The Topic At Hand: How Do You Like Your Eggs?

There is an old practical joke, which can be traced as far back as Spain in the 1930’s and is most likely forgotten now, that was very common when I was a kid:

“Juan and Pinchame
went to the river.
Juan drowned.
Who’s left?”

Before you hasten to answer, let me assure you that “Pinchame”, which translates roughly as “poke me” without the Facebook undertones, doesn’t resemble any of the available names in the Spanish language. No one is or has ever been called Pinchame in the history of the universe, which makes the endurance of the joke the more surprising. One has to assume that at least some victims said “Pinchame” and were subsequently poked, or else the joke would have ceased to exist long before I had the opportunity to challenge it. Surely because it’s posed as a problem, kids find themselves drawn to solve it before they can even think what they’re saying. I didn’t. I have never been poked — or, at least, not as a result of this particular prank — despite remaining stupidly impetuous in most other aspects of life. I know, of course, why Pinchame always made me cautious. Juan and Youfuckedmysister went to the river. Sorry, I’m having trouble picturing Youfuckedmysister. What was his last name?

I like stories. But more than that, and for as long as I can remember, I like drama. This entails a propensity, even a cherished, active disposition towards being fooled. But we’ve got to have some rules about it.

Take the egg scene in Angel Heart, 1986. Awesome movie, for today’s standards, Robert De Niro’s identity notwithstanding. I won’t spoil anything if I tell you that De Niro plays a secondary character with implausibly long nails, who goes by the name of Louis Cypher. Yes, very clever. According to the lesser novel Angel Heart is based upon, Lou Cypher also lives at 666 Fifth Avenue, which should give you an idea of its level of subtlety. Fortunately, they left that detail out in the movie. And to be fair, knowing that De Niro is the devil doesn’t affect the watchability of Angel Heart except maybe in the last few seconds, and by then you’ve either bought it or you haven’t. Or — as seems to be more common than I imagined — you didn’t get it at all. But the Egg Scene is a problem.

As he carefully peels a hard boiled egg, De Niro-as-the-Devil mentions that eggs are sometimes thought to symbolize the human soul. Then he spreads an inordinate amount of salt over the egg and proceeds to eat it whole, while staring intently at Mickey Rourke, who we thought at the time looked confused, and fat, and tired, but we know now was in fact radiant and, retroactively, beautiful.

The moment is meant to be awkward and unsettling, but doesn’t quite get there. And I believe the problem, just as with Pinchame, lies in the opening statement:

“Some religions think that the egg is the symbol of the soul, did you know that?”

I’m betting this line was improvised and not in the original script. And granted, chances are slim that English was Lucifer’s native language. But you’d think the devil himself should be able to come up with something more ominous, less Cartesian and above all, a bit more sophisticated than that. “Religions think”? The symbol? If you’re gonna threaten me, be precise. Otherwise, sorry, but I’m not really sold on the premise. So go on, have another egg. (Or, as Jack would put it, more eloquently, only one year later: have another cherry.)

Still, there’s something about food and the depiction of evil. They go well together. And when I think of the Egg Scene (surprisingly often, as it turns out), I am reminded of its perfect counterpart: the Pear Scene, from El Crimen de Cuenca, a Spanish movie about the brutal punishment of two unfairly accused paesants in 1913. The wife of one of the innocent turns to a judge for mercy. She cries and begs for the life of her husband. Throughout the long scene, the judge (played by an extraordinary Héctor Alterio) doesn’t look at her once. Instead, he concentrates on peeling, cutting and eating a slippery pear, using a knife and fork with superhuman skill—his fingers never touch the fruit. Now there’s a monster.

There is no punchline, I’m afraid, since Angel Heart remains a bold interpretaton of the Faustian myth despite one weak scene, while El Crimen de Cuenca is pretty horrible as a whole, a movie entirely devoted to proving the astonishing hypothesis that torture is bad.

But that’s life. You can’t have everything.

And most eggs know this, one would like to think. Their options are limited. They can either be eaten, or fertile—not both, at least not in that order, and usually not in the other one either. With some exceptions. There is a traditional Filipino dish called Balut, which consists of boiled fertile duck eggs. And there’s a guy called Nguyen who sells them uncooked in Orange County. It’s a pity he wasn’t around when they shot the Egg Scene, because he really could have made it work:

“See, Mr. Angel, a good boiled Balut has four parts. There is the yolk, the white part called Bato, the embryo, and some liquid, which you should sip before opening the egg. If you prefer not to chew the embryo, you can always swallow it whole.”

Not bad for the Cronenberg version. As a child, I always had this fear of inadvertently dropping a chicken fetus in a frying pan. Why couldn’t it happen? How closely monitored were the chickens? Very closely, it seems, since it never happened, and I slowly learned to trust the content of the eggs in my kitchen, to the point of abstraction. I now find it difficult to imagine that those perfectly aligned oval shells in the fridge had their origin in soft, living tissue — a perception that I suspect I share with many people, and has probably nothing to do with the aberrations of urban life. I live in the country, surrounded by chickens, and the eggs still strike me as mass produced, inanimate, slightly artificial. They all look identical.

Yet they are, of course, all different inside, and that is my first point of the evening: given that every egg carries at some point the possibility of either nominally productive fate (Fertile vs. Eaten), it is not unthinkable that it would prefer one fate to the other. I realize I’m falling into animism here, but please indulge me.

The egg is given a choice.
But the egg may not want to choose. The egg may want it all.

It is not that difficult to imagine an egg who wants to serve its purpose in the reproductive cycle, and still refuses to renounce the self-destructive thrill of human culture; the egg who wants to live, and wants to be a good egg, but is also drawn to stories of countless suicidal metamorphoses, turning white in the heat of the pan, scrambled with others — experiences that in his egg mind will no doubt sound like Shelley, imbued with horror but also with the possibility of passion, or some equally tempting, romantic notion.

Not such a bad symbol for the soul, after all.


Not that there is a soul, of course, or that it needs a symbol, given that “the soul” is a symbol in itself. But all the eloquence of twenty Daniel Dennetts would fail to eradicate the concept in our minds. We continue to cling to it, and not necessarily out of ignorance, or because we adhere to some obsolete religious cosmogony. Despite its blatant non-existence, there seems to be a cultural necessity for the soul. Which is to say: a house for the self, unless you think your Self is well represented by the public persona you have crafted over the years.


Other than its brilliant copyline (that today, sadly, would likely suggest something along the lines of Saw IV in Space) all we knew about Alien in 1979 was that there was an egg in it. Or many eggs. Or something that looked like an egg, and wasn’t good for you. I was too young to get in any of the Argentinean theaters that showed Alien that summer, but luckily for me, no one cared how old you were at the drive-ins. And there we went, completely unprepared for what we were about to witness. We’d seen Close Encounters, and Paul McCartney’s Back To The Egg was on the radio. In the late 70’s, aliens (and eggs) were harmless, maybe even good.

“Weaver es el huevo”, said my dad jokingly during the opening credits. I didn’t know who she was yet, but Weaver did sound a lot like huevo, and that’s how I think of her even today, sometimes: Sigourney Egg. Such was the power of the events on that shabby drive-in in the middle of nowhere, a barren lot in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. I remember everything: the smell of the wet pavement (it rained at some point during the movie), the particular shade of orange of the acrylic seats in front of the gigantic screen. I often mention Alien when someone asks me what made me want to make movies, but even that is an understatement.

As far as I know, Alien presented us with the first instance in which the aforementioned dilemma was solved by an egg. Or by a species that comes from eggs, which is the same unless you want to argue who came first. The egg in Alien wants it all, and it achieves it: by reproducing (in different parasitic stages) while living a life of complete disregard to social convention —no morals, of course, but also no difficulty of any other kind in taking whatever it wants, across different planets and cultures. Admittedly, the particular specimen in Alien doesn’t end up doing very well, but that is incidental, as can clearly be seen in the sequel. As a species, they are very successful, and effectively manage to reproduce and engage in all kind of acts that dispose of the idea of family (or any other civilized form of engagement) simply by creating life from the debris they leave in their trail. And still you don’t get a sense of free will from the Alien creature. In a sense, it has it all. There is no doubt that it takes pleasure in its life as a predator, and that its reproductive process is very convenient in combining reckless debauchery with the preservation of the species. But you can tell: the fucker is not enjoying itself. It looks more like a slave to the whole process, more insect than human, definitely lacking in the romantic department.

Not an egg, but a mammal by the name of Tyler Durden, did tackle the same dilemma two decades later, in David Fincher’s Fight Club, a movie that is much easier to spoil than Angel Heart, so let’s make sure that everyone saw it before getting to it. For now let’s just mention that Tyler Durden’s response to the Egg Dilemma, albeit more sophisticated, would probably be considered too extreme even by the Alien creature. Fertile or eaten? Love or commitment? Work or play? Neither, says Durden, fuck them all, and let us all go down in flames. Not bad. Maybe even inspiring for the duration of a movie. But then? There is something significant that Durden’s methods have in common with the one employed by the Alien creature: they are not sustainable. Ecologically speaking, they cannot endure. That’s why the Alien creature keeps bouncing between planets in search of new species to parasitize (it’ll run out of them, eventually), and that’s why Fight Club ends with the conflicting statement that the main character has won and lost at the same time.

Presented with the choice, the egg (soul) considers it unbearable.

Life without others is meaningless. In life with others, one vanishes.

One alternative is life against others.

It would appear that doesn’t really solve the problem either.


I live in England now, nominally freed from the constraints of passion, conflict, lust and ambition. Or at least that’s how it seems in the surface. I sit outside a café in Soho. My wife and daughter are at the world premiere of the sixth Harry Potter and, as I write this, I receive a text message that tells me they’re delayed. I wonder if the hail storm that flooded Victoria Station today will be indelibly stamped in my daughter’s brain next to Harry Potter, the way I remember every detail of my Alien summer night. People dine peacefully on candle lit tables and even passing cars are quiet, for my standards (I’ve come here via Madrid, where everyone shouts 24/7). Civilization seems to have grown naturally from the earth. Everything seems to work without effort.

But let me tell you about Eggs and Soldiers.

Ask for a soft boiled egg in England and it will almost invariably come accompanied by soldiers —thin slices of toast not more or less wide than 22mm, “thin enough to fit snugly into the hole at the top of your boiled egg without causing it to overflow, but not so thin that when the toast is smothered in creamy egg yolk it goes soggy and leaves you with egg on your face.” A fitting technique for the people who invented trainspotting, and bird-watching, one could think. Almost cute, efficient, and nice. Matrix-nice.

Just as the egg may or may not symbolize the soul, the slices of toast could have been anything — sticks, fingers, obvious phalluses. But they are soldiers.

There is a reason for that.


(Both animations by the author.)

  • Share
votes for this contribution.

Subscribe to Revolving Floor via RSS or email

6 responses to “Eggs And Soldiers”

  1. Janie Epstein says:

    A little too heavy for me to digest.

  2. Janie Epstein says:

    By the way I am familiar with this old joke. I learned it as
    John and PinchMe etc.

    If the victim was young enough to blindly repeat PinchMe, they got pinched. Not sure of it’s origin but I suspect it is shrouded in the mists of time reaching back to the dawn of man.

  3. Interesting to consider, in the context of this piece, that in the sequel to Alien, the creature actually does show a nurturing side, i.e. the mother doesn’t want Ripley to roast the eggs with her flame thrower. I wonder if all stories become about family, if they go on long enough?

  4. Jay Handee says:

    I love the clever animation; it helps lighten the aforementioned heaviness and pulls me back into the imagery that leavens Mr. Raffo’s language.

  5. liza says:

    Nice animation!

  6. Amanda says:

    I am not a film critic/aficionado–to my shame, barely even a film viewer. But I saw Alien a million years ago and recognize the references. Even in my ignorance of the movie, I found this piece thought-provoking and remarkably well constructed–tightly woven. Indeed, on reaching the end, I found myself poking keys to see if there was more somewhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Author

Huili Raffo

Huili Raffo is a writer and filmmaker living in East Sussex. A Fulbright Scholar, his work has been awarded by the Nicholl Fellowship, the French Ministry of Culture, and Zoetrope Studios, among others. He is a founding member of The Slow Whoop. For the past five years, he ran the prestigious Argentinean website Los Trabajos Prácticos. He's a good cook, makes nice drawings, and plays the ukulele.

Other contributions on this theme: