007's dark side and other film fantasies

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Is James Bond more than one man? Who is the real hero of Harry Potter? Fan theories are more than just idle internet gossip. Stephen Kelly looks at how the best of them can add a new dimension to big-screen classics

There's always been something a bit off about that suave, mysterious, sexually charged murderer, James Bond: he appears to be a shape-shifting immortal. Or at least that's what the franchise suggests, what with the same man being played by six different people over 50 years, making for quite the hefty 00-pension. But where pop culture logic is broken, there's a fan theory to fix it. In this case: that James Bond is not a single man, but a code name given to agents who fit a certain profile.

Makes sense, doesn't it? For even if this is a profile to which psychologists refer as the Dark Triad of the psyche – a combination of Machiavellianism, narcissism and a psychopathic disregard for life – each incarnation does come with its own set of characteristics. Sean Connery, for instance, was smooth and deadpan; Geroge Lazenby: clunky and... forgettable; Roger Moore had fun with the role; Timothy Dalton preferred a serious, straight-edged approach; cigar-smoking Piers Brosnan played it rugged and old-fashioned; whereas Daniel Craig, moonlighting from his full-time job of protruding out of Mount Rushmore, portrays a more tortured, layered Bond.

Director Lee Tamahori briefly considered legitimising the theory in 2002 by having Sean Connery make a cameo in Die Another Day – an idea presumably vetoed on the basis of it being awful. In Skyfall, however, Sam Mendes goes in the opposite direction: controversially exploring Bond's past in such a way that we're in no doubt as to whether this is the same one man we've followed for the last 50 years. And thus he destroys the theory for good. Given the brooding, introspective tone of the new era, this feels inevitable, but also a bit of a shame. Not only did the theory add a sense of plausibility to the concept, it gave the character depth and made it far more interesting than a mere blank canvas for masculine fantasy.

Still, that's the beauty of fan theories. Starting out in the deepest, darkest sinkholes of the internet (forums and Reddit, basically), most are just idle speculation where reality and reason are snapped to fit a theory. Yet there are those special few that are so wonderfully convincing that they spew forth to become something more...

WHEN THE PLOT THICKENS

1. Star Wars' secret secret agents

Much like "Code Name: James Bond", most theories are aimed at making a story more credible than it actually is – to think around plot holes and fill them with reason. Take Star Wars. Ever since George Lucas insisted on shoving every character possible into his Star Wars prequels, the farce has been strong around the series' logic. Why would the Rebel Alliance wipe the valuable intel of both R2-D2 and C-3PO in Revenge of the Sith? And why doesn't Chewbacca mention to Luke at some point: "You know what? That Yoda guy sure sounds familiar"? The fan theory: R2-D2 and Chewbacca have secretly been rebel agents all along – with the former forgoing a memory wipe to be undercover and the latter secretly being Yoda's eyes and ears. It's certainly better than Lucas's explanation: "Uh, yeah, stuff."

2. DNA test, Forrest! DNA test!

Forrest Gump is given an interesting and sinister undertone once you read the theory that Gump Jr is not really his son, but a desperate ploy by love-interest, Jenny, to take advantage of his shrimp tycoon wealth – something hinted at after she first turns him down and he decides to go on that famous jog to clear his head. It's a harsh, cynical theory, but one that would fit with her self-destructive behaviour.

3. Ferris Bueller's Day Off is nothing but a fantasy

This is a popular one. John Hughes's Ferris Bueller's Day Off becomes a bizarre mind-melt once you buy into the idea that the fun-loving Ferris is actually, Fight Club-style, all in his long-suffering friend Cameron's head. Not only does this shift the focus on to Cameron's story – one of repressed angst, loneliness and unrequited love for his imaginary friend's girlfriend – but it also explains why he's so wildly erratic. The idea, of course, falls entirely to pieces once you factor in Ferris's sister.

4. Harry Potter isn't the chosen one – Neville Longbottom is

Harry Potter is built upon the idea that the boy-wizard is the chosen one – but what if the prophecy was actually about another lovable geek? Both "thrice-defying" Voldemort and both born "as the seventh month dies", the theory goes that Harry was merely a ruse on Dumbledore's part to protect the real star, Neville Longbottom, who went on to play a vital part in the Dark Lord's death. That theory was, naturally, shot down by J K Rowling.

5. Willy Wonka and the Murder Factory

"A drug-crazed lunatic slowly kills children in front of their parents one by one." This is the adorable online synopsis of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that, thanks to Reddit, recently went viral. Fans are speculating that the clues lie in the props. After Augustus is sucked into chocolate oblivion, they board a boat with two seats too few, suggesting there was prior knowledge Wonka would "lose" two participants. The same goes for the four-seated car they drive later on. Why does he do this?

6. The Tarantino verse

Fans have long made links between the films of Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs' Vic Vega and Pulp Fiction's Vincent Vega being brothers is a notorious one), but there's an even bigger idea that ties all of his films together. Reading deeply into the chronology, themes and character connections of each one (such as Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz fathering True Romance's Lee Donowitz, for example), fans have created their own Tarantino-verse where the brutal cinema killing of Hitler in Inglourious Basterds has created a society that is not only desensitised to violence, but places more cultural importance on film.

This article appears in the 27 October print edition of The Independent's Radar magazine

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