The Big Empty (2003)



Cowboys. Aliens. Blue suitcases and bowling balls. Strange things are happening out in the middle of nowhere. See »

A budding actor is faced with a stalled career and a mountain of debt. Full summary »

Genre: Comedy,Drama,Mystery,Sci-Fi

The Big Empty (2003)
Release Date: 28 August 2009 (Belgium)
Country: USA
Director: Steve Anderson
  • Jon Favreau
  • Joey Lauren Adams
  • Bud Cort
  • Jon Gries
  • Daryl Hannah
  • Adam Beach
  • Gary Farmer
  • Rachael Leigh Cook
  • Brent Briscoe
  • Melora Walters
  • Kelsey Grammer
  • Sean Bean
  • Alejandra Aguilan
  • Jay Brothers
  • Sara Fouts

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33 Responses to The Big Empty (2003)

  1. debbje
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    I am sorry but this movie is totally inconsistent and i didn´t think there was any real meaning in what happens….

    when people say that his and his girlfriends eyes became blue maybe this is bad sign, maybe the aliens have somehow gone into him and they both are not human anymore

    I don´t think his luck has changed

  2. Mikel3
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    First of all my wife and I enjoyed this film it was lots of fun.

    We think that John was on the other world at the end, or ‘The other side’ as Neely called it. That is probably why all the suitcases were opened when he woke up in the desert. You open your suitcase when you arrive…and all those others had arrived with him. Also, his luck changed after the incident in ‘The Big Empty’ (desert), he was out of debt, he got a part though not the lead, he and Grace were together and he finally saw grace as beautiful, agent Banks made up all the excuses for him to tie up loose ends and start over. Both he and agent Banks have that band-aid on the back of their necks. Grace said he had been in the desert for three days, to him it must have seemed like one night. And most of all after he kisses Grace and bowls that last frame at the end his eyes turn from brown to blue right in front of us. Graces eyes are also blue now in the bowling alley (earlier they were not blue), the same stunning shade of blue as Neely’s eyes were at the beginning. John now has the #11 bowling shoes on (the cowboy wanted him to put them on) and he is at lane 11 at the alley. After the 10th frame Grace said they were starting another game. John says he had never bowled two strikes in a row before. What that all means beats me, the fun now is figuring it all out…assuming there is something to figure.

    Only problem was we were left with a lot of questions TO figure out. I hope one of you has some answers.

    -Neely had that neck brace on when we first meet him. Later his head is cut off…or was the brace holding it on in the first place? Or was the brace to hide something about his neck, maybe to protect it.

    -Why did Neely feel he would die for raising John’s fee to 27K+ instead of 25K? He even pulled on his neck brace like he knew he would lose his head for it.

    -Volkswagens seemed to show up, likes John’s Volkswagon bus, the junkyard full of mostly volkswagon beetles later. Maybe it represented for John getting rid of his old volkswagen (putting in in the junk yard too) and starting new.

    -Was Ruthie really from the other world? Stella (Daryl Hannah) said she had been found in the desert and was adopted by her.

    -The color blue played an import role, blue eyes, blue sweatsuits, Blue cases, blue blowing bowl at the end.

    -References to Hawaii seemed to show up a lot too…perhaps a reference to our concept of going to ‘paradise’ as the cowboy described the other side. Stella’s dream was to go to ‘Hawaii’. The hotel was ‘The Royal Hawaiian’ and all that.

    -What was the significance of the circle. John used a circle to represent a new head shot for himself. And the circle of suitcases in the desert. The Indian also had the paper with a circle and Johns name in the middle.

    -The cowboys neck noticably changed in front of johns eyes during the circle scene. Another neck/head reference.

    -The cowboys reference to his job never being done. Perhaps there were so many people in need of leaving ‘the big empty’ or their empty lives to start new.

    -The bowling bowl going out into the desert at the end as yet another flare goes up into the sky. I guess the Cowbow was continuing his work.

    -The sky drawn in the umbrella John used at the end of the film to walk out of the desert. Looked like the umbrella Ruthie used earlier in the film. Did Ruthie leave it for him.

    -At the beginning Neely asks John what his shoe size is. Evidently it is size 11 since that is the size on John’s bowling shoes at the end. The same size shoes that the Cowboy gave to Ruthie when John didn’t want to put them on at the circle. Later he IS wearing them. Ruthie had also put on size 11, since they were the ones he turned down and the cowboy threw to her. At one point I thought that Ruthie was taking John’s place amoung those leaving. She seemed happy to be getting the shoes meant evidently for John. And she even thanked him for her being there.

    -Why did John and agent Banks have those bandages on their necks? Another neck reference like the neck brace on Neely and seeing the cowboys neck change in appearance.

    -What was in each of the suitcases? Perhaps it was what each person needed to start life over. For John it was the money he thought he needed to begin a new life by getting out of dept.

    Anyway, it was a fun movie and we enjoyed it. I hope some of you may have some thoughts on the meanings to what we listed above or on the movie as a whole. I know very well I am asking questions and have few answers.

    Oh yeah, I loved that music during the end credits ‘He was a honky tonk maniac from Mars’ !!!! Very catchy. BTW it was also playing earlier in Grace’s apartment when John stopped by to say he was going to the desert.

    Mike and Elaine

  3. ansbro-2
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    This is a classic example of why friends shouldn’t make movies together.

    Favreau, being the executive producer/lead actor and

    Anderson being the writer/director

    are too close to the action to see that

    the story is going around in circles.

    If they’d watched the thing objectively,

    they’d see that the actors are playing it

    as a comedy or spoof.

    Late in the movie, we see that the junkyard kid is a

    psycho whose mama left him to die in the desert of dehydration

    and he’s really going to kill Favreau.

    Its not very funny.

    We never find out whether the cowboy is

    a serial killer who takes money from alien freaks

    and buries them in the desert,

    or is really an alien abduction facilitator.

    If the FBI agent were a little more hostile,

    we might think that the government

    knows what’s happening and doesn’t want the public involved.

    We might think the aliens only want gullible subjects and

    the neckbrace guy was killed because

    some more sinister human was trying to take his place.

    As a comedy, it can’t work because everybody’s too sophisticated.

    Somebody has to play the fool.

    I think Anderson needs to figure out why his other scripts were rejected.

    This is why script doctors get paid so much.

    You get $10 million invested and you’re desperate.

    Then you pay them a bundle to get you out of the mess.

  4. anthrax617
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    "Look *beep* you couldn’t bluff your way out of a paper bag. I don’t like being lied to, and when i find out what you’re up to i’m gonna take you down MOTHER FUC KER. DON’T FU CK WITH THE F.B.I.!!"

    "Get the suitcase and put it in the bus!"

    "What’s so special about this suitcase?"

    "I don’t know just put it in the fuc kin BUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    "Are you even supposed to be here today?"

    "Don’t get me started."

  5. keepitgoan
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    Wow Im surprised that this topic hasnt been brought up yet. The Big Empty is an amazing movie that has kept me up all night lol. The only movie I can think of that is remotely similar in atmosphere, vibe and mood is Bottle Rocket 1996(Wes Anderson). That movie is very similar except that instead of a sci fi theme it carries a crime theme

    so anyone else know of any similar movies?

  6. amadaca
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    It plays on the main menu screen of the DVD. Kind of an eerie, spacy tune, heard during the movie, too.

    Little help? Thanks.

  7. bruiserx
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    I purchased the DVD of "The Big Empty" and it says "Widescreen" both on the case and on the dvd. However, the movie is fullscreen. I checked the settings on my dvd player to make sure that wasn’t the problem and I tried the movie on another DVD player with the same result…a friggin’ full screen presentation. Anyone else have this problem? There doesn’t seem to be any options under the "set up" menu on the dvd that would cause this to happen either. That’s retarded! I want my widescreen movie!

    -Learn to swim.-

  8. vexner
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    If you originally saw this film in the theater, how obvious was John Person’s change from brown eyes to blue at the end of the movie?

    On the DVD copy I watched, it isn’t even noticeable unless you are specifically looking for it, and then all that is visible is a very slight blue tinge around the edge of his irises that lasts just a second. His irises remain completely solid brown.

    If I hadn’t read about it on this board, I never would have known to go back and look for it.

    It’s disappointing, because if the eye color change was an important aspect of the mysterious ending of this film, then the transfer of the film to the DVD has all but obliterated it.

  9. contact-282
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    When the covboy first shows up. How didn’t Randy hear a TRUCK pulling up right behind his back?

    When the covboy pulls the girl out of the door, how does it happen? He was with John all the time. Did he carry the girl in the pocket?

  10. bongoman47
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    I just received a VHS copy I ordered from, where they show (over to the right at this link) that it is 94 minutes long:

    But it says right on the case that it’s only 92 minutes.

    I ordered the VHS version since several people here in the comments section have referred to the DVD as having several scenes deleted, and it makes for less-than-optimum continuity, so I assumed that meant the VHS was "full length."

    If you have the VHS version, please check to see how long it is. I’m thinking maybe there isn’t a full length VHS.

    Two more oddities; as you notice when you go to that link, it lists this 94 minute version as "VHS, 2004"… maybe that’s just a typo. The second oddity is that the UPC code listed on the tape’s case is the same as the one listed on the link.

  11. BloomingMarvellous
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    I dont’ know if it’s the pacing or the fact that there have yet to be any characters that I can sympathize with. I know I should stick with it and I really want to but I find that I can manage about ten minutes then I have to stop the film. Does it the pace pick up?

  12. bongoman47
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    In the comments section, Cipher-J said…

    "But (the DVD version of) the film is only 92 minutes long, and there were at least three scenes chopped down that needed to contribute important information to the continuity."

    …and I’d like to get a copy of the film… so, at 94 minutes, the VHS version is the one to get?

  13. mad_lulu
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    sorry got bored so started one

    who likes sean bean (if i may take this moment to be a teenage girl)

    who also has a strange yet not pervy likeing of cowboys and so think that perhaps this is going to be one of those delightfully perfect films

    just me then eh

    ok then

  14. fourswords2003
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    The umbrella in the movie, that was black on the top side, but blue sky on the underside, has anyone ever seen one like it for sale?

    I would love to buy one, but have never seen one like it.

    If anyone can help…..


  15. kmenday
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    I thought at the beginning when Grace goes into the guys apartment she had a bandaid on her neck… am I wrong? If not, what does that imply?

  16. sandpaperpants
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    Did anyone else notice the weird switching off of camera angles/time lapse shots while John and Ruthie are drinking whisky and eating whipped cream? At first I thought it looked really unprofessional and I couldn’t believe it got through editing. However, judging by the weirdness of the rest of the movie, I’m guessing it was deliberate. I just watched it on Encore so I can’t rewind. Anyone who has it on DVD should check that scene out. Who knows.

  17. rnomura
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    Can anyone help me identify the make and model of the blue suitcase seen throughout this movie? I’m interested in purchasing one. Thanks!

  18. Anonymous
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  19. Anonymous
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  20. mechajutaro
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    Just saw Big Empty aaaaaaand…

    Anyone else surprised at how good she was in the film? Seriously, I’d written her off as another fly-by-night teen sensation…

  21. Anonymous
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  22. Anonymous
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  23. ranger_red_saturn
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    I would love to see a sequel to this movie that focuses more on the Cowboy. There’s a whole slew of adventures he could get into.

  24. EmjayKay
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    everyone is mentioning how grace had a bandaid at the beginnig, so she must have been part of the scheme– 1- i didn’t even notice a bandaid on her… 2- her eyes aren’t blue at the beginning! if she were already taken then, her eyes would have been blue THEN not change at the end- so that confuses me.

  25. EmjayKay
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    anyone notice anything about the names??

    John (the most common male name) and his CHOSEN last name "PERSONS"… i mean, this to mean seems to symbolize that John is EVERYONE.

    Grace- she’s a dream (to john) perfect, sweet, pretty- she’s sheer grace…

    STELLA- means star. she kinda lit things up for john. he got information from her- and he met the main characters b/c of her – randy, ruth, the banks.

    RUTH- a name in the bible- (from biblical studies RUTH was a young woman whose name means "a sight", she was devoted and then rewarded for her devotion (both seen in her behavior toward John and Randy)

    i can’t find any meaning of BANKS name… and i think the whole "cowboy" and "indian" thing.. is somethign to be looked into deeper- i dont have any simple explanation for their names… just something i agree w/ mentioned in another post about the obsession w/ "cowboys and indians" in the ole days, and how "other worlders" might look at that and still be fascinated w/ those personas… also— the whole thing is a "game"– and "cowboys and indians" was a big game that boys used to play– so it just alludes to the game thign for me..

    NEELY_ it is gaelic for VICTOR- which i’m assuming is not the NAME victor but- A victor… a winner. i kinda think that the COWBOY is a negative thing– all the things john is doing is for MONEY– temptation- some kind of devil symbolism there– and i think that NEELY didn’t do the job- that he passed the buck for JOHN to do- so NEELY actually didn’t "play the game" with the devil- so he wins- (even though he died– he still probably went to "heaven"… IF "cowboy" represents the devil)

  26. clerks4life
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    after watchuing the big empty (which i can say is on my top 5 movies eright now) and seeing how gret the storyline is i think andersen needs to make another movie.

  27. yeyach
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    i think this film is totally misunderstood

    it is a dark mysterious black comedy/drama

    if youre expecting something like dumb and dumber or swingers(another john favreau) movie youll be dissappointed

    the cast was excellent

    the acting was excellent

    i found it really funny,but not in a laugh out loud,side-splitting way

    the whole of this movie is just about this adventure this guy goes on and a whole bunch of weird messed up stuff happens,not a big deep plot.

    i love it and strongly recommend it

    especially to fans of:

    the coen brothers (especially the big lebowski)

    david lynch (especially mullholland drive)

    trees lounge (directed by steve buscemi_

  28. vexner
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    Upon my second viewing of this unusual movie, I noticed two important things:

    CLUE 1) As Cowboy is looking out of the motel window and describing what it is that he does, we can see his eyes clearly, but his mouth opening is blocked from our view by one of the venetian blinds for the entire scene. I seem to remember that one of the chestnuts of cinematic symbolism is that if you can hear an onscreen character talking but you can’t see his mouth, then the validity of what he is saying is suspect at best, i.e., he is quite probably lying…

    CLUE 2) At the end of the debriefing scene, Agent Banks puts on his suit coat and then a full-length overcoat (in L.A.?) which is clearly shown to resemble Cowboy’s black duster in the next shot. Are Cowboy & Banks the same cosmic being in different Earthly guises?

    THEORY 1) Since John (and Grace, to a lesser extent) helped Cowboy pull off his mission as originally scheduled, they are being rewarded with a few upturns in luck for the near future. Depending on what you think Cowboy was actually doing, John & Grace may have betrayed humanity, similar to the way Guy did in Rosemary’s Baby. Neely was trying to back out of his agreement with Cowboy at the last minute; he thought that John would maybe take his place when he got to Baker (or that Cowboy would take him by force); luckily Ruthie stepped in to free up John so he could "start a new game".

    THEORY 2) If Cowboy and Banks (and others) truly are from Somewhere Else, maybe they get to frolic on Earth as their favorite human TV & movie characters while they are doing their work. I felt this aspect of the story come through when Cowboy blows the smoke from his gun barrel after his second shot in the desert. To us it may seem like a corny move, but to beings whose main connection to us is through decades of vintage TV broadcasts, this ancient shoot-em-up gesture might still look cool to them. Banks’ gung-ho portayal of the glib yet tough FBI agent (who is clearly having a fine old time), and his appreciation for Person’s acting abilities might also support this idea.

  29. pyromanpro
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    every post disscussing the matter has read something like this:

    "its outer space, the movie is showing us that were’r really igsignifigant."

    or something along those lines.

    i dont mean to bash the writers or belivers of this theory, it’s probably right, but i think that there should be another option.

    so here’s my theory:

    The movie wasn’t trying to show us how unimportant we are, its doing the opposite. why would Cowboy be making people happy if we are so unimportant? The "big empty" is inside us. remeber what Neelie said about Person in the begginging? well i dont. but its something aboot how hes empty inside or somesuch. (4:12 as of this writing, go piddle on someone else’s parade)

    the emptyness must be filled by happiness. i think i just lost my point but stay with me here the sooner you face it the better off your gonna be. what?

    i gotta mosquito bite. bummer. ahem. if your still reading imma go now. by-e

    (5:15 ok then im pumped to finish this madman) i think that my little idea beats the poo out of the previous idea, although im afraid to look at what i wrote before. it makes more sence. im rambling now because i want to make my point without having anymore facts.

    so its time for my catch phrase!

    enough rambling im done.


    P.S. before i go id like to remind you that what you just read was free, so dont complain if you didn’t like it, its not like you saps payed or anything.

  30. craven-8
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    Just saw this movie for the first time on cable and really dug it. That said, I know very little about scientology other than there’s some sort of sci-fi basis or origin to it. but it occured to me based on some of the themes in the big empty and the fact that the hotel guy was named Elron (sounds suspiciously like L. Ron Hubbard, no?)

    Anyway, just curious if people had any thoughts on any connection here, whether spoofing, paying homage, whatever…

  31. cloud-tumbler
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    He loves the game Risk, remember that?

    It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.

  32. hippiedj
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    At the end of the film, right before Favreau lets go of the bowling ball, his eyes suddenly turn blue, and Adams’ eyes are blue as well. Director Anderson says he likes to leave things open-ended so that viewers can come up with their own ideas of what it means, so I’d like to hear what folks think the blue eyes mean. It could really bring up many ideas I’m sure!

  33. OwlCritic
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    there’s this part where they’re(Jon & Ruthie) going for beer in Death Valley and they have a conversation before this, well I only have a part of it:

    "Even if I get all drunk and beg you to *beep* me?"

    "Scout’s honor."

    "Are you really a boy scout?"

    "Are you really a virgin?"

    And then that song plays, can anyone help me with what comes before that? it’s not the whole conversation, I know, and does anyone know what song plays in the background?

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