In the German film Knockin' on Heaven's Door, there is a scene where one of the characters looks at the side-view mirror of the car he's sitting in, and we get a shot of the mirror and the caption 'Objects in mirror are closer than they appear'.

Do you think this could be of some significance to the movie? I mean, surely this scene can't have been just placed there at random. What, in your opinion, is the meaning of this?


It's standard in the US, apparently - no, I'm not joking, they really do have to put a warning on convex driving mirrors.

I first noticed it in the 'driving away from the T Rex' scene in Jurassic Park.

For years I just thought it was a 'joke', included by the movie makers to increase the tension in that scene.

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They even parodied it in Toy Story...

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  • At least in Toy Story, they got it on the correct side of the vehicle. – T.J.L. Dec 10 '19 at 13:16
  • @T.J.L. What do you mean by "correct" side? You (should) use both side mirrors while driving, so presumably the warning is on both of them? – Anthony Grist Dec 10 '19 at 15:07
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    @AnthonyGrist Nope; it's only on the passenger side mirror. The driver side mirror doesn't need the same optics to give a usable field of view. – T.J.L. Dec 10 '19 at 15:10
  • @disassociated The warning is certainly about rules, but the convex-or-not issue that causes the closer-than-appears effect is about physics. Automotive mirrors, when properly aligned, are intended to give a certain field of view (with some safety-related rules involved). That said, both the size and relative positions of the driver and the mirrors have a significant effect on that field of view. We've got some truly massive pickup trucks over here, with mirrors on long arms to see around equally massive trailers. Those mirrors tend to be more convex than ones physically closer to the driver. – T.J.L. Dec 10 '19 at 18:16
  • In any case, as far as the comment goes... In the places that do have the requirement for the labeling, it's on the passenger side mirror but not the driver-side. In Jurassic Park, they added it to the driver-side mirror to make a joke. – T.J.L. Dec 10 '19 at 18:19

Coincidentally this movie is also the first time, I encountered this label. I remember it quite clearly, because it is something very exotic in the German context. I always assumed it to be put their on purpose until I finally sat in an American vehicle years later and noticed that it was actually on (almost) every car from that country.

To me the mirror symbolizes many things:

  • Looking back, retrospective, regret, chances missed, mistakes made. Shortly before being faced with consequence or death the protagonists will surely be taking a look back, even if it is is just with a glance at the rear view mirror.
  • Even though they are driving a Mercedes Benz, it seems to be an American version, looming with the scent of freedom and the style of an era long forgotten.
  • The text is (similar to the already quoted jurassic park reference) foreshadowing that consequences are closer than the protagonists might think. And also the final curtain. Or in other words: you cannot run away from your own past, your own self.
  • As already stated, it is also a movie quote. Not only directly due to camera angle and scenery, but also to the countless road movies many of which play out in American cars.
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