In Demolition Man, shortly after Spartan is thawed out, he tries to use the toilet after which he declares they have 3 shells where the toilet paper should be.

Later on in the film when Spartan finds himself knitting without thinking about it, we find out that everyone who was frozen went through a program during their sentence.

So my question is if they could teach prisoners new skills while they were frozen then why would they miss out something so fundamental as using the toilet properly?

My first thought was that the programs were predetermined before the sentence but then I realised that Simon Phoenix's program was altered to give him access to the cities' computers and a bunch of martial arts skills along with his mission to kill Edgar Friendly.

  • Well, if he had learned it, they couldn't have made such a joke out of it. Seems the most reasonable explanation.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Feb 15, 2013 at 9:13

2 Answers 2


The prisoners were exposed to

subconscious rehabilitation techniques

Instead of stealing or killing, the prisoners are "brainwashed" to do other, more harmless, stuff, e.g. knitting. Keeping them up to date with social and technological changes is not part of the program, which is why

the revived John Spartan has trouble adapting to life in the future

Regarding Simon Pheonix:

Spartan and Huxley check prison records and determine that Cocteau programmed Phoenix to make him an even more dangerous criminal and assassin, with the goal of eliminating Edgar Friendly.

Simon Phoenix's rehabilitation program was "hijacked" by Cocteau, e.g. Pheonix knows the password to open his restraints, which allows him to escape, and, as security measure, he has been programmed not to harm Cocteau (which he circumvents by simply ordering one of his goons to kill him).

  • I understand your point however if they had the technology to "brainwash" prisoners into better, more socially acceptable habits during rehab then why would they not give them basic skills that you would otherwise learn as a child
    – jampez77
    Feb 18, 2013 at 9:29
  • @jampez77 - It's a rehabilitation program. Sure, with that "technology" you could teach them all kind of things, but it's a prison, not a school. A prison probably wouldn't bother much with keeping track of its inmates knowledge to update it whenever something changes.
    – Oliver_C
    Feb 18, 2013 at 11:28
  • 1
    yes but the whole point of any rehabilitation program is to help offender re-integrate into society as much as possible. I suppose with things like the three shells could be part of a secondary stage over the rehab as i doubt they would just thaw you out and let you go. It would be reasonable to assume they would have some lessons and undergo an evaluation to see if they can handle life 'in the future'. but in John Spartans case this stage was missed due to the urgency of his 'mission'
    – jampez77
    Feb 18, 2013 at 11:39
  • @jampez77 - Yes, I have thought about it making sense that prisoners get an "update" right before they are released. But from what I remember that hasn't be mentioned in the movie. But creating individual updates would be a pain in the ass: When was he frozen? What was the world like then? What changed since then? - Just imagine someone from 1980 waking up today. It's virtually impossible to name every detail that has changed since then.
    – Oliver_C
    Feb 18, 2013 at 12:18

For the most part, in the U.S. our education systems don't teach us all of the intricacies of daily living and social norms. Sure, you can learn some basic life skills such as cooking, but using a toilet is typically taught as you grow up, by your parents. We don't know for sure, but in their society there may have been a subtle shift from toilet paper to the three shells. Parent swould change their teaching to match their preferences.

To someone of that time it seems ridiculous that someone wouldn't know how to use the three shells because everyone was taught to use them at a young age. So they wouldn't think "Oh, these convicts used to use toilet paper, we need to teach them to use the three shells." It's just something you wouldn't even think about.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .