Sunday, 24 August 2014

John Dies at the End: Frequently Asked Questions.

Q: What the fuck did I just watch?

A: The sorely underrated John Dies at the End - a film more deserving of its own spin off TV show than any other I can name.

Q: That 'riddle' at the beginning about the broken axe...What's the answer?

A: The anecdote about the broken axe is basically a retelling of the sorites paradox, a philosophical conundrum credited to the Ancient Greek philosopher Eubulides. The central dilemma of the paradox concerns a heap made up of 1,000,000 grains of sand. If you remove a single grain of sand from the heap, does it remain a heap? And if so, if you continue to remove particles of sand, at what point does the heap become a non-heap? It's one of those thought experiments that basically explores what makes a thing a thing (how's that for wordy philosophy?) and it gets increasingly confusing the more you search for the answer. Sure, most people would say that a heap of sand is only a heap if it is, you know, heap shaped, but philosophers have spent a huge amount of time arguing all sorts of bizarre answers (my favourite being the claim that you can have a pile of negative sand grains, and that would still be a heap.)

Anyway, the most easy to understand explanation is that there are boundaries between when one thing becomes another thing (i.e. when the axe becomes another axe) but these boundaries are necessarily unknowable.

Q: When David's talking to Robert Marley, the Jamaican levitating guy he mentions Balducci Levitation. What's that?

A: Balducci Levitation is a magician's trick designed to make the audience believe that the performer is levitating. The trick is actually fairly easy to do - basically, you just angle yourself so that parts of your feet are obscured, and then raise yourself up on one foot while hiding the fact that you're essentially just standing on one tippy toe. Here. Have a diagram.

Courtesy of

Q: The Jamaican guy also talks about the way David's dream syncs up with the noise happening around his sleeping body. I've had a kind of similar thing happen to me. Why?

A: That kind of reality/dream sync up usually occurs when you're bloody exhausted, and you begin to lucid dream. A lucid dream occurs because your body goes straight from being awake to being in a dream state. A lot of people exert a lot of time and energy delibarately trying to lucid dream - there's even a wikihow about it, to be found here: - but it can also happen without you deliberately doing it. When you are lucid dreaming, you are aware that you are asleep, providing you with a weird out of body experience during which the waking world can have an immediate and powerful impact on your sleep cycle.

Q: Okay, so uh, now we've covered all that...What is this movie actually about?

A: John Dies at the End is a film made by lovers of cult cinema, for lovers of cult cinema. It is a cornucopia of bizarre imagery, offbeat humour, and deliberately covers almost every staple of odd movies - time travel, death, the origins of the universe, parallel dimensions, weird tentacle-y creatures that live in said parallel dimensions...You get the gist.

It is not, by any means, a film that should be taken very seriously. The movie contains so many ideas and covers them so briefly that the total effect is deliberately excessive. It moves incredibly quickly - and that's kind of the joke.

Q: Why is it called John Dies at the End if John doesn't, you know, die at the end?

A: Well, arguably he does. The Soy Sauce drug that the main characters take remove them from time - a lot like the drug KR-3 from Philip K. Dick's Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. That's why John can continue to make phone calls after officially being dead.

This breaking off of time is deliberately meant to question any kind of linear concept of time - taking Soy Sauce essentially allows you to exist outside of the normal parameters of this universe. Therefore, John's 'death' does not sit at a fixed point of time - in taking Soy Sauce, he has eliminated concepts like the beginning, the middle or the end. Essentially, he exists everywhere and 'everywhen' at once.

Q: Why does the movie suddenly become about this big evil tentacle creature at the end?

A: The movie deliberately discards the conventional three act plot structure. It teases one at the begnning, but before you know it, the film is shifting gears all over the place, and characters and concepts are discarded like so many dead batteries.

Also, with a film this ambitious, it would be fairly difficult for director Don Coscarelli to set up his denoument in a typical way - he just doesn't have the time. There's too much groundwork for him to cover too early on, and as a result, the ending has to (quite literally) fly out of nowhere.

Q: Did I like this movie? I can't tell if I liked this movie.

A: If you're a fan of Lovecraftian horror, the Phantasm movies, Ren and Stimpy, and/or hallucinogens, then this movie was pretty much made for you, and I can almost guarantee that  you'll enjoy it. That said, if you watch the first ten minutes and the movie doesn't work for you, switch it off - what you see is what you get from this one.

I really, really dig this movie. But, like I said, that's because Stimpy is my power animal, and The Tall Man has been haunting my dreams ever since I was 12 years old.

Q: Should I read the book this film was based on?

A: Yes. Definately. There are significant differences, as always, between the text and screen versions, so even if you've watched this movie, you haven't spoilt the ending of the novel for yourself. Go out and grab a hold of that book.

Q: One last thing: is this the only movie in existance that features a dog that saves the world?

A: Pfft, please. Haven't you seen The Amazing Wizard of Paws? If not, dude are you missing out...


  1. Isn't the ax/hatchet riddle closer to the 'Ship of Theseus' paradox?

    1. It's exactly the Ship of Theseus paradox.