Memories of that overzealous English teacher, who forced you to accept that every character, every scene and every action had a deep inner meaning have led to widespread fear on the part of readers and viewers everywhere that every tale secretly contains some other story being told in subtext. The end result of this is a state of mind that interprets every plot as an allegory for the rebuilding of one's soul, every setting as a manifestation of purgatory, and every protagonist as a stand-in for the Christ: Everyone Is Jesus In Purgatory!
Rampant paranoia results from this state; one cannot look at anything without being suspicious that this is some kind of allegory brainwashing you into learning An Aesop against your will. Is that box of Corntos one character is handing another a mere confection or is it a blessing from On High, manna sent from a merciful God? Or wait... it could be a Deal with the Devil; short-term pleasure resulting in permanent bodily ruination! What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic? Thus the Epileptic Trees are planted.
This Very Wiki isn't exempt from inflicting this kind of paranoia either, as all of us here know. Is that Late for School scene supposed to be a Shout-Out to a similar scene from that other show, where things go immediately wrong after? Is it a satire of such scenes to demonstrate how cheesy they would be in real life? Are the background elements Genius Bonuses or just plain Accidentally Correct Writing? Did they make the symbolism too obvious to distract from the real symbolism hiding in the same scene?
The concept of "the Death of the Author" has helped this state of affairs as it encourages everyone to insist that their pet theories are entirely valid (with or without justification), regardless of how many times the author of the text clearly states his or her intentions in writing the work, or, as in many cases, that the pet theory absolutely isn't the state of affairs at all. Death of the Author is effective because Word of God isn't always reliable; the author him/herself can decide the work means different (even contradictory) things and if there are multiple authors, it's perfectly possible for them to disagree on what the work means and so whoever came up with the concept of "Death of the Author" has a good point. This is what literary Modernism is about. Thus it is proven that the tyranny of God gives way to the freedom of man!
This often arises from the improper conflation of symbolism (which doesn't imply a one-to-one correspondence and doesn't need to have one and only one meaning that can be stated in a simple declarative sentence) and allegory (which implies a one-to-one correspondence and a stated specific meaning).
The Mind Screw series loves this state of mind. It cultivates it intentionally and takes advantage of it every chance it gets. John Lennon once stated that many artists just "stick things in" at random for this reason: "I bet Picasso sticks things in. I bet he's been laughing his balls off for the last 80 years."
Extreme cases of this can result in What Do You Mean Its Not Didactic
See Freud Was Right (for sexual/phallic, subconscious symbolism when it's referenced in-story), Getting Crap Past the Radar (for crowdsourced sexual/phallic, subconscious symbolism), What Do You Mean, It's Not Political? (for political symbolism), Rainbow Lens (for LGBT+ symbolism), and Wild Mass Guessing if you really want to blow your mind. Compare Messianic Archetype for characters with more obvious parallels to a Christ figure. Not to be confused with Everyone Is Satan in Hell, where something good is portrayed as bad, (relevant that it is not confused due to the popularity of "everyone is Dante in hell" as an alternate form of this) and Draco in Leather Pants when something bad is portrayed as good.
Please don't use this page for any kind of possible symbolism. That turns this page into less of a trope and more of a WMG guess for every possible work and situation. Keep the title in mind when adding examples.
- Some people see Lelouch Lamperouge of Code Geass as a Jesus figure with the way he sacrifices himself for world peace in the end.
- In Death Note, L is shown to be a Jesus figure, especially with the foot washing scene in the anime. Light, the Judas in this case, also has lots of (more ironic) imagery.
- FLCL has enough confusing symbolism to fall into this, but it also features an in-story example that doubles as Self-Deprecation for Gainax. In episode 2, Kamon is rambling about having a robot in their house, and Naota explains to Haruko that his father "once wrote a book on the deep mysteries of Eva."
- Many Fullmetal Alchemist fans believe that the religion of Ishval was based off modern Islam, due to the Ishvallans' dark skin and the Arabian Nights-esque setting they lived in. Hiromu Arakawa (the creator of the manga) has stated that she based it off of the Ainu, an ethnic group that were driven from Honshu and live on Hokkaido, where Arakawa was born. A similar theory is that Ishval was based off of Ishvara, a Hindu concept of monotheism.
- Haibane Renmei was made to induce this kind of thing. Though they take a lot of the fun out by making the 'purgatory' part so literal and obvious. That aside, Yoshitoshi ABe also doesn't seem to be much of a fan of the Word of God approach, encouraging viewers to come to their own conclusions about the specifics of the symbolism. Yoshitoshi ABe was also involved with Serial Experiments Lain and Texhnolyze. The person behind the story concepts was in fact the producer, Yasuyuki Ueda. The only one of the three where ABe contributed more than character designs was his pet project, Haibane Renmei. Ueda and ABe later joked about this, saying that Niea_7 and Haibane Renmei proved that ABe was the earnest and hardworking one.
- Higurashi: When They Cry: Furude Hanyu? Jesus in Purgatory. Or, rather, Jesus in samsara. What happens if God needs forgiveness too? Is a partly-human, self-sacrificial deity really that much better than the blood-thirsty gods of old, or does that just create new problems? What if no one even realizes there's been a change?
- Neon Genesis Evangelion. Angels fight humans and create cross-shaped explosions. There's talk of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the NERV logo is the name covered in part by a fig leaf with the creed "God's in his heaven. All is right with the world." What does it mean? Who knows. Anno has made some statements on what it all means: absolutely nothing. The Christian imagery was put in solely to give the show an edge over other mecha anime.
- One Piece has spawned a good example of this trope:
Franky was born a carpenter, the 'son of a pirate', we never actually see his father, who is a nonentity in his life. He builds ships to destroy sea monsters, representing mankind's sins in their desire for progress. These ships also represent those created to serve him, i.e. the apostles. Naturally, a strong authority: Marines vs. Romans, causes betrayal among the apostles, and Tom dies, who represents Franky's human aspects. Afterward, Franky dies through martyrdom (struck by a train is similar to crucifixion if you think about it) and disappears for a length of time, after which he rises from the dead better then ever.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica due to the Faustian overtones. Let's see... self-sacrificial All-Loving Hero who disappears to save humanity from despair, a girl who makes a Deal with the Devil in order to save her best friend from damnation, a Weasel Mascot and Star Fish Alien in disguise who regularly promises a wish in exchange for their souls and eventual damnation, also coupled by the fact that the finale showed on Good Friday, of all days. note
- Played for deconstruction and perhaps Take That, Audience! in Re:CREATORS, where Alicetheria first hears from the protagonist a motivational speech about the high meaning of pop culture works, and then from a conversation with the creator of the manga she came from (and accordingly, by her own creator) understands that he did not put any aesop into his work and this is pure speculation of the readers. We also get to see a negative take on this trope: since she lives in that crapsack everyone's speculating on, learning that what is essentially her god made it that way for no real reason made her want to kill him.
- Rozen Maiden. Rozen is the immortal creator of the Rozen Maidens, bestowing upon them Rosa Mysticas (souls). His face is never shown, and he is consistently bathed in white light when he is. (In other words, they couldn't make it any more obvious that he is God-like if they tried.) He disappears as soon as he makes the seven maidens, telling his creations that they have to kill each other until one remains to become the perfect girl-Alice.
- Tenchi Muyo!: Anybody who was part of the (in)famous TenchiFF mailing list at the proper time will remember one Mr. Grey, who argued that Tenchi Muyo was all an allegory for an obscure form of Zen Taoism. According to Grey, Ryoko and Ayeka were each half a universe, Ryoko represented the Altruist, and Tenchi represented the goat.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann:
- Kamina Died For Your Sins. He is inspiration to his small group of followers but not accepted in his hometown; He dies via Heroic Sacrifice and then comes back from the dead with new abilities and saves his followers when they attack a rebellious and demon faction.
- Simon is thought to be an expy for Simon-Peter because of the similar name, he was one of the original followers, Peter is Greek for 'rock' and Simon is 'the digger' and finally he is the one who took over Kamina's role as The Leader after the latter's death.
- Just try to even see the "True Art" tropes.
- The 2001 Turner Prize was won by Martin Creed. His exhibit consisted of an empty room with a light turning on and off. When asked to explain his creation he stated that it was an empty room with a light turning on and off. He seemed bemused by any suggestions that it symbolized anything deeper, yet that didn't stop people from theorizing. For instance, "Why of course it represents Biblical Creation! It's obviously 'Let there be light!'"
- George Carlin abhorred this trope. Quoth Carlin: "I leave symbols for the symbolminded."
- Superman is not really Superman. He's a stand-in for someone else.
- He's Jesus. For instance, consider this quote from Superman: The Movie: "They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you... my only son". Also, Clark reveals he is 33 years old in Man of Steel.
- He's Moses: sent adrift to live with foreigners. Given that his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were both Jewish, this might not be too far off. (For what it's worth, Siegel and Shuster said he was inspired by Samson, among other sources.)
- In the future of Legion of Super-Heroes where Superman is the inspiration for the heroes of the day, it's even more so. The animated series even has him end up getting a crown of Kryptonite from his own personal Judas.
- All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison double and triples down on the previously mentioned Jesus and Moses interpretations of the character whilst throwing in new ones: notably, he defeats both Samson and Atlas in an arm-wrestling contest and must complete a series of episodic tasks over the course of the narrative, putting him in the same league as Hercules, the greatest hero of the Greek pantheon. Morrison also reiterates both within and outside of the text Superman's relationship with the Earth's yellow sun from which he draws his power, connecting him explicitly with sun-gods like the Egyptian Ra and Greek Apollo: the narrative is kickstarted by him receiving a major boost to his powers as well as several new ones which will eventually prove fatal by flying too close to the sun (possibly in a nod to Icarus), at one point travels to an underworld dimension (populated by Bizarros) and later has to restart the dying sun using the excess solar energy in his cells, seemingly sacrificing himself to save Earth from the same fate as Krypton, only for the ending to hint of his survival and possible resurrection.
- Parodied in MAD`s parody of Watchmen, where Big Figure and his goons attempt to work out what's going to happen next by analyzing the comic's 'direct, concomitant parallelisms' as pertaining to an owl mask on a previous page. They come up with lots of deep, meaningful suggestions, but are cut off by Nite Owl's Owlship crashing through the wall◊.
- Somebody came up with the idea that the Fantastic Four represent the four elements (Thing is Earth, Invisible Woman is Air, Human Torch is Fire (duh), and Mr. Fantastic is Water). This sounds like something that was developed retroactively. Stan Lee had no problem being labeled a genius, so he never discouraged this. This is lampshaded in the "Ultimate" version. The specific reasons why are in their entry in Four-Element Ensemble. When John Byrne took over the title in the 80s, one of his first issues features the Four fighting four elementals, who were ordered not to face their counterparts, thus making the mapping explicit. Neil Gaiman later took advantage of the scheme for his Marvel 1602 version of the Fantastic Four.
- In Peanuts, a common theory is that Linus' belief in the Great Pumpkin is a way of making fun of Christian evangelism, because there's no evidence for the Great Pumpkin's existence, and Linus tries to convince people he's real. The fact that Linus often quotes from the Bible adds more fuel, as does the strip where Linus travels from door to door asking people if they've heard of the Great Pumpkin, in the manner of a Jehovah's Witness; when Peppermint Patty decided to believe in the Great Pumpkin (she needed a new baseball glove) Marcie called Linus and told him that he had "a disciple". This has been officially Jossed, with Charles Schulz claiming that the only inspiration for the Great Pumpkin was that he thought it would be funny if a character believed in a Santa Claus-like figure for Halloween. A darkly existential take on Linus and the Great Pumpkin can be found here.
- A Garfield Halloween storyline in 1989 depicted Garfield waking up and finding everyone and everything he knew to be gone and broken down. The storyline ended with Garfield embracing denial and suddenly Jon and Odie are back in front of him. A fan theory began on the Internet suggesting that every strip since that point has been Garfield slowly starving to death in his delusions or already dead. (Of course, if the former's the case, it's taking him a good goddamn long time to die.) Davis was made aware of those theories in 2006 and is reported to have laughed about them. In any case, if you read the postscript of the last strip in this series, it's pretty clear that the nightmare about Garfield being alone forever was just that - a nightmare, a product of his imagination. And his only escape was to embrace the hope that he would wake up, and thus shift his mental state back to normal, in a combination of Your Mind Makes It Real and Clap Your Hands If You Believe.
- Not so much Jesus, but it's generally accepted amongst its (many) detractors that the entire population of Funky Winkerbean (and by extension, Crankshaft) is in Purgatory (Limbo is also accepted) and merely awaiting inevitable death.
- In an in-universe example, in Equestria: A History Revealed, the Lemony Narrator considers everything to be a symbol, such as religious allegory. Even certain word choice from ancient sources. She spent three paragraphs analyzing the meaning behind the inclusion of the word hellfire before concluding that it meant an evil fire.
- In the Jem fic Once Upon a Time was a Backbeat, Rapture's parents are conservative ministers. They think that rock-and-roll is satanic and see either religious or political messages in various bands, including their own daughter's band.
- The more popular theories behind Toy Story 3 are that the film explores the Living Toys version of damn near every kind of afterlife imaginable. Heaven, Fire and Brimstone Hell, Purgatory, Limbo, The Nothing After Death, Reincarnation, Warrior Heaven, Ironic Hell... it's like they didn't want to leave anyone out.
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: one theory speculates that Snow White stayed dead and her soul was taken to Heaven.
- Pinocchio is commonly interpreted in a Christian light, with Pleasure Island representing the corrupting power of sin, and Pinocchio becoming a real boy representing him being "saved".
- The Land Before Time has one particularly horrifying interpretation of the film: The earthquake near the beginning was a result of the CretaceousTertiary extinction event, AKA the extinction of the dinosaurs. Meaning everyone was Dead All Along. The film is their journey through purgatory towards heaven, represented by the Great Valley. The dinosaur that comforts Littlefoot directly after his mother's death is an angel trying to get him to overcome his anger over his mother's death, for which he blames both her and (secretly) himself. The lava field is where Cera overcomes her sin of excessive pride, and where the rest of the group learns that there are no "shortcuts" to heaven, and that they must go on the path set for them, and have faith in it, or they'll never get there. The Sharptooth is representative of the kids' fear of their own mortality, and by killing him, they have finally let go of all of their earthly attachments, aside from Littlefoot, who still has guilt for the death of his mother. When he finally accepts her death, he finds the Great Valley, along with everyone else, where the rest of their families are waiting for them in the afterlife.
- The Brave Little Toaster: Think about it. The main characters are journeying to the "City of Light" to see "The Master".
- The light-hearted Who Framed Roger Rabbit makes a surprising amount of sense as an allegory for racism, with toons standing in for black people (as argued by for instance Cracked). It's set in 1940s Los Angeles with toons being treated as second-class citizens mostly living in their own segregated part of town, whose occupations consist of entertaining white folks, Eddie Valiant as a Tragic Bigot against toons but somewhat confused by his attraction to Jessica (due to attitudes against miscegenation), Judge Doom as an Uncle Tom character, and the whole Evil Plan of the Boomerang Bigot villain is basically a gentrification scheme.
- This article on Frozen (2013) details the parallels between Jesus and princess Anna.
- What makes David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986) so relevant even today. Word of God is Cronenberg intended Seth Brundle's Slow Transformation to be an allegory for the aging process - Seth loses his good looks, his hair, his teeth and eventually his mental faculties as he slowly becomes a diseased mutant. However there have been many other interpretations that Cronenberg has not denied:
- 1000 Misspent Hours makes a solid case for the film being an allegory for AIDS/HIV infection, which was a defining hot social topic in The '80s.
- Cronenberg, in the DVD commentary, discusses the transformation being seen as a metaphor for substance abuse, particularly cocaine, another hot button issue in the 1980's. Seth initially only sees the positives about his changes (enhanced virility and strength, not needing to sleep) and refuses to listen to his girlfriend's concerns about his increasingly unstable personality and deteriorating appearance.
- In The New '10s, which saw the rise of the #MeToo movement and increased social awareness of "toxic masculinity" and harassment of women, commentators have stepped forward and suggested that Seth's transformation is an allegory for just that. Seth is at first gentle, shy and respectful to Veronica - clearly a better match for her than her ex-boyfriend Stathis, a man who stalks her and abuses his position as her boss to get close to her and try to rekindle the relationship. After Seth takes on the fly genes, he becomes hairy and virile, aggressive during sex and increasingly emotionally unstable and violent towards her.
- Other commentators have made another, more darkly comical comparison. As Seth starts to develop bad skin, bad hair, bad body odour, an exponentially bigger appetite, increased strength and delusions of grandeur and begins to skulk around in a leather jacket, it's not hard to see his transformation as a spoof of male puberty where he is becoming an oversized teenager.
- Others have noted the relationship between Veronica and Seth as the latter's health and eventually sanity gradually declines is a little too much like a spouse, powerless to do anything but watch as a loved one slowly succumbs to Alzheimer's or dementia.
- Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Given its open-endedness (especially compared with the Stephen King novel it's based on), this film is a Rorschach test for most commentators. There could be religious allegory or it could be about the Cold War, the Holocaust, the genocide of Native Americans, a pontification on mankind's predilection for violence through the ages, or a commentary on the breakdown of the family, the crisis of masculinity, the state of modern America and its ideologies, sexism, racism, or the dominance of big business. A documentary has been made about different interpretations of the film, called Room 237.
- Literature-to-film example: during pre-production for the 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Marilyn Manson expressed interest in playing the role of Willy Wonka, and outlined his theory that Wonka was Satan, tempting and leading the damned souls (the children) into Hell.
- Compare Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Dante's Inferno.
- David Lynch encourages people to come up with their own theories on Eraserhead. The Lady in the Radiator is frequently interpreted as Death, Henry is the everyman, and the Man in the Planet is either Satan or God but nobody can agree what the Baby is.
- Donnie Darko is never interpreted the same way by any two people, with interpretations going all over the allegorical scale. Which is hilarious because Writer/Director Richard Kelly has stated that he didn't create the movie with any particular allegories or "depth" intended, and that (to him) it's just a science fiction movie, plain and simple. Naturally, the creators specifically telling people they're wrong has never stopped fandom before. This has lead to an interesting relation between the theatrical cut and the director's cut: the theatrical cut is open to interpretation, the director's cut is the director's interpretation.
- Pulp Fiction possesses several plot points that are subject to this; one revolves around the mysterious glowing contents of Marcellus Wallace's briefcase that are never explained (with one popular theory being that it is Wallace's soul, which he bought back from Mr. S.) and another being the reason for a band-aid that is prominently displayed on Wallace's bald head as it is filmed from the back. The first is merely a plot MacGuffin that Tarantino never bothered to explain; the second is merely a result of actor Ving Rhames (who played Wallace) cutting the back of his head whilst shaving it and requiring a band-aid to stop the bleeding. Let's face it: it's cooler if you give it cosmic overtones. Tarantino's official response about the briefcase was a fairly lackluster "whatever the audience wants it to be." For the record, it was originally supposed to be the diamonds from Reservoir Dogs, but Tarantino decided to leave it deliberately ambiguous for the sake of this type of discussion. Tarantino once stated in an interview that he saw it as an allegory to the Arthurian Legend, with Wallace as King Arthur, Vince as Lancelot, Jules as Galahad, Butch as Mordred, The Wolf as Merlin, and the briefcase containing the Holy Grail.
- The final scene of (fittingly enough) Jesus Christ Superstar, the film, shows a shepherd walking through the desert. Some thought it was supposed to symbolize Jesus's resurrection, which was not itself featured with the movie (and the play it was based on). However, it was not one of the actors but a real shepherd, who just happened to walk by when the crew was filming, and they decided to leave him in. This could mean they had some plot-based reason for leaving him in or didn't want to bother editing him out.
- Roy Batty in Blade Runner is rather Christlike, in that he saves Deckard in the end. If so, he's a very Gnostic Christ, with Tyrell as a fallible and imperfect God. It needs to be pointed out that Deckard is saved from death by Roy Batty's bloody, nail-pierced hand. After Deckard is safe from danger, Batty "gives up his spirit" by letting go of the white dove he's been clutching. Say what you will about professors over-analyzing for symbolism, but this film's Jesus Christ posing is obvious and intentional, so consider also Messianic Archetype.
- Signs' initially rage-inducing ending is improved by this sort of interpretation. Consider for a moment that water per se is never explicitly stated to be the invaders' Achilles' Heel - a television newscast on the subject only refers to something along the lines of "an esoteric method discovered in the Middle East," the birthplace of the major Abrahamic religions. Moreover, the only water that is shown to harm the invaders has been handled by a priest, and is only effective after he begins to resolve his crisis of faith. That would tend to suggest that the "aliens" in question are, in fact, demons (which makes the whole "creeping around in the shadows and screwing with people instead of death-raying the entire planet" thing a lot more reasonable), and are subdued by holy water and (presumably) similar religious articles. The considerable volumes of work in which folklorists draw numerous parallels between the superstitions of antiquity and the modern UFO phenomenon helps this interpretation. Intentional or not, it makes the movie seem less stupid. Now if only holy water worked that way......
- Bill Murray's Groundhog Day stands as Hollywood's sole Buddhist message movie. As Phil (short for 'philosopher', obviously, a common name for the Buddha), Murray eventually realizes what takes many lifetimes to understand; namely, that every cycle of birth-death-rebirth (every 'day') is always the same, over and over, depressing, painful, and bound by karma (i.e.- how you've treated others in the past), until you awaken and make a conscious choice to change that destiny. It's interesting that Phil takes the Tantric path, initially using the opportunity of being 'reborn' every morning to simply fulfill all desires, and therefore, to ultimately purge himself of them. Still, over who knows how many 'days' — how many lifetimes of days — he eventually comes to see the connectedness of all things, the sacredness of all life, and the joy to be found in knowledge, wisdom, and simply making a difference in the lives of others. By his own effort, and even against his initial nature, over many lifetimes he achieves Enlightenment, and is able to move on. Plus, that scene where he lets the groundhog drive the truck is freakin hilarious.
- An argument has been made that the Twilight series was Meyer subconsciously writing a Mormon treatise (short version: Edward is Joseph Smith, vampires are Mormons, werewolves are Lamanites, and all women are good for is having babies. Long version here). That would make this series the Themepark Version of Mormonism.
- Literally true in the case of the western Purgatory, in that the title town contains a number of wild west legends, all seeking redemption.
- Fans of the movie version of Sin City often wondered if the three protagonists were one and the same. Marv was the real character with John Hartigan as his Author Avatar made up by his own delusions while in a near-death experience. Dwight is Marv "with a new face" after faking his death. A lot of this came about because much of Dwight's backstory was alluded to but not explained (his story was essentially a sequel to his Origin Story from the comics). Comic fans explained that these were, indeed three separate characters that were featured in different stories published years apart and in a different order (in fact, two of them actually teamed up in one of the stories the movie didn't cover).
- TRON: Legacy
- It might as well be called Gnosticism: the Movie. Finding something that isn't capable of being read as symbolic of gnostic philosophy!
- It's the resurrection of Jesus Christ with Sam Flynn as Jesus and Kevin Flynn as God.
- Will Smith's After Earth has been interpreted as being about the Church of Happyology.
- Kontroll is set in the Budapest Metro (the underground railway). In the final scene, Szofi (previously seen wearing a bear suit) is wearing a dress in Virgin Mary blue, with wings on the back, and she accompanies protagonist Bulcsu up the escalator which has blue daylight streaming down from above. This might change the viewer's interpretation of the rest of the film.
- Tim Burton's Beetlejuice (1988) can be interpreted as a conflict between Heaven and Hell, although the metaphors are heavily cloaked. The name "Betelgeuse" - at least as pronounced in the movie - sounds a lot like "Beelzebub", the ancient mocking Hebrew name for the Devil (literally meaning "Lord of the Flies", and Betelgeuse does indeed have a connection to insects). Also like Lucifer, Betelgeuse is named after a star. But what clinches the argument is Juno telling the Maitlands that Betelgeuse was once her assistant, but went off on his own because he thought he could be a better "bio-exorcist" - a story that has very interesting parallels to Paradise Lost. (By the way, this explains why Betelgeuse loves watching The Exorcist so much; it's about him!) And yes, this would mean that Juno is supposed to be God (and, in fact, she is named after the chief goddess in Roman mythology). While this doesn't exactly square with the implication that Juno was a suicidal chain-smoker who was forced to become a civil servant in the afterlife as punishment, it's entirely possible that she is merely appearing to her fellow case-workers in A Form You Are Comfortable With. Also, why do you think the whorehouse is called "Dante's Inferno Room"?
- Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind can be interpreted as a metaphor for a spiritual awakening and journey: An ordinary man (Roy Neary) has an experience with a higher power (encounters UFOs one night on the highway) that completely changes his life (becomes obsessed with UFOs to the detriment of his family and social life) and is subsequently compelled by this higher power (through a mentally implanted image) to make a pilgrimage to a predetermined location (travels to Devil's Tower, Wyoming) where he communes with the higher power (takes part in First Contact with the aliens) and is ascended into the heavens (departs with the aliens after being chosen to join them). Roy getting sunburned by the UFOs during his initial encounter marks his symbolic baptism from normal everyman to alien contactee.
- Dogma: This claim is put forth by Loki, the exiled Angel of Death, in his attempt to convince a nun that God does not exist. He wins and tells her to buy herself a nice dress and go find a man...or woman.
- Robin Williams believed that his movie, Jumanji represents childrens' fear of being abandoned by their parents.
- The Sandlot: Cracked posited that the entire movie can be read as a metaphor for the desegregation of baseball. The Sandlot boys are all multi-racial and scrappy while the Jerkass rich popular team is all well-off and white. The Beast represents the monster of prejudice, which gets torn down when they topple the fence and find the cache of lost baseballs, allowing them to play forever. Mr. Mertle is even built up as a scary old man who, perhaps not coincidentally, is played by a black actor and revealed to be friendly once the boys get to know him.
- Aleister Crowley once produced an exegesis of the hidden magical meaning contained in the Nursery Rhyme "Old Mother Hubbard".
- Nursery rhymes have been a fertile field for folklorists, especially with regard to the events in history that supposedly inspired them. If one reads The Annotated Mother Goose by W. S. and L. M. Baring-Gould, which makes mention of some of the more elaborate theories, one gets the impression that whenever a nursery rhyme mentions a "little man", some folklorist will rise up and state that this is clearly and unambiguously a reference to King Philip II of Spain.
- Brazilian writer and "jazz musician" Luis Fernando Verissimo once wrote a essay in which he claimed that the Walrus and the Carpenter from Alice in Wonderland were metaphors for Buddha and Jesus (one being fat, and the other, a carpenter), and the oysters they brainwashed represented the followers of both religions.
- From Wikipedia: "In The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner noted that when Lewis Carroll gave the manuscript for Through the Looking-Glass to illustrator John Tenniel, he gave him the choice of drawing a carpenter, a butterfly, or a baronet (since each word would fit the poem's meter). Tenniel chose the carpenter. Because of this, the carpenter's significance in the poem is probably not in his profession. Although the two characters of the poem were interpreted later as two political types, there is no indication of what Carroll may have intended; Gardner cautions the reader that there isn't too much intended symbolism in the Alice books; the books were made for the imagination of children, not the analysis of "mad people". (Others have claimed that they're clearly about logic, but the imagination of children part is certainly a nice side dish.)
Duchess: There's a moral in everything, if only you can find it.
- Listen to Carroll's Duchess from the first book:
- All seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia have been claimed to be An Aesop focusing on one of the Seven Deadly Sins. This just goes to show that this trope applies even when there's plenty of real, valid symbolism, allegory, and "supposition" to choose from. Later still, a book was published saying that each novel corresponds with one of the seven heavens of the medieval cosmos. C. S. Lewis has specified how the books compare with Christianity: "The Magician's Nephew tells the Creation and how evil entered Narnia, The Lion etc. — the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Prince Caspian — restoration of the true religion after a corruption, The Horse and His Boy — the calling and conversion of the heathen, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — the spiritual life (especially in Reepicheep), The Silver Chair — the continuing war against the powers of darkness, The Last Battle — the coming of Antichrist (the ape). The end of the world and the last judgement." (Source)
- Discworld: Terry Pratchett had a horror of his works being treated as Literature. He explicitly erased all his draft versions of the novels and any associated notes, to prevent any hopeful would-be PhD in English literature exhuming them and turning them into a doctoral thesis, or turning him into a course module in school or university. For this reason, all the hard drives from his computers were destroyed completely after his death (he had a steamroller run over them).
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
- Despite Douglas Adams explicitly saying that the number 42 was randomly chosen with no intended hidden meaning, Epileptic Trees involving everything from base thirteen to Tibetan monks continue to live on.
- Stephen Fry, on the other hand, has claimed that Douglas Adams once told him in confidence "exactly why 42." Apparently, "The answer is fascinating, extraordinary and, when you think hard about it, completely obvious." However, he has vowed to take the secret with him to the grave.
- In-universe example: When Vogon Jeltz asks Arthur and Ford what they thought of his poetry, they attempt to save their own necks by going into excruciatingly sycophantic analytical detail. At one point they comment that the poem serves to "counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor". Jeltz doesn't buy it, and sentences them to being tossed out the airlock, grumbling: "'...counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor.'...Death's too good for them." (For the record, Jeltz's authorial intent was, in his own words, "to throw my mean, callous, heartless exterior into sharp relief!")
- Harry Potter
- John Granger teaches a class, and wrote two whole books, on how the series can be seen as a fully Christian work filled to the brim with symbolism culled from classic authors the likes of which Tolkien and Lewis were reading in their heyday. Whether he is right or wrong, it could be too much of a coincidence that all the good guys are on the team with the lion mascot and all the bad guys are on the team with the serpent mascot (which commonly represents Satan). There's also this, which "argues" that Harry is The Anti-Christ.
- Harry Potter for Seekers is an entire website devoted to the alchemical and spiritual symbolism in Harry Potter, as if it's a genuine discipline of mysticism. One page evaluates the symbolism of the characters. Take the lead protagonist, for example:
"Harry...symbolizes the new soul force in the seeker who wants to go the Path of Alchemical Transformation resulting in total liberation. Harry...will break all seven chains tying the seeker to the universe of time and space, and he will defeat the root-force of the fallen universe that dwells within the seeker.""Minerva symbolises the divine force that conducts the process of transfiguring the mortal imperfect human being into a perfect child of God."
- Rowling addressed this in a 2007 interview with Time magazine. She said that she used Christian themes because it was what she was familiar with, but that the themes could apply to any religion. "I did not set out to convert anyone to Christianity. I wasn't trying to do what C. S. Lewis did."
- In Lord of the Flies, is Simon Jesus? Is the lack of girls on the island proof that boys are evil and therefore Eve is not at fault? One thing is for sure: the name of the demon Beelzebub (בעל זבוב or Baʿal Zəbûb in Hebrew) from The Bible literally means "Lord of the Flies". note
- Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea is Jesus, though Hemingway stated that the book was just about fishing and old age, nothing else. It's also noted that, when the eponymous character is carrying his mast and sail back to his home, he falls five times, just like when Jesus when he was carrying the Cross. Too bad the Stations of the Cross state that Jesus fell three times, not five.
- Unsurprisingly, Neal Stephenson hangs a lampshade on this trope by having several of his characters explicitly identify themselves with figures from ancient and classical mythology (e.g. Hiro and Juanita in Snow Crash are Enki and Inana fron Sumerian mythology, and Danial and Eliza in The Baroque Cycle are Pluto and Hermes from Greco-Roman mythology).
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz works beautifully as a metaphor of the Search For Enlightenment. The heroine wants to Get Home (to return to her innocent past), her companions are hoping to find Wisdom, Love, or Power: the Teacher turns out to be a fraud, and the final moral is - what else? - she had the way to get her wish with her all along.
- This is not to mention the several scholars who have been theorizing that the book has political undertones.
- Henry Littlefield, seemingly the first of the bunch, and probably the most well-known, believed that the books argue in favor of bimetallism, a form of economic policy tat sought to create a fixed exchange ratio betwene the U.S. dollar, gold, and silver. Apparently, in his interpretation, the Wicked Witches of the East and West and clearly allegories to wealthy investors from the east coast and those who became wealthy as a consequence of the Gold Rush, respectively, as both of those groups opposed the adoption of silver and preferred to maintain the gold standard (as it would've severley devalued the U.S. dollar). The Good Witches of North and South represent the interests of farmers, who supported the change to bimetallism as to lessen their debt. The Yellow Brick Road in here represents the Gold Standard, which causes the Scarecrow (in here an allegory to farmers) to trip several times, but Dorothy can walk through it with the Silver Slippers.
- Ranjit S. Dighe implies that the Winged Monkeys might be an allegory to Native Americans in their enslavement to the Wicked Witch of the West.
- This is not to mention the several scholars who have been theorizing that the book has political undertones.
- If you believe the critic R.W. Stallman, Jim Conklin in The Red Badge of Courage is Jesus Christ and redeems Henry. Stephen Crane lied and said it was just a "psychological portrayal of fear."
- John Cotton in Bless the Beasts & Children is Jesus. After all, he's killed by a Judas truck. Yes, this is taught in schools.
- John Steinbeck himself said that The Grapes of Wrath had five distinct "layers," and that he didn't expect everyone to understand or even notice all of them.
- J. R. R. Tolkien.
- You can't write a successful good-versus-evil story in the twentieth century without every other English High School teacher hijacking it for a lesson on metaphors. He stated in the introduction of the first volume that no, it's not an allegory of any kind (and he disliked straightforward allegories anyway), and doubly no, not one on fascism, The Bomb or what have you. Doesn't stop some teachers who cite The Inklings, the informal group of literary scholars of which he was a member, and included people like Charles Williams (notorious for allegory) and C.S. Lewis (notorious Christian convert).
- Some people also seem to think that the West into which Frodo & Co eventually go is only allegorical. While it can be construed as symbolic (see the quote below), it's also very much a physical place (as explained in the Appendices and The Silmarillion). Yes, it's a place. Where the angels and High Elves live, and the dead rest in the ever-expanding Halls of Mandos.
"To Bilbo and Frodo the special grace is granted to go with the Elves they loved an Arthurian ending, in which it is, of course, not made explicit whether this is an 'allegory' of death, or a mode of healing and restoration leading to a return." J.R.R Tolkien, Morgoth's Ring, pp 365-6
- Tolkien drew a distinction between "allegory" and "applicable." The fact that a story has parallels with a real life event doesn't mean the parallels can't be legitimately drawn, but it doesn't justify "explaining" the story by the parallels. Nor does it mean the author intended the parallels.
- Mark Twain attempted to defy this in the opening of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Bonus points for meta-humor, as many readers develop strange theories concerning the identity of "G.G., Chief of Ordnance." Word of God made that one pretty clear: Gatling Gun.
"PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.-BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR, Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance."
- In VALIS by Philip K. Dick, many things are Jesus. Its successor, The Divine Invasion, outright says that Everyone Is Jesus In Purgatory.
- The Confidence-Man is one of Herman Melville's strangest works, and not only a satire but it has his views on religion, morality, and the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism. The confidence-man character in himself is interpreted as either God or Satan, depending on how much you think about the name of the coal company he claims to work for. The symbolism adds on even more Mind Screw.
- François Rabelais's Gargantua has a preface that mocks the reader who looks for any hidden meaning, and then encourages them to dig deeper to find the wisdom in the book. The "hidden wisdom" is probably to sit back and enjoy the damn book.
- The Divine Comedy has everyone as Jesus in Purgatory, and one third of it takes place in Purgatory. The other two thirds are Hell and Heaven.
- Joseph Heller's expy in his semi-autobiographical novel argues that people only see a connection between Ulysses and The Odyssey because James Joyce personally explained it to everyone who wasn't running away while covering their ears.
- Nostradamus's Prophecies was made to invoke this trope. Its content is so random and meaningless that commentators can read whatever they want in it. Biblical End of Days, Freemason Conspiracy (without and without satanism or connection to Knight Templars) whatever.
- The Power of Five: Matt's story is suspiciously similar to the life of Jesus. Born with special powers according to some higher plan, destined to save the world from The Legions of Hell and their very Satan-like leader, leads a small group of followers of whom the closest to him is named Pedro ('Peter' in Spanish), accepts his destiny despite wishing there was another way, betrayed by one of his companions, flogged and beaten and hung up to be jeered at, died, came back and ascended to Heaven right in front of his friends.
- An in-universe discussion occurs in Stephen King's It, which may or may not have been a bit of Author Tract, or may or may not have been a narrative convenience. Early parts of the novel detail when Bill Denbrough attends a writing course in college, he gets an instructor who was, to be frank, tediously academic in his pursuit of art. The instructor was a firm believer that everything involving fiction should have an underlying allegory, and he was appreciative of said allegory if it was reflective of his own sociopolitical views. Bill keeps struggling to maintain his grades because he's writing stories designed to stand on their own narrative, something the instructor struggles t appreciate. After clashing and being talked down to one too many times, Bill strikes out and submits one of his stories to a short fiction magazine, and turns into a hit. After showing this evidence to the instructor, the professors bruised pride leads to a nasty falling out, and Bill drops out to become a successful horror author.
- Stephen King promotes taking advantage of this in your own works in On Writing; his message there is, don't shoehorn in symbolism, instead look at your draft and polish up what naturally shows up as a recurring theme to make it really stand out. He uses the recurring motif of blood in Carrie as an example. In short: If you see not-actually-symbolism showing up prominently, encourage it to grow and make it actual symbolism.
- Isaac Asimov's (very) short story, The Immortal Bard, features William Shakespeare being brought to modern times by means of a time machine. He expresses amazement at the amount of crap people have made up about his work in the intervening 400 years; the chap who built the time machine enrolls him in a modern Shakespeare class, and he fails.
- Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Green-Sky Trilogy has Raamo, the young Ol-zhaan priest who while denying that he is holy, becomes increasingly otherworldly throughout the books, until the inevitable happens and he plunges into the abyss with the weapon he brought there to destroy. The two races of Green-sky unite and make peace in his name. Readers complained, and an amazing video game sequel ensued.
- A Song of Ice and Fire has numerous prophecies, strange dreams, vivid imagery, and a fully-stocked Chekhov's Armoury. Naturally, parts of the fanbase have tried to derive meaning from nearly every word, from Animal Motifs and Messianic Archetypes to off-hand comments and what the characters eat for dinner. They're actually quite creative with what they come up with, such as the infamous "Corn Code", when fans speculated that the repetition of certain words, especially the squawking of Joer Morment's pet raven, was actually a cryptogram that they could use to predict events in the series.
- This is satirized by Frederick Crews in The Pooh Perplex, a collection of mock-literary essays proposing to explain the symbolism of Winnie-the-Pooh according to various literary critical theories such as Marxist, Freudian, Christian, Leavisite and Fiedlerian approaches. When those schools of thought gradually fell out of favor, Crews rejoined with a sequel, Postmodern Pooh, which analyzed Pooh according to modern theories including deconstruction, feminism, queer theory, and recovered memory therapy— complete with citations to real academics who had actually made some of the same Epileptic Trees assertions he presents satirically!
- In Rebecca Levene's deconstructive fantasy novel Smilers Fair, one of the characters is a Moses in the Bullrushes type goatherd named Krish who is either a Messianic Archetype or The Anti-Christ. In an interview on the Midnight in Karachi Podcast, she was asked whether the name was inspired by Krishna, and answered that she had initially spelled his name Chrish- and while that spelling sounded more like Christ, that symbolism as well as the Krishna one were completely unintended.
- The first book of The Company Novels is called In the Garden of Iden, and while the book does involve a garden which is the setting of doomed romance and theological discussions, the obvious Eden symbolism is unintended as the title was suggested by Baker's editor as a pun on the Iden family estate on which the novel is set. In fact, although the Iden characters are fictional, the surname is a real one. Sir Walter Iden tells a story about an ancestor capturing the rebel Jack Cade, and although Sir Walter never existed, Cade was indeed captured by a guy named Alexander Iden.
- This trope gets discussed in Stephen King's book Liseys Story. Lisey, the widow of famed novelist Scott Landon, refers to these kind of people as "Deep Space Cowboys", and describes them as:
Lisey: Deep Space Cowboys have a lot to say. They want to grab Scott by the arm and tell him they understand the secret messages in his books; they understand that the books are really guides to God, Satan or possibly the Gnostic Gospels.
- Ursula K. Le Guin's famous "gerbil" rant was about this: "In many college English courses the words myth and symbol are given a tremendous charge of significance. You just ain't no good unless you can see a symbol hiding, like a scared gerbil, under every page. And in many creative writing courses the little beasts multiply, the place swarms with them. What does this Mean? What does that Symbolize? What is the Underlying Mythos? Kids come lurching out of such courses with a brain full of gerbils. And they sit down and write a lot of empty pomposity, under the impression that that's how Melville did it."
- British English Literature courses that are GCSE level and above rely on the analysis of a wide variety of texts to make up a significant portion of the course, whether that analysis is sensible or not. The texts can include plays, novels, magazine, articles and poetry — even if they clearly had no thought put in to them.
- Discussed in-universe in Skippy Dies. The boys read Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken", and Dennis offers his own theory for what it's about: Anal sex. He justifies this by claiming that poetry is never about what it seems like it's about.
- Terry Pratchett insisted all his computer files and notes be so thoroughly destroyed after his death that they could never be retrieved - for this very reason. He was no great friend of the literary establishment, insisted he did not write "literature" and considered one of his greatest fears was that every last unpublished word he wrote would be analysed and dissected into absurdity by hopeful PhD students of English literature.
- Played for Laughs in the book "Why We Watch: Killing the Gilligan Within", which attributes deep philosophical themes to various television shows that really aren't all that deep, such as Gomer Pyle and Scooby-Doo.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer had many examples of subtext and allegory, which led naturally to some overanalysis by the fans.
- One theory involves each season representing one of the seven steps on the path to Buddhist Nirvana (originally posted between seasons 6 and 7, with an amendment after the finale).
- Because Joss Whedon knows his audience he enforces this in "Restless": everything in the characters' dreams has a meaning. You can read something into absolutely everything... except for the man with the cheese. He was just meant to show that there is always something in a dream that doesn't make sense. This hasn't stopped some from trying to prove otherwise. There's nothing Joss loves more than Jossing fans.
- Ashes to Ashes (2008): the weird thing is that the truth turns out to be the trope title minus the Jesus part. Except that by the end Gene Hunt kind of is Jesus. According to the finale, yep, everyone was in a copper's purgatory, Gene was their (amnesiac) spiritual guide, and Nelson the bartender is something akin to St. Peter.
- Breaking Bad: It would be an understatement for fans of Breaking Bad and its prequel/spinoff Better Call Saul. Literally every aspect has been analysed by the fandom for some sort of meaning, from the RV, to the choices of the cars that characters drive, to everyone's fashion choices, to coffee mugs to the fact that Walt wears white briefs. One reddit user decided to take this Up to Eleven by trying to find tongue-in-cheek symbolism for every item in the restaurant scene◊ from "Confessions".
- The series is a series with much deep meaning and symbolism, but many fans take it too far. This is, after all, the fandom where the name for Epileptic Trees came from. There are even theories that include this exact trope title, which have already been discredited by the Word of God and the show itself, as the survivors escape alive into the outside world, plus characters come to the Island from what is clearly an existent world. Yet people still claim they are in Purgatory; for them, there's the omniscient character, the omniscient character's son (whom she sends to the island to die to save it), the baby born with a prophecy, the character who looks like Jesus, dies arms spread then gets resurrected; the character named Christian Shepherd, and the god who dies.
- "The End" reveals that everyone, after they die, will end up as Jesus in Purgatory. The "flash-sideways" timeline turned out to be a flash-forward to a "meeting place" of sorts, where the cast of the show was already dead and had to find each other and remember their past life on the island before they could move on to the next/afterlife.
- The episode of Cheers entitled "The Triangle" features an in-universe one centering around the Wile-Coyote as part of the patrons' larger debate.
- Doctor Who,
- In "Evolution of the Daleks", right before he dies, Dalek Sec says "My Daleks, understand this. If you choose death and destruction then death and destruction will also choose you" which sounds familiar. Oh, and he said it right before he was killed by the people he was trying to, in the words of the Doctor, "lead from the darkness."
- Eleven "saves the soul of a rich man" in "A Christmas Carol".
- Ten is supposed to be Madame de Pompadour's angel in "The Girl in the Fireplace".
- There are plenty of suggestions of a religious subtext in Russell T Davies' work, from the obvious The Second Coming to the Host in the Doctor Who story "Voyage of the Damned" to (some say) the Doctor almost turning into Jesus in "Last of the Time Lords". Not to mention the Resurrection Glove (and a guest appearance by Death) in Torchwood. (Whether most of this is supposed to mean anything, however, is a different question.)
- Parodied in the Supernatural episode "Hunter Heroici". Castiel watches a Road Runner cartoon and becomes convinced it is religious allegory.
- Gilligan's Island
- A theory that the cast represent the seven deadly sins: Mary Ann is envy, the Professor is pride, Ginger is lust, Mr. Howell is greed, Mrs. Howell is sloth, the Skipper is both gluttony and wrath (or Mrs. Howell is both sloth and gluttony—over indulging herself with her hundreds of outfits), and Gilligan himself is Satan. An alternate form of the theory assigns Gilligan gluttony (either because he constantly eats but never gets fat, or because all he does is take up space) and leaves the Skipper with just wrath.
- Gilligan is the Devil, and the island is Hell, with no escape possible. That's why he continuously sabotages escape attempts.
- Keep an eye out for wacky theories about Christian allegory in In the Night Garden.... Makka Pakka lives in a cave, and garages his scooter in another cave, rolling a round stone in front to close the entrance (like Christ's tomb). He also goes around washing everyone's faces (John the Baptist). Igglepiggle goes out in a boat (sermon from the boat/"fishers of men"). Upsy Daisy (Mary Magdalen). The Pinky-Ponk (merkabah). And so on. The point is that the creators of In the Night Garden are all old enough to have had compulsory religious education at school, and have all the Christian imagery floating about in their heads, waiting to slip out into a programme concept.
- In The Sopranos episodes "Join the Club" and "Mayham", Tony Soprano, while in a coma, dreams of himself as a salesman who loses his wallet and takes the identity of Kevin Finnerty. Numerous fan theories have suggested the dream was Purgatory, which Tony was visiting. Note that while David Chase has Jossed all theories of the significance of the "Kevin Finnerty" name, he has neither confirmed nor denied the Purgatory theory regarding the dream itself.
- Parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000. At the end of Bloodlust, the villain ends up nailed to one of his own trophy stands, causing Tom Servo to quip "Why this symbolism? Did Christ hunt people on deserted islands?"
- Of all the shows likely to avoid such theories, you might expect Seinfeld to be one of them. You'd be wrong. Interpretations of the final episode have claimed that the airplane on which the four leads were flying crashed, killing them all. Their trial was actually a stand-in for their judgment in the afterlife, and their prison sentence represents a very lengthy stay in Purgatory.
- Abed's idea for a viral video for Shirley's church was a film about a filmmaker who was making a film about Jesus who realized that he himself was Jesus was having a film made about him. Abed soon realized that it was absolutely terrible, and that his future career would be ruined if he published it in any form.
- In "Course Listing Unavailable", it's revealed Greendale was actually an insane asylum that the group all were kept at for 3 years. After initially being fooled, they realise that's ridiculous, and this trope is tried out on them; apparently the entire study group is in purgatory, being watched by the devil;
Jeff: Troy, stop letting him make you realize things.
- Parodied in an episode when Abed took a class on Who's the Boss? and the professor insisted on interpreting the sitcom this way. See here.
- John Zmirak once explained his tongue-in-cheek theory that The Addams Family represent "[A]n aristocratic, trad-Catholic homeschooling family trapped in a sterile Protestant suburb".
- Parodied in Spaced where Brian has to do an installation piece in a swanky art gallery. He paints three walls and a floor entirely red, leaves a telephone and a tape recording of said phone ringing on a chair in the middle of the piece. Frustrated that it still seems to be lacking something, Brian trips over, knocks over his ladder and promptly knocks himself out with the tin of green paint he had rested on top of the ladder and awakes several hours later to a hearty congratulations from the gallery's owner for the incredibly deep artwork he has displayed.
- A lot of people believed the first season of True Detective was a Cthulhu Mythos-esque Cosmic Horror Story thanks to a Shout-Out to The King in Yellow, the unusual way the murder victims were posed, incongruities between what the detective being interviewed said happened and what actually happened, and hallucinations the detective experienced. Fans would take any inconsistency and unexplained instance as evidence that something supernatural was going on instead of what was really going on: a self-serving Unreliable Narrator detective with a substance abuse problem was recounting a case poorly, right up until the last episode when nothing overtly otherworldly happened. It's why the second season, which did not have anything weird in it, was far less popular.
- The Beatles get this a lot, partly because many of their songs do have quite a bit of intentional deeper meaning:
- Any of the various outlandish interpretations of the lyrics of "Come Together", such as what "toe-jam football" is.
- "Helter Skelter" and the rest of the White Album, along with several other Beatles songs, are all a huge (and tragic) example of this. The song was written about nothing (or a playground slide, or maybe The Roman Empire), but Charles Manson built up this whole mythology around it about how it was prophecy and so on. Then he went around murdering people to fulfill the prophecy. Turns out it wasn't any of that at all...
- When John Lennon received a letter from a student about an English class at his former High School analyzing the lyrics of the band's songs, he was so amused that he set out to write the most confusing and absurd song he could come up with that still had a valid meaning to interpret. He titled the song I Am The Walrus.
- "Particle Man". Is it a pastiche of superhero comics, an allegory for the struggle between science and religion, or just a goofy little song by They Might Be Giants? The TMBG Wiki actually has an "interpretation" section for each of the band's songs.
- The genre of Progressive Rock is known for songs which are loaded with allegory, metaphor, obscure symbolism, and the Concept Album, in which all the songs on an album are all based on a specific theme, or which are all part of a larger story. For instance, the song "Supper's Ready" by Genesis was based on the Book of Revelation. Or their Concept Album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,; which is about... take your pick.
- The notion that "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written by English Catholics as a coded catechism lesson has become widespread, even appearing in reference books about Christmas. Too bad there isn't any evidence for it.
- Go to any Pet Shop Boys fan forum and ask who the title character of "Birthday Boy" is. The replies will either be Jesus, Matthew Shepard, or both.
- XTC's "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" has often been interpreted as an allegory about Jesus, John Lennon, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., etc. The music video particularly plays up Jesus and JFK comparisons.
- The song "Don't You Worry Child" by Swedish House Mafia have been interpreted by some Christian groups as being about man's relationship with God, and has even been covered by Christian group Anthem Lights, who also added a reference to Psalm 139.
My father said,
"Don't you worry, don't you worry, child
See, Heaven's got a plan for you
- R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People" being about the Tinanamen Square massacre is the fan theory that will not die, but Word of God has always been that it really is just a nonsense song that they did as Something Completely Different, and which they came to regret.
- There is a user on the Song Meanings website arguing that the song "So Far from the Clyde" by Mark Knopfler, which Word of God assures us is about ship scrapping, to quote, "isnt about any ship" ("She's a dead ship sailing" apparently does not sell it enough) but about Jesus. Probably because it begins with a reference to a last supper (on the ship) and a reference cannot be just a reference...
- The Bible itself is subject to this, even in a literal sense, as many Old Testament figures, such as Moses, show parallels with Jesus. Certain theologists believe that these were prophetic foreshadowings for the Messiah, while skeptics believe that the New Testament was intentionally written to match these older stories. Even the writers of the gospels have this happening, where some of them, through narrative use of As the Good Book Says... (although it's a different Good Book), claim that this event or that saying were to fulfil what had been said by the prophets beforehand. Some of them are significant stretches. Also, the New Testament writers' practice fits squarely into the tradition of Jewish midrash. For example, the Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus' baptism at which Jesus comes up from the water, the heavens are opened, a voice comes forth, and the spirit descends. This is clearly midrash on the creation story from Genesis 1 in which God's spirit hovers over water and God's voice summons the light. In so doing, Mark is making a theological point through narrative. In addition, common in the First Century CE was the use of typology as a way of understanding scripture (Isaac is seen as a type of Jesus, Elijah as a type of John the Baptist, etc.). In this way, the authors of the NT are not claiming literal prophecy/fulfillment as much as reminding the reader that what God has done before, God is doing again.
- Another favorite in the theme of Christianity is to make everything that's too obviously not an allegory of a Christian theme into a post-facto allegory for a Christian heresy, and therefore a subversion of Christianity. Since most heresies stemmed from actual discussions of mythology and interpretation of the scripture as literature (despite the usual implications, 'heresy' didn't necessarily imply some sort of feud, just the explanation the church decided not to go with) it's pretty trivial to tie anything to one movement or another. The gnostics get hit with this one especially hard, since their idea involved knowing god through what amounts to an emotional epiphany. Therefore, obviously, every work where a character experiences an emotion that shifts their point of view is necessarily a Gnostic allegory for some analysts.
- In religious scholarship, exegesis is when the reader/scholar analyzes the religious text as is, whereas eisegesis involves interpreting the text beyond, and even in spite of, what is stated or culturally or contextually implied. The latter, if taken too far, is considered an example of this trope.
- Most of the works of Shakespeare. Try asking your English teacher what Iago's motives are in Othello, and what Iago stands for. The obvious one is that he's Satan, which has a bit of weight to it. Another is that Iago is the author, trying to engineer a tragic play. Or maybe — just maybe — he's an intolerant redneck who has a problem working under a black man and a teetotaller, and suspects both of nailing his wife, like he says in the play. Or, he's in love with Othello.
- Waiting for Godot is either an allegory of the Cold War, a collection of Jungian archetypes or an examination of human existence and the role of God, depending on who you ask. Godot himself is often thought as being God, largely because of his name and the fact that both him and God are described within the play as having a white beard. Samuel Beckett himself was very insistent about the fact that Godot was not God and if he meant Godot to be God he would have called him God.
- The Good-Karma storyline of Infamous is a lot more interesting if you view Cole as an allegory for (who else?) Jesus Christ. He's a(n admittedly flawed) hero with powerful and unique abilities who helps those around him, despite the scorn he receives from them; but through his actions, he reverses that scorn into admiration. He was betrayed by a close friend for personal gain (Zeke, who was convinced by Kessler that he could get powers like Cole's if he gave him the Ray Sphere) who would later come to regret his decision, and in the second game, he would ultimately sacrifice himself to defeat a powerful conduit called the Beast, with just a hint of a resurrection (the question mark shaped lightning bolt in the final scene) note .
- A Good-Karma Delsin from Second Son is even called "The Second Coming of Cole".
- The game is utterly rife with symbolism, particularly symbols and language that make it clear that certain factions are meant to stand in for things we have in the real world, such as Christianity, science and, more obviously, nature worship. While these forces all have very clear-cut domains, in theory, the waters are so muddied that it is almost impossible to tell what the overall allegory is. The most you can really tell is that that the developers seemed to think that the early Christians persecuted the Pagans rather than vice-versa and that the world of Thief is apparently run by fanatics of various kinds who both create and solve all its problems.
- Within the games themselves, the Keepers are an old order of sages who are trying to decipher ancient and cryptic prophecies, but even they don't really have a good clue what they are meaning, to the point that their different interpretations are starting to turn them against each other.
- For an in-universe example of this, Fable I has the book "The Rotten Apple" seen as one Albion's premiere philosophical works. However, if the book is taken literally, it just gives good advice on fruit farming.
- Final Fantasy VII: This trope goes a long way to explain the continuing fascination with its convoluted plot and psychologically damaged characters. Maybe it was all the references to Nordic myth, Jewish Kabbalah, and Judeo-Christian Faux Symbolism, maybe it was main hero's troubled past and unresolved Love Triangle, the abrupt and ambiguous Gainax Ending, or maybe it was just the bishonen with huge swords... but they're still arguing about this one, and the new games aren't clearing much up. The inspiration for this trope title comes from here, after all.
- Chrono Trigger. Crono is Jesus, Marle is Mary Magdalene, and the entire game is simply rife with Biblical symbolism. It's true! This site says so! Then there's Lavos! Evil, fell from "heaven", has (in the english version) been manipulating humanity since it came to earth, causes the Apocalypse once it reveals itself, is powering the allegory to the Anti-Christ, spends all its time in the center of the Earth, the place where Hell is usually depicted. Come on! It's Satan! It's obviously Satan! Finally, we have the kingdom of Zeal; Overzealous people following what turns out to be the wrong deity? Yeah, that works. Plus, the fall of Zeal was heralded by their use of the Mammon Machine (itself connected to Lavos); Mammon often being depicted as the demon of greed.
- The World Ends with You is a Everyone Is Jesus In Purgatory game as a whole. Subliminal messages and religious symbols can be found everywhere if you look hard enough, and the roles of characters in the plot can be delved into something much deeper. Not to mention the fact that Joshua is the Jesus figure whose name is literally "Jesus" in another language...
- Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) is considered a metaphor for the Rapture with...
- Shadow as the First Coming of Christ - a virgin birth long ago, immortal, brought down from an untainted place to live among men, persecuted throughout his life while giving out wisdom beyond his years, and finally wrongly accused and made a scapegoat of for humans fouling up; he is betrayed by all he cares for and put into stasis for what might be forever, despite all he's done for us. He's held in stasis in the Crucifix position.
- Silver as the Second Coming of Christ, also a virgin birth (nobody knows his parents) he is once again coming to save us from our sins. He's completely innocent with powers beyond comprehension, coming from an unknown and rather horrible future and met with doubt. His close work with Shadow is also noted, and many people suspect Silver could be Shadow's son or grandson.
- Mephiles as the Anti-Christ; he's copying Shadow despite how weak he is on his own, and is mistaken for him, and even wants his power. He creates copies of himself to serve him and try to destroy Shadow. He slaughters and tricks good people. He brings doubt and fear and death, and when he comes to power, he brings utter destruction in his wake.
- The murder of Sonic being symbolic of the persecution of good people for standing up to evil people.
- The four hedgehogs might also be considered as one of the more complex interpretations of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Conquest (Sonic, the White Horseman), Persecution (Shadow, the Red Horseman), Justice (Silver, the Black Horseman), and Death (Mephiles, the Pale Horseman). They've gathered to help humanity repent before its sins overwhelm the world; between the four of them this is something they actually succeed in doing.
- The final boss, Solaris is absolutely dripping in Biblical symbolism as well.
- In the first phase, Solaris has 6 claws, 6 horns on its head, and 6 stones across its back, a reference to the number of the Beast which is 666.
- The second phase has Solaris take on a brighter and more angelic appearance, much like how the Bible describes Satan appearing as an angel of light.
- And finally is the two halves of Solaris representing the Beast (Iblis) and False Prophet (Mephiles) respectively, with both their names being synonymous with the Devil.
- On a larger scale, "Sonic and his friends are a Christian allegory".
- The Legend of Zelda:
- There's a theory with popularity that says the Stone Tower temple of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is an allegory of the Tower of Babel. It also turns the mask into a punishment from the gods and Link into a messianic figure sent to "redeem" Termina from their "sins".
- The Game Theorists channel on Youtube pulls the purgatory card with its theory that Link is dead in the game and the real quest is to accept his death and move on.note
- Majora's Mask is full of this. There is a theory that Termina represents the five stages of grief. The Clock Town residents are in denial about the coming apocalypse, the Swampland Deku scapegoat an innocent monkey who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the princess was kidnapped. All the Gorons of Snowhead can do is bargain and hope someone will save them while the Zoras are all in a depression at their loss. The Ikana region is mostly dead, made up of the spirits of a kingdom that fell in a long finished war; Link needs to get them to accept their fate and move on.
- From Link literally being Jesus, to the Master Sword, the Moon Pearl and the Shadow Mirror symbolizing the imperial treasures of Japan (therefore making Hyrule, despite all evidence to the contrary, Japan), to absurd reasons why Link can't talk and overinterpratetion of Zelda's many Alter Egos as her having a Split Personality. It has all been there.
- Final Fantasy Wiki theorises that the final battle of Final Fantasy VI is a direct allegory to The Divine Comedy. The first part of the battle has you fighting a huge demon half submerged in ground, like how Satan is depicted in Inferno, thus making that part a symbolism for Hell. The second fight is against a multitude of suffering mortals, meaning the purgatory. The third fight has you face a pieta figure with Kefka in place of Jesus, representing Heaven. In the final, fourth part, you ascend above the clouds and Kefka himself comes to you, dressed in a toga, telling that he will destroy everything. Divine Comedy ends with Dante ascending to meet God, who tells him the meaning of life.
- Just what the hell is Pokémon? Satanism (enslaving creatures), atheism (you can capture GOD), and so on. Word of God is ignored.
- The Path can be (and was intended to be) interpreted in many ways. Is it a cautionary tale about the dangers of temptation in its many forms? Is it a metaphor for life and growing up? Are the girls the memories of the grandmother at different stages in her life?
- Earthbound has a lot of this going around, but one of the bigger reasons for this is the Eldritch Abomination final boss Giygas.
- One interpretation that the only reason that you can beat Giygas—who can't be damaged by anything—is because he is the final boss of a video game, and therefore, it is your duty to beat him. Hence, Paula's prayer command only really works when it reaches you, the player.
- There are still people who purport a metaphorical "Giygas is a fetus" theory, despite the fact that Mother 1 clearly shows his origins (which many are unfamiliar with due to the game's No Export for You status up until 2015).
- Mother 3: The doorknob represents happiness. If you really think about it it makes sense. Even the game's creator, Shigesato Itoi, liked that one.
- Spec Ops: The Line is a Mind Screw of a game which did an amazing job of pretending to be a second-rate Call of Duty clone. The game's demo and press featured none of its blatantly Post Modern plot inspired by Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. The game is rife with Leaning on the Fourth Wall, What the Hell, Player?, and a "The Reason You Suck" Speech aimed at the player. Fanon holds that scenes which fade to white are hallucinations and scenes which fade to black are real - and all the endings fade to white. Fans have concluded that one of the best explanations for what happens in the game is that the protagonist is either already dead or trapped in a hellish Dying Dream to serve as his Ironic Hell. The developers' response has been a Shrug of God and stating that it's certainly a valid interpretation of events. In fact, from their point of view, it was too effective at deceiving everyone; lots of players judged the game on the merits they would judge a typical war shooter, while the sort of gamer who would value its dark plot and innovative narrative style would be turned off by it looking just like every other shooter following the leader.
Soldier: "You know, Captain, we drove through this whole city to find you. We... we saw things. If you don't mind me asking, what was it like? How did you survive all this?"Walker: "Who said I did?"
- An in-universe example occurs in Fallout: New Vegas, where Ulysses' obsession with the Courier revolves around finding a deeper meaning in everything they've done, due to his belief that the destruction of the Divide (which they were indirectly responsible for) simply couldn't have been just an accident.
- In the backstory to The Beginner's Guide, Davey drove away Coda by trying to see the symbolism in Coda's games, even though there was no symbolism involved in his games.
- For a time, fans of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate thought that "World of Light" was an allegory for the average Kirby game: the title in Japanese can be read as Hoshi no Kabi backwards, "Lifelight"'s singer sounds remarkably like the ones for his anime, and Kirby is the starter character that has to clean up after the local Eldritch Abomination's mess. Sakurai ended up later saying that the backwards reading was a coincidence, and that Kirby's use as the initial character was because he's easy to learn the moves for.
- There are several theories that the plot of Red Dead Redemption II is based on lead writer Dan Houser's view of Rockstar Games under its parent company Take-Two Interactive, in particular post-Grand Theft Auto Online Rockstar games.
- Both The Van Der Linde gang and Rockstar were both started by 3 people - two of whom are considered leaders. Eventually, one of the leaders is forced out, which causes a small shift in the group's actions. Hosea's departure results in Dutch relying more and more in small, barely-thought out quick money-making schemes, while Leslie Benzie's departure from Rockstar in 2014 is seen as the point where they started relying on overtly-expensive, Excuse Plot GTA Online content.
- The gang has a Loan Shark whom no-one likes who shares his name with Take-Two's CEO. Many believe he is a fairly blatant metaphor for Microtransactions.
- Dutch starts ignoring his long-time supporters in favour of new blood who has lots of questionable ideas on how to make money. Again, often seen as a metaphor for Rockstar's new focus on Online content over single-player add-ons.
- Arthur, the main character who still believes in what the gang stood for back when it started, slowly starts realizing how things - and Dutch - have changed over the years and begins to wonder how to make things better. Despite his best attempts at persuading everyone on how the gang is a shell of its former self, Dutch and his loyalists refuse to listen and Arthur realizes the old Dutch isn't coming back. Dan would then announce his departure from Rockstar not not too after the game launched.
- Parodied by Ben Croshaw as part of an April Fools joke, where he examines "The White Album" by The Beatles as part of his Judging by the Cover series. With only a blank image to work with, he spends several minutes arguing how the album's title is actually a representation of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Then things get increasingly weird when Croshaw starts to admire imagery not visible to the viewer and it becomes clear that he has lost his mind.
- Homestuck is a modern retelling of a Gnostic creation myth.
Think about it - the supposed prince of hope knocks out Sollux (bipartisanship) and betrays Feferi (social welfare programs) and Kanaya (the LGBT community) in order to suck up to the fascist murderbeast Bec Noir (the GOP), who feels irrational loyalty to Jade (Reagan), a figure whom Noir does not truly know or understand and whose actions have often directly contradicted his stated ideals and goals. Eridan then goes to confront Gamzee (the increasingly disposessed and disillusioned middle class) and Vriska (Vriska) with the intention of eliminating them as well, while his past self has made futile attempts at flirting with Karkat (true leftism).
- TV Tropes: This very wiki's Wild Mass Guessing page often includes these kinds of claims. The most common ones are "X is really Haruhi Suzumiya, who may or may not be a goddess herself" and "The setting is actually in Evangelion's Instrumentality and thus a sea of souls".
- This was written after The Nostalgia Chick's friend Nella shared her childhood story involving My Little Pony. The author later created Brows Held High, specializing in pretentious art films of this sort, and was later picked up by Channel Awesome.
- Defied in a Not Always Learning story:
- Crossing with Music, Genius (formerly known as Rap Genius) is a wiki for analyzing song lyrics, and some people decide to show off their interpretations. For instance, both David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and Elton John's "Rocket Man" are described as "parallels between drug use and space travel" (while both singers had Mushroom Samba phases, Bowie and lyricist Bernie Taupin said the songs were really just attempts to do an astronaut song). And seeing people do long explanations on Word Salad Lyrics wrote this way on purpose is pure Applicability at work.
- The Lasagna Cat episode, "07/27/1978", pokes fun at this Garfield strip◊ by featuring a full hour of John Blyth Barrymore giving a philosophical, overly complex dissection of it.
"I can't help but read the thought bubble, over and over again. Now where could my pipe be? Now where could my pipe be? It is a profound question. Why am I here? What is my purpose? It is reflection and self-examination here. It is facing the dust, the misery of a cold, careless universe. You can feel the weight of it. But where could my pipe be? One imagines the author, Jim Davis, teetering on the edge of insanity... his rationality, his lucidity, hovering over the void... and he seeks the truth. You can see it in the line quality of the drawings; the thoughtful, controlled outlines mixed with the... occasional, chaotic scribbles at work in the shadows and Garfield's dark stripes. It's almost as if Garfield is chaos himself. Yes, he is the embodiment of chaos, disorder, hatred, fear... Thievery, death, destruction, desolation! These are the things Garfield represents; HE stole the pipe, HE sits with his back to Jon, Garfield... Garfield, this chaos cat, Garfield has turned his back on everything, everyone!"
- The Hard Times: Discussed and parodied in "'They're Actually In Purgatory', Reports Every Single Fan Theory", in which interviewed fans claim that shows from SpongeBob SquarePants to Lost only make sense if you interpret that they take place in purgatory.
- Parodied by The Angry Video Game Nerd when he over-analyzes every single aspect of the NES version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as symbolism of the duality of human nature and mockingly declares it the greatest video game ever made:
I think I get it. Why, its the best game ever made. Its more than a game; it exposes the dual nature of the human spirit. The only way to win the game is to be Jekyll, but you wanna be Hyde so you can shoot shit. You see, its a constant battle between good and evil, and Jekyll must stay farther along his path than Hyde. If Hyde gains the lead, then evil will triumph over good, and thats the true conflict to the human soul. And to deny the evil completely, would only force it to the subconscious mind, like a city broken into different social classes. People dont wanna step outside their own boundaries, like Jekyll wandering into the wrong section of town. Hes unwelcome. Nevertheless, he must abide by his own good nature. No wonder the cane doesnt work. The game does not reward you for acting upon your malevolent intentions. Its a proposed guideline for a set of morality rules to be programmed through real life. It uses the Victorian era as a fundamental depiction of outward respectability and inward lust. Its a metaphor for social and geographical fragmentation. It eludes the Freud theory of repression, in which unacceptable desires or impulses are excluded from the conscious mind and left to operate on their own in the unconscious. Or, you could just say, "THE GAME FUCKING SUCKS."
- Some of the latest videos of the Knowledge Hub parodize this, such as his Intelectual Perspective on Jimmy Neutron.
See, Jimmy Neutron was planned with both a movie and TV show in mind. And if the movie had the cultural significance of Vivaldi, the TV show would be a Soul Coughing. While on the surface, it may appear as a simple children's cartoon, I can assure you, this it is not. The show weaves a complex narrative as it follows Jimmys battle with the capitalist, the elderly, and his own depraved urges. Economic inequality, the efficiency of the nuclear family, racism, all tackled with great care. He struggles to keep his own morality in check, often using his advanced knowledge to manipulate others to do his bidding. Such as selling drugs to his classmates or killing hundreds in the name of good food service. His inventions cause the conflict, and he quickly solves the problem. In this sense, he suffers from hero syndrome. Those that are afflicted with this create problems just for the self-satisfaction of resolving it. This is actually very common with arsonists. These tendencies we see explored throughout the series. And that got me thinking: Maybe Im missing something. Now to explain what I mean, we have to Season 1 Episode 5: Were treated to the world inside Carls dream. Within this reconstruction, Carl shows envy of Jimmys intelligence, and places himself as the genius of Retroville. When questioned by the real Jimmy, he responds with immediate aggression. On a subconscious level, the resentment is likely held by many others, because think about it. Jimmy can do anything. All the problems the citizens of Retroville have are either caused or could be solved by the Boy Genius. Surely, hed be run out of town, murdered in the streets. But he isnt. This idea was explored in episode, Its A Good Life, of the original Twilight Zone series. In this episode, an all-powerful kid can kill whoever wants with no effort. So everybody pretends to be nice to him, to stay on his good side. Jimmys that kid. Why can he fly his rocket in restricted airspace with no repercussions? Well, what could the military even do to him? When hes bored, he creates life. He travels through time. Manipulates the free will of others. He is an unstoppable force. And because of this, Because he has no true challenge, he creates problems that only he can solve.
- A few fans of The Nostalgia Critic assume that using music in reviews that was also used in other projects, particularly To Boldly Flee, is meant to connect the themes of those projects to the review- for example, that reusing music from Critic's sad introspective moments in To Boldly Flee in reviews is a sign that those reviews are a deliberate Call-Back to those themes, even if the review scenes play the music in a completely different context. The thing is, the reason a lot of music is recycled on the show is because most of the background music is just royalty-free music, and is not specifically made for those projects to begin with.
- Although minor, there are some who believe that half of the cast of Bojack Horseman being made up of anthropomorphic animals is supposed to represent how some people can let themselves become animals in a metaphorical sense. It's actually just because the show's lead artist liked drawing animals without tails.
- This was applied in-universe in "Free Churro". Bojack mentions meeting a fan that asked him whether a particular scene of "Horsin' Around", in which shots focused on the horse had a cup of coffee in the background and the ones with Ethan lacked the cup were meant to represent how different people perceive the same situation differently. Not having the heart to tell him it was just some dumb mistake made by a crew member who left their coffee cup lying around, Bojack simply agreed with that. He then monologues about how people look for meaning in things that don't really have them.
- One fan theory about Ed, Edd n Eddy takes the "purgatory" part of this trope literally.
- Some fans of Gravity Falls have interpreted Soos becoming a zombie and coming back to full life as symbolism of Jesus coming back to life, since his name is short for Jesús.
- Parodied with Three Panel Soul's interpretation of Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? as representative of the struggle between God and Satan.