In Guardians of the Galaxy, Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill slowly unwinds his middle finger like a jack-in-the-box as men gaze at him from the other side of smart glass warning of his imminent “obscene gesture.” Flipping the bird has now become interstellar, the latest in a long history of imaginative fingering.
The gesture has evolved beyond a simple way to say “fuck you.” It’s the obvious and subtle threat between the fingers, no longer happy to simply pop up, now it dances in many forms. Some fling it in anger, some let it tease, and some see theirs blown off. It can be bloody, robotic, disembodied, Tank Girled and adamantiumed.
If Hollywood put half as much effort into storytelling as they put into creative uses of the middle finger, many of the industry’s problems would be solved. For now, we have the following 10 birds, some of which are part of the “Movie Middle Finger”video montage featured way down. Is your favorite missing?
One person’s insult is another’s loving tease. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) teases Celine (Julie Delpy) into speechlessness when they reunite in Paris, so she waves her fingers and asks him to say “stop.” When he does, of course, she has a middle finger to greet him. This moment shows the ubiquitousness of the gesture. It’s a succinct response that sometimes works better than words ever could, even for the wildly verbose who spend all of their time talking.
Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) has never had any patience for assholes, so when a fellow interviewee harasses her at the law office she’s applying to, she pulls out her middle-finger pretend lipstick, reapplies and recaps. The brief scene ups the stakes from the teen television show, perfectly encapsulates Veronica’s trademark lack of idiot patience and is the perfect clue that she couldn’t, no matter how much she tried, quench her desire to battle jerks.
Penny Lane’s (Kate Hudson) middle finger is relatively simple. She waves at the teen girls running alongside the road, and when they wave back, she turns her hand and whips out the finger. The superficially catty gesture is certainly a nyah-nyah moment, but it also encapsulates her position as a travelling teen. She’s not only giving the finger to them, but to the mundane mediocrity of school and the life expected of her as a teen girl.
Jason Dean’s (Christian Slater) middle finger in Heathers isn’t exactly creative – it just flips up in anger with a nice “fuck you” – but what happens to it is certainly unexpected. JD and Veronica argue about blowing up the school, he flips her off, and she quickly shoots it off with the ease and speed of a sharpshooter. In Heathers, the finger is a challenge easily defeated with the right firepower.
Of course, flipping the bird has been around for a long time, as evidenced by Dennis Hopper’s finger in Easy Rider. His isn’t fancy, either. It’s just fierce and political. Hopper is “flicking his middle finger at the establishment,” at “the uptight middle-class hypocrisies” of the era. The shot of him giving the finger on his motorcycle is not only memorable, but it’s also one of the defining images of the film, so much so that copies of the shot are even sold online in various color tones and styles.
For Jack Black in High Fidelity, the middle finger can hit harder with a little extra effort. His manic record shop clerk pretend shoots each one of his fingers away until only the bird is left. On one hand, it’s an explosion of greater frustrated anger than jovial joking, but it’s also coming from Black’s Barry, the violent encapsulation of a man who takes certain things way too seriously.
Wet Hot American Summer
Bring It On
Eliza Dushku extends her middle fingers a lot in Bring It On, where she strives to be the anti-cheerleader cheerleader. She offers the bird to her brother to save for later, and she offers it to the bitchy head cheerleader who doesn’t want her on the team. She seductively licks her bird during tryouts, which seems out of place until she reveals that she’s not being suggestive, she’s just playing with them, using her wet finger to rub away the temporary tattoo on her arm that would keep her from trying out.
Ultimately, like any collection of letters that make words, the middle finger is nothing more than a body part of assumed intent. When Bean takes a biker’s picture and gives a smile and a thumbs up (just two fingers over), the biker flips him off. Bean shrugs, thinks and proceeds to give his finger to everyone with a smile, waving it about at passersby, into the Los Angeles air-at-large.