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Movies & TV

08th Oct 2023

30 years on, the origins of one of cinema’s biggest unsolved mysteries

Rory Cashin

Demolition Man

We still can’t quite wrap our heads around it.

Over the years there have been some huge mysteries presented in movies that have never actually been properly answered. Who was the killer in Zodiac? Was that really a magical creature in The Blair Witch Project? Did DiCaprio really know what was going on at the end of Shutter Island? Just what the heck was going on in Mulholland Drive?

However, there is one cinematic mystery that puts all of those in the shadow, and still mostly stumps film historians and the general public to this very day. If you recognise this image, then you already know what we’re talking about…

Demolition Man

Demolition Man and the infamous three seashell scene

Released in cinemas on 8 October 1993, Demolition Man is initially set in the crime-riddled future of 1996, where the world’s best cop (Sylvester Stallone) is imprisoned in a block of ice for a crime he didn’t commit, alongside his arch-nemesis, the world’s most dangerous criminal (Wesley Snipes).

Jumping forward to the ultra peaceful, crime-free future of 2032, Stallone is thawed out by the cops (fronted by Sandra Bullock, with whom Stallone has one of cinema’s weirdest sex scenes) when Snipes breaks free and begins raining destruction on the city of San Angeles.

But before he can get to work, he has to go to the bathroom, and when he heads in there, he discovers no toilet paper, but instead three seashells. Confessing to not know how to use them, his new colleagues make fun of him, but to be honest, three decades later, we’re still not sure how they’d work. Turns out, we’re not really supposed to…

Writer Daniel Waters told Live For Film the origins of the scene: “I was calling my friends, like Larry Karaszewski, who wrote Ed Wood, and he was sitting by a toilet, and I was like ‘Oh you’re in a toilet? I need some toilet stuff.’ And he had a bag of seashells and I was like ‘Seashells! I’m gonna work with that’.”

And that was it. There was no further thought given to it than that. Except some people have, with one of those being Sandra Bullock herself. While on the press tour for Gravity, she was asked by MTV about the three seashells scene in Demolition Man, and she had a great answer ready to go:

“Well, think of a bidet, right? There’s several processes. You have number one, you have number two, and then the cleanup. You can use them as little maracas as well. See, it’s a musical instrument, and it’s a hygiene element! It was obvious. It was obvious to me when I read it.”

Demolition Man is available to rent at home right now on Google Play, Apple TV, Rakuten TV and the Sky Store.

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