Chosen One of the Day: The Three Seashells from Demolition Man

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May 18, 2017

International -- or inter-temporal (?) -- travel can be exhilarating. You're in a new place with new people and new things to experience, getting a front-row seat to an unfamiliar culture. The food! The adventure! The … toilets?

Real talk, here. Going to the bathroom is my least favorite thing about travel. Other cultures have very different bathroom etiquette than we do in America, and sometimes it can get downright strange. When I was in Indonesia last year, I had done my research, I knew about the bidet culture and to bring toilet paper with me when I was out and about, but I did not expect the public restrooms to be so … damp? A toilet in the Jakarta airport literally attacked me.

Knowing this about me, it should be no surprise that one of my favorite scenes from any movie is the Three Seashells scene from Demolition Man (1993). It is the most random and nonsensical part of a random and nonsensical movie, and it is brilliant.

Sylvester Stallone is awakened from cryogenic sleep decades in the future. It may be L.A., but it might as well be a foreign country. They have their own food (every restaurant is now Taco Bell), their own customs (sex is now a trippy virtual reality ride that involves NO touching) and their own laws (all swearing gets you automatically fined). And yes, they have their own bathroom customs.

No toilet paper.

Just three small seashells sitting next to the toilet.

The beauty of this scene, what makes it perfect in every way, is that the movie never explains what the three seashells are for. It's been years and I still don't have a clue. Are they decorative? Are they some kind of soap or exfoliant? Are you meant to use them as some kind of scoop? Is it a coded puzzle that, upon solving, releases whatever the future uses in place of toilet paper? I HAVE NO IDEA.

It's killing me. But the question is: do I actually WANT to know? Do I want to ruin the hours of thought and consideration and imagination that I have invested in these shells? Sometimes I just want someone to put me out of my misery and explain these enigmatic bathroom tools. Sometimes, though, I feel it's best to wonder.

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