Movie Magic: More Than Just Potty Humor

The Psycho toilet… You scared yet?
Photo: Universal Home Video

This last weekend saw the release of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and it came in third at the box-office so I am assuming some of you saw it and for those that didn’t there is a scene where Norah’s drunk friend, Caroline (Ari Graynor), is seen in a public restroom where she first vomits and then accidentally drops her cell phone and chewing gum in the very same toilet she just vacated her stomach. The toilet looks like it hasn’t been flushed or cleaned in about ten years but is still regularly used. Caroline proceeds to fish out not only her cell phone, but the gum as well. The gum is then passed on from character to character throughout the film.

Obviously, the Nick and Norah example was an attempt at drastic gross-out/potty humor. Shit, vomit, farts and just about every other bodily function has now become something of a comedy norm, but it wasn’t until I started watching the Legacy Series review copy Universal just sent over of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (10.7 buy it here) that I got to thinking even more about the shitter and its effect on cinema.

Did you know the scene below is the first time a toilet was seen in an American film or television show? On top of that Marion (Janet Leigh) actually flushes it and sends the audience in a frenzy. Hitchcock used the flushing toilet as one more way to ramp up the audience to the shower scene which immediately follows.

Of course, since 1960 the toilet has become a regular prop in several films and television shows. You also have plenty of fart scenes such as from The Nutty Professor and memorable vomit scenes (Team America anyone). It even trends to female menstruation such as Jenny McCarthy’s blood soaked romp through a supermarket in Dirty Love or SuperBad‘s menstrual dance scene.

In Hitchcock’s Psycho the flush of the toilet I still think works because it isn’t the jet propelled toilets so many folks have now that send your feces to the sewer in 0.001 seconds leaving only a brown lightning bolt streak on the porcelain. It is a slow guttural flush and with the gorgeous Janet Leigh doing it I still think it sets the audience on edge before she gets the knife

The Nick and Norah scene referenced above reminds me a lot of a similar scene from Trainspotting, and I am sure it had to be an homage from director Peter Sollett to Danny Boyle’s film in which Renton (Ewan McGregor) goes fishing for his fix in what is deemed “The Worst Toilet in Scotland”. Renton was addicted to his drugs and Caroline was addicted to her gum. One shows a junkie’s need to do anything for his next fix while the other is a cheap attempt at humor.

Trainspotting (1996)

Comedy has obviously taken it to the next step with menses humor and head first dives into murky mud-filled toilet water. Only two years prior to Renton’s nose dive into Scotland’s worst toilet Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) was making a mess of his own in Dumb and Dumber.

Dumb and Dumber (1994)

Is it good filmmaking when a dirty toilet is used to make a point such as a drug addict’s need to get his lost fix and cheap filmmaking when it is a dumb blonde fishing her gum out of a similar situation? I’m not ready to make that judgment, but the toilet has obviously become a major device in today’s movies and TV shows. “Seinfeld” used it as a comedy device in 1994 with “The Stall” when Elaine asked the woman in the next stall (Jami Gertz) if she could “spare a square” of toilet paper. The scene ended in her begging for “one ply” and she was ultimately left wanting. “South Park” introduced us to Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo. Then come to find out we now have machines from the future turning into full upright standing johns in “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”.

“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”

Yup, the toilet is here to stay. Can you thank Alfred Hitchcock for finding the value in its use? Does Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist owe Hitch a debt of gratitude as the only scene that wasn’t shown in trailers will probably live on as its most memorable? Most definitely.