Blogs on Film

That Tell-Tale Cough in the Movies

Before the big romance scene, no one in the movies has to brush their teeth first to suppress halitosis. Before the big action scene, the hero never needs a pee break. And Henry Fonda, as the President, never passes gas.

The side-effect of the general exclusion of such realities of human biology from film is that when one of them appears, an experienced film goer knows it’s highly significant. One such example I have noticed a number of times is that if a movie character coughs for no apparent reason, they are going to die before the credits roll.


I was watching Finding Neverland a few years back. “Good movie” I thought as I watched, “but I wonder where the plot is going”.

And then Kate Winslet coughed.

The next hour unfolded entirely as expected. She died, Depp grieved.

Ditto the post-hack Julianne Moore in End of the Affair.

I am sure there are other instances of this phenomenon in the movies. It now awaits for some self-referential film buff director to really fool us by having a character cough for no good reason and then survive the movie in perfect health.