The Sound of One Hand Clapping in a Movie Theater

By JB Hogan

Despite popular misconception, a Zen koan isn't a riddle. When you are asked to imagine “the sound of one hand clapping,” you're not trying to find a clever answer to solve the mystery, you're expected to meditate on a thought that can’t be had. The goal is abrogating all thought and ceasing contemplation. If you’ve ever stalled a manual transmission-- it’s like that, but for your mind.


Now that you understand what a koan is (but probably not how to pronounce it), you may be asking, “what do movies have to do with koans?” Hollywood pitches often combine two well known items to make a third new, but also familiar idea. This is how they get that elusive “fresh yet unoriginal” feeling that all great Hollywood movies have. If Armageddon is Apollo 13 meets Die Hard, then what do you get when you crash two wholly incompatible movies together? Well of course, you get movie koans! You can play at home or  challenge your friends to see who can come up with the greatest, most mind numbing movie koan! They will find the activity odd and pointless. (Your friends are a bit on the sitck-in-the-mud side, we’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.) Here are some samples to get you going, or rather, to destroy all capacity for thought as you contemplate an idea that cannot be formulated. Have fun!


American Beauty meets Battlefield Earth


Schindler's List meets Robocop


Juno meets Dune 


Cloud Atlas meets Legally Blonde


Citizen Kane meets Groundhog Day


Full Metal Jacket meets Waiting for Guffman


Alien meets Tommy Boy


Blade Runner  meets When Harry Met Sally.


Oh wait! I apologize for that last one. They actually made that movie, and it's called Her!


If you’re still intimidated because you tried to make a movie koan out of Rain Man meets Ocean’s Eleven but then you realized not only does that movie sound great, they already made it and it’s called The Score starring Edward Norton and Robert DeNiro, here is a fun match game to get you started. Answer key at the bottom!






Answers: 5A, 3B, 4C, 2D, 1E


Now you’ve got it! Feel free to practice movie koans whenever you might need to be unable to think for a few minutes. Perhaps while watching the latest Hollywood summer blockbuster.

 A) Saw

 B)  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (either version)

 C) Who Framed Roger Rabbit

 D) What about Bob?

 E) Memento

  1. A Very Brady Movie 

  2. Top Gun 

  3. The Green Mile 

  4. True Grit (either version) 

  5. The Cat in the Hat