gum representative stirring up the angry mob against Dante for selling cigarettes (so he can actually sell the gum) has gone and the mob dispersed, one of the members of the mob sheepishly buys a pack of cigarettes from Dante afterwards. Dante is less than impressed.
- Lampshaded that they point out that Randal hates people but loves social gatherings. Also he plans to rent a movie at a video store despite working at RST Video, justified that Randal claims "I work in a shitty video store!"
- Jay is asked if Silent Bob's Russian cousin Olaf only speaks Russian — he responds "Naw, he speaks some English, but he cannot speak it good like we do."
- Idiot Ball: Dante holds it by wanting to get back together with Caitlin even though Veronica really cares about him and she SHOWS it. Jay, Silent Bob and Randal call him out on this dumb move. Jay says he's often seen Veronica do nice things for Dante like changing a flat for his car (earlier you see her bringing Dante lasagna to work just because and prevent him getting mauled by an angry mob) and says she's a keeper. Silent Bob tells Dante that "There's a million fine-looking women in the world. But they don't all bring you lasagna at work. Most of 'em just cheat on you.". Randal calls him out during an epic "The Reason You Suck" Speech. Dante lets go of it a bit too late however and Veronica dumps him anyway.
- If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: The otherwise childish and adolescent Randal Graves seriously warns "Oh, hey Caitlin. Break his heart again this time, and I'll kill ya. Nothing personal."
- Ignorant Minion: Dante and Randal have a spirited debate about whether the contractors building the Death Star were Ignorant Minions whom the Rebel Alliance murders or knowing parts of the villainous Empire.
- Ignored Epiphany: Despite Silent Bob's words of wisdom leading Dante to realize that he loves Veronica instead of Caitlin and Randal's "The Reason You Suck" Speech berating him for "pining for one and fuck[ing] the other," Dante ends the film planning to both attempt to patch things up with Veronica and visit Caitlin in the hospital. The implication is that he hasn't really changed.
- I Love the Dead: An unintentional example.
- Insistent Terminology. "Asian design major".
- Also, unlike real life, no one buying cigarettes asks for a specific brand or type. They just say "cigarettes".
- Intercourse with You:My love for you is like a truck, BER-SER-KER!Would you like some making fork, BER-SER-KER!,
- Jerkass: Randal, so much.
Randal: This job would be great if it wasn't for the fucking customers.
- Also, to some, Dante. At least when it comes to the women he dates and to blaming all his problems on other people.
- Rick Derris, who tells Dante to his face that he used to fuck Caitlin while she was still dating Dante.
- Most of the customers are incredible jerkasses.
Customer: Excuse me, have you seen my keys?
- The jerk-off customer, whose keys were thrown away by Dante in retaliation.
Randal: No time for love, Dr. Jones.
Customer: Fucking kids.
- Dante and Randal's boss (who was never named in the final cut, but a trimmed portion of the phone call has him named as Mr. Schneider). Turns out, he isn't coming in later, he instead ran off to Vermont for 4 days.
- The Gum Representative who incites the crowd of smokers to pelt Dante with cigarettes, so he can trick them to buy Gum.
- The lawyer near the end; you can tell he's hardly containing his glee when he issues out that summons.
- Justified in that he thinks that he's bringing in an asshole who sold a pack of cigarettes to a little girl.
- Basically, just about everyone is a Jerkass to one extent or another. A World of Jerkass, if you will.
- Mostly towards Dante and Randall whom they think don't seem to be taking their assumingly simple jobs seriously.
- Jerkass Has a Point: At the peak of Dante's moaning over how badly his day's gone ("I'm not even supposed to be here today!") and how Randal's the one to blame for it, Randal snaps, noting that (a) he came to work that day of his own volition and (b) most of the bad things that happened were his own fault, such as closing the store multiple times to pursue his own interests, and trying to vainly re-ignite his relationship with an ex by cheating on his current girlfriend. He then criticizes Dante's attitude, noting that he constantly talks down to and belittles others while working a low-wage menial job at a convenience store, and pointing out that although Jay and Silent Bob are stupid, at least they don't try to overcompensate for having what's essentially a monkey's job.Randal: ...we like to make ourselves seem so much more important than the people that come in here to buy a paper, or, God forbid... cigarettes. We look down on them as if we're so advanced. Well, if we're so fucking advanced, what are we doing working here?
Sanford: Responsibility? What responsibility? You're closing the fucking store to play hockey!Randal: He may be blunt, but he's got a point.
- Sanford, one of Dante and Randal's friends.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Randall. He may show his heart of gold more in Clerks II but even in this film he shows he does still care deeply about his best friend, Dante.
- Just Following Orders: Used along with a healthy dose of Godwin's Law. A man berates Dante in front of customers for selling cigarettes, accusing him of being just like the Nazis since he's "only following orders," and tells customers that they should buy Chewlies Gum instead (because selling a dangerous product to a willing consumer is just like gassing innocent people). The man is later revealed as a Chewlies Gum salesman.
- Karma Houdini: Randal sells cigarettes to a little girl and Dante ends up getting saddled with the fine. And unlike everything else in the film, he doesn't even get properly called out on it. Mostly because Dante was distracted by Caitlin's arrival.
- The robber in the alternate ending who shoots and kills Dante. Because Randal disabled the security cameras prior to the Hockey game on the roof, the cameras would never catch the robbery on film. Also after the credits of that ending Kevin Smith (as himself, not Silent Bob) steals some cigarettes and runs off after noticing Dante was murdered.
- Kissing Cousins: Jay mentions he'd be willing to knock boots with a girl who just happens to be his cousin.
- Loads and Loads of Roles: Several actors perform multiple small roles, because Smith didn't have the money to hire more actors.
- Leave the Camera Running: Many scenes, particularly the one in which we are introduced to Chekhov's Gunman. This was done primarily due to lack of physical space — the Quick Stop is a tiny, tiny building — and budget and lighting constraints.
- When Jason Mewes performed his dance to "Violent Mood Swings," he was so overcome with stage fright that he asked that the crew all leave while he and Kevin Smith did the scene. They all hid in the video store and watched to make sure nobody stole the camera.
- Loads and Loads of Roles: Several actors play multiple small roles. Given the late hours and low pay, many of those cast simply failed to show up, so Smith would have anyone who happened to be around step in. David Klein (the cinematographer) and Walter Flanagan get hit the hardest with this, with five and four roles respectively.
- Long List: Randal confirms a list of ordered video titles as a mother approaches the counter with her young son. He reels off a very long list of porn titles as the customers wait in impatient consternation.
- Love Martyr: According to a throwaway line from Veronica's furious breakup speech to him, all of Dante's Wangst is just his refusal to get over Caitlin, a girl who was frequently unfaithful to him and dumped him in high school.
- Lucky Charms Title: The original title of the movie is 'Clerks.'' (with a period at the end.)
- Meaningful Name: The central character has the unusual first name of Dante. Work, and life in general by extension, is hell for him.
- Mood-Swinger: The jolly guy who reads the tabloids gets extremely pissed when Randal spits his drink at him to shut up, though this is an entirely justified response.
- Mood Whiplash: Averted. The film is straight comedy that was originally going to end with Dante suddenly getting gunned down in a robbery. Kevin Smith was apparently brought to his senses.
- My Girl Is Not a Slut: "37!!"
- "In a row?"
- Mythology Gag: The first use of "37," later a recurring number throughout Smith's movies.
- In a row?
- Narrative Filigree: The film is about 5% plot and 95% chat. A particularly famous digression has to do with the ethics of blowing up Death Star II.
- Never My Fault: Dante is quick to blame all of his life's problems on everyone else without considering if or how he can improve them. He tells Randal that he's "not the kind of person who disrupts things so he can shit comfortably." This end up being the first thing Randal blasts him for when he can't take any more of Dante's self-pity.
- Noodle Incident: Played straight (initially) . The original movie never revealed what caused Dante and Randall to knock over the casket at the funeral home, forcing them both to make a hasty exit. The tenth anniversary DVD finally reveals what happened.
- No Such Thing as H.R.: Dante and Randal do pretty much whatever they want at the Quick Stop and survive the day with no repercussions, mainly because the bosses are far away, giving their orders by phone.
- Even under normal conditions, such small retail jobs like convenience stores and gas stations are typically light on supervision. So there's a pretty good chance that even if the boss wasn't out of state they'd face little or no repercussions for what they pulled.
- No Sympathy: When Dante shouts that his girlfriend sucked 37 dicks, a customer then asks: "In a row?"
- Not in Front of the Kid: Averted big time in the "Happy Scrappy" scene. A mother with a pre-school-age daughter asks Randal if they could special-order "Happy Scrappy, Hero Pup." Randal then gets on the phone to the supplier and proceeds to rattle off a huge list of increasingly vulgarity-laced porno movie titles. In the script, but not in the film, the little girl ends up blurting out one of the more caustic words.
- Jeff Anderson refused to read it in front of the little girl in real life. A crew member did it off set to get the reaction shots.
- Nothing Personal: "Oh, hey, Caitlin, break his heart again this time and I'll kill ya. Nothing personal."
- Onscreen Chapter Titles: There are frequent chapter titles which appear in white font on a plain black screen briefly. Most of the chapter titles are single obscure vocabulary words, like "Perspicacity" or "Dénouement."
- Out with a Bang: Subverted. The old man Caitlin has sex with (thinking that he is Dante) is already dead. He had died while masturbating.
- Randall's story of his cousin who broke his neck trying to service himself.
- Parrot Exposition: Randal will say something odd, Dante will repeat it, Randal will elaborate.
- Persona Non Grata: Randal bans a woman from RST video. It's played with as she ends up angered at his Jerkass behavior and boycotts the place anyway, and Randall stating she's banned comes off as him attempting to get the last word in.
- Phrase-Catcher: Dante gets variants of "Why do you smell of shoe polish?" on a fairly regular basis during the film.
- Product Placement: It's subtle, but Randal wears an AT&T shirt under his flannel (Jeff Anderson was working for them at the time).
- Pulled from Your Day Off: The entire film is the story of a day in the life of Dante, a convenience store clerk. It opens with him being called into work on his day off, and the rest of the film is a chronicle of Dante's misadventures during the day.
- Punch-Clock Villain: Dante and Randal debate the ethics of the Rebels blowing up the Death Star in Return of the Jedi, given that many of the workers building it were probably independent contractors with no particular allegiance to the Empire.
- The current customer overhears and just happens to be a contractor himself. He shares a story about how he turned down a job for a mafia boss despite the lucrative paycheck. His buddy took the job instead and ended up getting hit by a stray bullet and dying during a drive-by attack on the mobster's house. The moral being that even a punch-clock villain has to accept the risks and moral cost of the job, and anyone who took a job on the Death Star has themselves to blame.
- George Lucas himself discussed this in the DVD Commentary for Attack of the Clones, saying the termite-like Geonosians were probably employed by the Empire for these means, and thus they were so many that that it wasn't a problem.
- Quit Your Whining: Randal does this to Dante after their fight in the Quick-Stop, following with a "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Kevin Smith actually worked at the convenience store depicted, and had to film his movie at night when it was closed, necessitating the whole "Gum in the window shutter locks" subplot to explain why they were down the entire time.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The second-to-last scene has Dante and Randal exchanging these. Dante blasts Randal for his irresponsibility and (supposedly) getting him into trouble with his antics. Then, when he can't take any more of Dante's Wangsting, Randal fires back with a epic one about how much of an asshole he is for being even more irresponsible and then blaming the consequences on everyone else, eventually concluding that the two of them are idiots regardless because they look down on their customers from their high-and-mighty positions as store clerks."Oh, fuck you! Fuck you, pal! Jesus, there you go trying to pass the buck. I'm the source of all your misery. Who closed the store to play hockey? Who closed the store to go to a wake? Who tried to win back his ex girlfriend without even discussing how he felt with his present one? You wanna blame somebody? Blame yourself. "I'm not even supposed to be here today." You sound like an asshole! Jesus, nobody twisted your arm to be here. You're here of your own volition. You like to think the weight of the world rests on your shoulder. Like this place would fall apart if Dante wasn't here. Jesus, you overcompensate for having what's basically a monkey's job. You push fucking buttons. Anybody can waltz in here and do our jobs. You—You're so obsessed with making it seem so much more epic, so much more important than it really is. Christ, you work in a convenience store, Dante! And badly, I might add! I work in a shitty video store, badly as well. You know, that guy Jay's got it right, man. He has no delusions about what he does. Us, we like to make ourselves seem so much more important than the people that come in here to buy a paper, or, god forbid, cigarettes. We look down on them as if we're so advanced. Well, if we're so fucking advanced, what are we doing working here?"
- Revised Ending: The original Downer Ending was changed to a Bittersweet Ending by removing the very last scene, which would have been the shooting of Dante. This meant that a whole lot of Foreshadowing went to waste. However, Clerks II and Clerks: The Animated Series would have been nullified by this original ending.
- Running Gag:
- "What smells like shoe polish?"
- "I'm not even supposed to be here today."
- "I heard she's getting married to an Asian design major."
- Seinfeldian Conversation: Sums up 85-90% of the movie.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: "Okay, but you're living in denial and suppressing rage, motherfucker".
- Sexy Packaging: The Australian "special edition" DVD (which they called the 'Snowball Edition') proudly displayed the logo atop the midsection of a bikini-clad model. Because, you know, that perfectly sums up a black-and-white movie about the drab life of a convenience store clerk.
- Shaming the Mob: "Bunch of easily-led automatons! Try thinking for yourselves before you pelt an innocent man with cigarettes!"
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: In the original ending, Dante is shot and killed in a robbery.
- Silent Credits: This would have been the case if the original ending had been kept. In that ending, which can be seen on the 10th anniversary DVD, Dante is shot and presumably killed by a holdup man just as he is finishing up the day's paperwork. The credits then roll silently with the exception of the beeping sounds of a cash register ... which, with the added context, become surprisingly chilling.
- The Silent Bob: Trope Namer.
- Silly Walk: The wrangle, better known to fans as "The Randal Strut."
- The walk and Dante's line accompanying it at the end of the film was taken from Wrangler Jeans commercials and — even with all of the merchandise in the background of the store — was the only part of the film that needed to be edited to avoid legal issues. (Dante's line, referring to the walk as the "Wrangle," had to be ADRed in post.) Miramax got the company's permission to leave the line uncut on the "First Cut" disc of the Clerks X DVD release.
- Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Actually, it's the poster. Jay doesn't appear because Miramax executives thought Jason Mewes was too "weird looking."
- The explanation Smith gives in one of the Evening with Kevin Smith DVDs says that the cameraman was simply too impatient to wait for Mewes to show up, and didn't really care that Silent Bob wasn't really Silent Bob without the baseball cap.
- The Slacker: Jay and Silent Bob and Randal. Especially Randal.
- Dante pretends to be different, but nobody's fooled — he's at work of his own free will, even if he pretends otherwise.
- Slice of Life: A day in the life of slackers who work at a convenience store and the video store next door.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Perhaps leaning more towards the cynical end due to the characters interactions on aspects of their life being young 20 something year olds.
- Soul-Sucking Retail Job: A convenience store-sized version, but nonetheless one of the best on-screen examples of miserable retail work.
- Speech-Centric Work: Setting the trend for many of Smith's later efforts, the film is light on plot, heavy on dialogue.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Randal's name is correctly spelled with one L, not two, but many fans still add the extra letter.
- Stealth Pun: Several of the customers' purchases. The woman who manually masturbates caged animals is buying jerky.
- The customer offended by Randal talking about jizz moppers is buying window cleaner and paper towels.
- Arguably the Chewley's gum rep too, as he is buying "coffee".
- The Stoner: Jay and Silent Bob. Snowball's easy-going attitude puts them both to shame, though.
- Stupid Statement Dance Mix: You'd be hard pressed to dance to it though.
- Sudden Downer Ending: Notoriously, the film would have ended with this. A lighthearted comedy about two lazy store clerks wasting a day shift? The original version ended with a robber entering the store and shooting the main character, killing him instantly.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Dante and Randal feel this way about the customers. Randal likes to rip in on the occasional customers. But not Dante, he doesn't want to get into any trouble.
- Technical Virgin: Veronica chastises Dante for having slept with about twelve girls, while she had only been with three guys. However, soon afterwards she reveals she performed oral sex on thirty-seven different guys. Apparently, she considered it just "fooling around".
- Those Two Guys: Jay and Silent Bob.
- Title Drop: If we're counting this...then:Randal Graves: If title dictated my behavior, as a clerk serving the public, I wouldn't be allowed to spit water at that guy. But I did. So, my point is that people dictate their own behavior. Even though I work in a video store, I choose to go rent movies at Big Choice. Agreed?
- Tsundere: Caitlin Bree towards Dante.
- Truth in Television: Ask anyone who's ever worked retail and they'll tell you that this film is a very accurate representation.
- Ultimate Job Security: Probably the only reason Dante and Randall keep their jobs is because their boss is far away and only communicates to them by phone.
- Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: Dante and Veronica halting their argument about how many dicks she's sucked mid-scream as Dante attends to a customer.
- Undignified Death: Randal's cousin Walter.Dante: What an embarrassing way to die.
Randal: That's nothing compared to how my cousin Walter died.
Dante: How did he die?
Randal: He broke his neck.
Dante: That's embarrassing?
Randal: He broke his neck trying to suck his own dick!
- The Unfair Sex: Veronica slaps Dante and calls him for a pig for having sex with 12 women, while she's only ever slept with 3 guys. Dante however is wrong to be angry to learn of the 36 other guys she performed oral sex on and failed to mention. Granted, Dante's reaction is overblown and he quickly crosses the line, but given that she gave a rather vivid description of what "snowballing" is, you can see why he's so furious.
- In a row?
- Dante leaves the higher ground pretty swiftly when he explains that it's a different question how many sex partners Veronica has had compared to how many sex partners he has had because in Veronica's case this is important.
- Unsatisfiable Customer: "No ice? You mean I gotta drink this coffee hot?"
- Doubles as Society Marches On: Iced coffee has become more popular since the film was released thanks to Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts.
- Although the customer's response was written to make him look ridiculous, this is a fairly common practice, as coffee is often stored at temperatures that make immediate drinking near impossible. So, adding a bit of ice will cool the coffee down to a more reasonable (but still hot) temperature.
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: He makes a lot of questionable decisions throughout the movie and Randal's repeated "The Reason You Suck" Speeches seem to indicate we're supposed to feel Dante is responsible in some way for basically all the bad things that happen to him.
- Also works if you consider Randal a protagonist.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Dante and Randall. They both argue about things all the time and snark at each other (especially Randall, who seems to enjoy messing with Dante), but when it's all said and done, the two are almost inseparable buddies. Jay and Silent Bob have a similar dynamic, except Jay does most of the talking and Silent Bob ignores it with an air of sarcasm, despite not saying anything.
- What Measure Is a Mook?: Discussed when Dante and Randall are talking about the thousands of innocent contractors that must have been blown up when the Death Star was destroyed. They are then interrupted by a man who works putting up drywall who tells them about how he was offered a substantial amount of money to work on a gangster's house. He refused, but let one of his friends know, and he took the job. Later, a rival gang pulled up to the house and murdered his friend and everyone on his team trying to whack the gangster - who wasn't even home. He does not say whether he warned his "friend" about the client's criminal connections.
- What You Are in the Dark: Dante leaves a relatively unsupervised pile of money on the counter in the store for change and payment of goods, with a sign next to it that encourages the customers to "...leave money on the counter. Take change when applicable. Be honest." Dante is actually on the floor behind the counter with his girlfriend, inattentive of his job. She asks how he knows that they taking the right amount of change or are even paying for what they are taking and he responds with something like "Theoretically, people see money on the counter and no one around, they think they're being watched."
- Who's Watching the Store?: Dante and Randall close their respective stores to play hockey on the roof and go to a funeral, among other things. However, they're fully aware of this trope—in fact, the game happens on the roof in case someone turns up, and the fact that no one will be watching the store is Dante's main argument for why Randal shouldn't attend the wake (though naturally that doesn't stop him.)
- Wisdom from the Gutter: Dante's standing on the brink of pissing away a good, firm relationship to chase after Caitlin. Jay and Silent Bob, after spending the whole film dealing drugs in front of the store, find out about this when they come in to buy condoms and talk him out of it by reminding him of all the wonderful things Veronica does for him that he's not even noticed.
- Writer on Board: Kevin Smith wrote the scene of the Chewley's Gum representative turning everyone in the store against Dante when he, himself, was strongly against smoking. Ironically, smoking all those cigarettes while playing Silent Bob turned him into a chain smoker.
- Wrong Name Outburst: Dante is explaining to Randal Caitlin's infidelity, leading to this exchange:Randal: She cheated on you how many times?
Dante: Eight and a half.
Randal: Eight and a half?
Dante: Party at John Kay's senior year. I get blitzed and pass out in this bedroom. Caitlin comes in and jumps all over me.
Randal: So that's cheating?
Dante: No, in the middle of it she called me Brad.
Randal: She called you Brad?
Dante: Called me Brad.
Randal: Eh, that's not cheating. People say crazy shit during sex. One time I called this girl "mom."
- Your Cheating Heart: Caitlin cheated on Dante 8 1/2 times in 5 years — the "half" was because she thought he was someone else in a dark room. She doesn't seem to have changed her tune by the end of the movie.
Clerks - The Lost Scene
An Animated Adaptation of a scene cut from the scrip before shooting began for budget reasons, explaining why Dante and Randal are chased out of the funeral parlor when they attend Julie Dwyer's wake. Animated in the style of Clerks: The Animated Series, it features Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson reprising their roles and Joey Lauren Adams in a cameo as her character Alyssa from Chasing Amy.
Included in the tenth anniversary boxed set of Clerks.
This short provides examples of:
- Acting Unnatural: As he tries to fish his car keys out of Julie's skirt, Randal stands behind Dante, pretending to comfort his friend as he weeps. It goes as well as is to be expected.
- Bill... Bill... Junk... Bill...: Randall flipping through "death cards" at Julie Dwyer's funeral. "Got it...got it...need it...got it..."
- Caught with Your Pants Down: Dante tells Randal that the last time he saw Julie's parents, they had walked in on him performing cunnilingus on her. As such, he's understandably reluctant to see them at her wake.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Randal, a little more so than in the movie. Just listen to him talk about funeral death cards like they're baseball cards.
- Continuity Nod: A few subtle ones.
- Chasing Amy - Dante gripes about 'Caitlin and her secrets,' to which his friend Alyssa replies "Oh Dante, you just have no idea sometimes," alluding to the fact that she had a fling with Caitlin (and was presumably one of the people Caitlin cheated on Dante with).
- Dogma - The death cards depict Jesus as the Buddy Christ, and the card with "some angels and Jesus" depict Bartleby and Loki with Christ.
- Mallrats - Willam is seen among the mourners. Alyssa also mentions that Julie's fatal aneurysm was the result of her trying to lose a few extra pounds the day before shooting Truth Or Date, and that it was T.S. who indirectly caused it by mentioning that the camera "adds ten pounds."
- Drop Dead Gorgeous: Invoked. When Dante and Randall get to Julie's coffin they see she's only wearing a black bikini top on her upper half, and assume she probably requested it. Hilarity Ensues when they drop their keys in her lap.
- Epic Fail: Dante tosses Randal the keys when the latter gets bored and asks if he can wait in the car and listen to the radio. By sheer coincidence, the keys ricochet off of Randal's bad catch and fall down Julie's skirt. Lampshaded by Randal, who says he couldn't do that again if he tried.
- Drop Dead Gorgeous: Invoked. When they get to her casket, Dante and Randal remark that Julie is laid out in a tube top (or a belly blouse, as Randal calls it), presumably at her request. Hilarity Ensues when they drop their keys down her lap.
- Due to the Dead: Unless you're Randal.
- The "Fun" in "Funeral"
- Not What It Looks Like: Dante reaching into Julie's pants to get the Quick Stop/car keys (after Randal accidentally dropped them down Julie's skirt), only for Mr. Dwyer to yank Randal (who was shielding the view of Julie's body) aside and catch him in the act.
- Oh, Crap!: Dante when the Dwyers see him fishing around for the keys in Julie's lap.
- Say My Name: Mrs. Dwyer when Julie's body falls out of the coffin after she pushes Randal into it.Mrs. Dwyer: AAAAHHHH! JULIE!
- Theme Tune Cameo: The beginning of the short is scored to a snatch of the theme from Clerks: The Animated Series.
- Thick-Line Animation: Animated in the style of Clerks: The Animated Series.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: If we're to take this scene in the context of the rest of the movie, Randal, who's otherwise difficult but not a complete asshole, seems particularly mean to Dante during this whole ordeal, especially when he introduces Dante to Julie's parents after Dante explicitly told him that they did not want to see each other.