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The Plot Thickens

Photo: Taelar Pollmann ⋅ The Sentry

“Play it again, Sam”

I’ve been misquoting Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs my whole life. As it turns out, the line is not “mirror, mirror, on the wall who is fairest of them all?” but is instead “magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” 

I’m going to assume that I’m not alone in misquoting a movie from 1937, as that blunder has made its way onto several “most misquoted movies” lists on the internet. In fact, the line is so misquoted, it has surpassed the original so vastly, that in the 2012 live-action fantasy Snow White and the Huntsman, Charlize Theron’s Evil Queen even says the more popular, iconic, yet ultimately wrong dialogue.   

Casablanca tells the story of star-crossed lovers trapped in a soon-to-be occupied African town, being ripped apart by having to decide between love and duty. I just rewatched Casablanca for a class and although I knew somewhere in the recesses of my mind that the line is not “Play it again, Sam,” I still found myself surprised every time the characters say something very close to, but not exactly, the words that have come to epitomize the entire film. Mostly, they say “Play it, Sam” although Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa does utter “Play it once, Sam.” 

None of this really matters much; however, is it perhaps more iconic that a film is known for something it doesn’t do rather than something it does?  

Psycho’s shower scene never shows exposed breasts, nor the knife ripping open skin, yet it’s safe to say that most people would assume it does. The line in Empire Strikes Back is really “No, I am your father,” and Luke’s name is nowhere to be found in the sentence, yet almost everyone inserts it there.  

If you know me, you know that I take the use of the term “iconic” very seriously. It’s thrown around far too often. Just because something exists and perhaps is popular does not make it iconic. Iconic has to do, in my understanding of the word, with assigning meaning to said thing. It happens over a period of time, not instantly and it requires the consensus of a large number of people rather than a few individuals.  

These misquoted lines are iconic not simply because they’re popular but because we’ve assigned them meaning over decades and they’ve come to represent an entire body of work, even if they are a bit off. 

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