10 Common Phallic Symbols in Cinema
Phallic symbolism as a subconscious association of an object with masculinity, dominance and power, has had a long history in film interpretation. Whether or not specific instances are consciously intended by the director is certainly open to debate, but no doubt it sometimes is. The use of phallic symbols has become so rooted in the film culture that cinematic spoofs exploit the most trite ones to advantage.
Bullets, guns, torpedoes, bombs and the like are quintessential icons of masculinity and power. James Bond flicks and gangster films are rife with them. One of the most memorable scenes in all of filmdom is Major T. J. “King” Kong bronco busting a bomb in “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”
Missiles and rockets blasting off into space are phallic symbols with driving purpose. No one misses the significance of an explosion of fireworks at the culmination of a romantic scene.
Weapons are often used to represent power, but in the case of piercing instruments, the phallic embodiment is unmistakable. Spears, swords, stakes, knives, spikes and arrows are all prime examples.
Trains, especially aerodynamic bullet trains, have become so entrenched as phallic symbols in films, they have lost all semblance of subtlety.Is there any doubt as to the meaning of a train rushing full speed ahead into a tunnel? Anyone over the age of sixteen probably “gets it” loud and clear.
The use of cigars to convey male prowess has taken on a new sensibility since the Monica Lewinsky affair. The general public is too savvy now to ever let a cigar scene go unnoticed. In fact, sexual innuendo is likely to be suspected even when it isn’t meant at all.
Going beyond simple phallic symbolism, fountains, gushing oil wells, shower heads, and spewing water hoses all represent male domination. The shower scene in “Pyscho” is a classic example.
Kings, popes, and emperors all carry scepters as unmistakable symbols of their power. Wands, canes, clubs, bobbysticks, whips and poles all fall into the same category and serve the same iconic purpose.
Large imposing structures, such as the Empire State Building in “King Kong” or the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey” are associated with strength and permanence. The Washington Monument, smokestacks, towers, steeples, chimneys, columns, siloes, and pillars have all found their way into films as phallic symbols.
Since biblical times, and probably before that, snakes have symbolized masculinity at its darkest. It is no coincidence that evil aliens are characteristically phallus shaped. Darth Vader and the storm troopers in the “Star Wars” films and the chestburster in “Alien,” are blatant examples.
Some phallic symbols don’t seem to fall into any obvious category, yet are so extensively used they deserve mentioning. Pens, candles, men’s ties, bones, men’s hats, and door knobs are some that come readily to mind.
This list is by no means a complete accounting of all cinematic phallic symbols. If you feel I’ve missed something major, please leave a comment.
One more thing, just because a movie has a water fountain or a club doesn’t necessarily mean it’s intended to be phallic. Even Sigmund Freud recognized that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”