November 15, 2003

21 What?

Apple's got this QuickTime movie preview running for a new movie called 21 Grams from Focus Features. Sean Penn's in it. Benicio Del Toro's in it. Naomi Watts is in it. It's directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. The movie's supposed to be pretty good.

I really really hope so, because the preview's been driving me up the frickin' wall more each time I'm forced to sit through it. It's been showing in theatres around town seemingly before every bloody film I choose to go see.

"They say we all lose twenty-one grams at the exact moment of our death," the preview narrator's voice (sounding an awful lot like Sean Penn) creepily announces. "Everyone," he continues, "twenty-one grams. The weight of a stack of five nickels. The weight of a chocolate bar. The weight of a hummingbird."

Let's see. "A stack of five nickels." Did you know that a nickel weighs exactly what two dimes weigh? That means a stack of five nickels weighs the same as a stack of ten dimes. Now, according to the logic of the universe where Focus Features comes from, such a stack weighs twenty-one grams. They're close. A single nickel is 4.5 grams (whereas a dime is 2.25). So a stack of five very clean nickels would weigh 22.5 grams. Alright. So they're off by 1.5 grams. Here's your dramatic license back. I'll let ya off with a warning just this once.

But wait. "The weight of a chocolate bar." It'd have to be a very, very small chocolate bar. Did you know that there are 28.35 grams in one ounce? When was the last time you bought a chocolate bar that weighed less than an ounce? Who writes this stuff?

Twenty-one grams, the preview narrator goes on to tell us, is "the weight of a hummingbird." Perhaps a hummingbird from Jupiter, or a really, really obese terrestrial hummingbird that just ate six other hummingbirds, but not a plain ordinary hummingbird.

Of the 338 species and 116 genera of Trochilidae, the biological family of hummingbirds, the typical weight is 3 to 5 grams. Three grams seems to be more common. Five grams, well, that's one hummingbird that should seriously consider Atkins.

So, what hummingbird were the producers of this film thinking of when they made this preview? Certainly not Mellisuga helenae. Why, you'd need a bleeding flock of them to total twenty-one grams. They each weigh about one tenth of that. What then? Threnetes ruckeri? Come now. Perhaps Campylopterus hemileucurus, one of the largest of the hummers. Sorry, still too light by a wide margin.

Three grams, why, that's less than a penny, which is certainly less than the "stack of five nickels." Three grams, that's, that's what, about six average-sized paperclips? Three grams, that's less than a bleeding pencil, for Christ's sake.

Go ahead, find a hummingbird, stun it gently, place it on one end of a balance scale and stack ten first-class letters on the other end, and the balance will stay in the middle.

Like hell, twenty-one grams!

This movie has an awful lot of explaining to do!

Posted by brian at November 15, 2003 10:35 AM


What's driven me slightly insane about the previews for 21 grams is that it is not at all clear what the idea of the film is ... other than a healthy dose of pretense. Thanks for debunking the math - how many torn up ticket stubs add up to 21 grams? Is it perhaps a comment on the metric system?

Posted by: Philip Kirk at November 21, 2003 04:02 PM

Went to see the movie. Very choppy plot line -- not indecipherable, but a bit of a chore sometimes to keep up with all the disjointed threads that tie themselves together fairly well by the end of the film. Very grim, depressing, sad story. Some of it a big preposterous and far-fetched, but, not bad.

Still grumbling about the 21 Grams and the hummingbirds, though. :)

Posted by: Brian at November 27, 2003 10:49 PM

Since we're being pedantic, the gram isn't a unit of weight, it's a unit of mass. So a 3-gram hummingbird would still be 3 grams on Jupiter. Weight (in the metric system) is measured in Newtons.

Posted by: Adam McKenna at December 12, 2003 11:47 AM

In addition, the idea that we all lose 21 grams when we die just isn't true.

Posted by: Underblog at March 22, 2004 08:01 PM

you are all idiots they are just trying to give the watcher an idea of the weight of 21 grams you all need to find something to do with your time rather than "debunking" a movie that is way over your heads anyways hahahaha idiots.

Posted by: Phabrik at April 22, 2004 01:31 AM

Phabrik hit all the nails in your heads with his comment because you're nitpicking a tiny detail from a major work of ART. The folks who made that film are artists not engineers or scientists. "21 grams" is potent stuff. It forces you to stay awake. It pries you out of that comfortable hole that you let your mind crawl into when you watch the news on the tele or your favorite stupid sitcom. Gut wrenching and without a pretty ending, it's an awesome movie.

Posted by: sceptic at July 2, 2004 03:49 PM

Ive just watched 21 grams, it was very interesting, it has done its job fairly well by intriging me, and making me think about the certain themes and ideas they were trying to express in the movie.
as for you guys that analyse such small details in the movie so closely are plain ignorant, it is a MOVIE, entertainment, if you want facts, watch discovery channel, then you can whine if they say something out of line, the creators of this movie surely didn't intend for the audience to gain and take away knowledge in science and maths after watching this movie.

Posted by: Tom at August 13, 2004 08:35 AM

Here is a url that might rest the mind. If you are wondering about the whole 21 grams loss after death theory.

Posted by: Tom at August 13, 2004 08:57 AM

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