The phrase “breaking the fourth wall” finds its origins in theater, where the actors must imagine a wall between them and the audience to maintain the illusion of reality in their fictive actions. If an actor responded to someone’s cell phone going off in the audience, the illusion of their staged narrative would crumble and the audience would be pulled out of the action. (Of course, a cell phone is going to pull the audience out of the action anyway, which is why some actors have thought it perfectly reasonable to reprimand theater goers who can’t figure out how to silence their phones. Note: Hugh Jackman did so in character.)
In traditional theater and film, the director works hard to maintain that illusion of what’s on stage or screen being a reality. But there have been occasions where that illusion has been broken on purpose–to create comedy, to shock or surprise, to indict the audience as part of the problem, or even to deliver a message on how to view the film or play.
Press Play, purveyor of fine video essays on film, offers this supercut of breaking the fourth wall by Leigh Singer. Warning: it does have some NSFW language. But it’s awfully fun.