Back in 2015 I wrote about visual swears in film, where profanity appears on the screen rather than on the soundtrack. The films featured in that post were The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Blade II, Shoot ’Em Up, Runaway Train, and Sorry to Bother You. Since then I’ve gathered a fuckload more.
Visual swears can have all sorts of motivations for filmmakers: humour, attitude, character type or mood, place detail, meta-commentary, and so on. After all, they’re deliberately built into a film’s production design – unless it’s a documentary, in which case they’re still selected in the framing and editing.
The first film below happens to be a documentary, and a great one: Dark Days (2000), which explores the lives of people living in a disused New York subway tunnel. One of them labels a makeshift toilet SHIT SPOT, perhaps for both informational and comedic reasons:
Shit is coyly asterisked along with nob, bastard, and fuck on the swear box in Hot Fuzz (2007). Cunt remains humorously uncensored – though its taboo may be waning slightly in parts of North America, the word remains far more offensive there than in the UK: it’s even a pronoun in Scotland, FFS.
A handwritten FUCK OFF keeps unwelcome visitors away from Bill Duke’s caravan home in Mandy (2018). Nicolas Cage is of course exempt:
A typewritten fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck, meanwhile, shows James Caan’s intense frustration in Misery (1990). The shot of the page may be an allusion to the ‘All work and no play’ scene in The Shining, or it may be just fortuitous convergence, since so many of Stephen King’s protagonists are writers anyway:
Raw (2016) features a poster emblazoned with What the Fuck, possibly an underground music event or college art show. The film and characters are French, but the phrase still carries the same charge of rebellious expression:
Sheet music in Whiplash (2014) has a clear instruction on how it should be played: MOTHERFUCKING LOUD!! More to the point, it tells viewers something about the character who wrote it:
Hopping from DC to Marvel, we enter a bar in Deadpool 2 (2018) whose drinks code dictates precisely what kind of clients are unlikely to feel at home there:
It also has some sweary fun in the credits:
Graffiti at multiple locations in Chappie (2015) uses swears and nonstandard spelling, sometimes in combination, to lend the places and their occupants an outlaw flavour:
Z Nation (2014–18) – a TV series rather than a film, but a fun one to finish on – has a bar punningly named Fu-Bar to comment wryly on the state of the (zombie-infested) world. Fubar, for the uninitiated, is military slang, apparently originating in WWII, short for fucked up beyond all recognition. You might find a use for it.