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I know that this was really just meant to be a joke in the movie, but that makes me wonder: why seashells, and how are they supposed to work?

Three Shells

Did the writers just pick out an absurd word at random, or did they actually have something in mind that got cut from the final version?

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    Haha, he doesn't know about the three seashells. Jan 7, 2015 at 18:46
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    I always just assumed that they were noodle implements: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NoodleImplements Jun 30, 2016 at 19:14
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    Hmm. I've edited this to reflect the answer the OP accepted (e.g. how did they work) but on closer inspection, no part of the answer actually addresses what was originally asked (e.g. why seashells and not some other object). Hmm. Possibly worthy of a new question.
    – Valorum
    Oct 23, 2016 at 19:30
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    @Valorum well, the "why seashells" is explained here. TL;DR - the story writer himself revealed the source being one of his friends having "a bag of seashells on his toilet as a decoration". :-) Jan 22, 2017 at 13:55
  • I'll admit I get a giggle out of this every time I visit my mother-in-law's because along the windowsill in the bathroom are, you guessed it, three seashells, all lined up. She's never seen the film, but a friend brought them back from a trip and told her that that was how you lined them up in the bathroom, so she does so.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jun 18, 2021 at 18:07

2 Answers 2

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Any description here is going to border on the crude and will offend at least one person out there, so here it is, in spoiler notation (don't blame me if you mouse-over it!):

The original idea the writers had was you use two shells to pull and gently extract fecal matter from your body and use the third to scrape and remove what's left. Stallone explained it here: Round Two With Stallone: Rocky, Beverly Hills Cop, Rambo 4, Elvis, Poe, Horror, Incredibles 2 & Seashells... (See question 9). If one really doesn't get it, there's a diagram: imockery.com presents "how to use the three seashells." Step 1: take two of the three seashells and place them between your fingers to be used like chopsticks. Step 2: Using the two seashells, gently pull on the feces to remove them from your posterior until your bowels have been completely emptied. Step 3: Using the third seashell, scrape away any fecal remnants from your posterior. Step 4: Dispose of all three seashells in toilet and flush.

I have to add that I was disappointed with this, since it didn't use any kind of future technology. Before I read this, I always thought it would have something to do with ionic charges and attracting/repelling anything in the area that wasn't attached (such as skin and hair).

A recent interview also revealed a (rather gross) origin of the idea out-of-universe: DEMOLITION MAN Screenwriter Reveals "Three Seashells" Origin.

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    Wow, this is a way more comprehensive answer than I imagined. Nov 4, 2011 at 20:10
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    Also, at the risk of being even more crude, I feel that I have to add that I would certainly have no need of an implement to extract such matter if all of the restaurants in the world were Taco Bell. Nov 4, 2011 at 20:17
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    They borrowed the idea from the Flintstones. Each one has a big ol' fly inside to keep it tidy. May 15, 2012 at 0:37
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    @MajorStackings: Uh, thanks....Brain bleach, please?
    – Tango
    May 15, 2012 at 2:12
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    Reusable seashells?! Yuck. I thought the shells were controls. One for soap, one for rinse and one for air dry.
    – Kyle Jones
    Mar 29, 2013 at 4:14
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At December 2014, Daniel Waters (one of the screenplay writers of the movie) was asked about the seashells in Demolition Man and gave a decent reply: (warning: graphic language used!)

"There's a scene where Stallone has to use a restroom. I'm trying to come up with futuristic things you'd find in there. I was having trouble, so I called my buddy, another screenwriter across town, asked him if he had any ideas. Ironically enough that guy was taking a dump when he answered the phone, looked around his bathroom and said 'I have a bag of seashells on my toilet as a decoration?' I said 'Okay, I'll make something out of that'".

source

So, to sum this up nicely: the reason why seashells are used, and not something else, has two levels:

  1. The writer has a friend who had (maybe still have) a bag of seashells on his toilet as a decoration.
  2. When the writer called that friend to ask for ideas about future things in toilets, he was just using the toilets, thus the seashells caught his attention and he mentioned them.

Without any of those, we would have most likely gotten some boring thing like fancy bidet, which would be the obvious choice and wouldn't have raised any questions or discussions. :)

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