The riff: Exclaimed by Joel as a couple of kids fiddle around with an old tin can and one kid puts his hand inside while the other holds it.
The explanation: What a splendid reference to one of my favorite all-time sci-fi novels, Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” In Herbert’s futuristic world, the Gom Jabbar is a test administered by the psychic Bene Gesserit Sisterhood to weed out “human awareness” from those who react instinctively like an animal. To take the test, a poisoned needle is placed against the subject’s throat while the subject’s hand is placed into a box. The box radiates waves of pain, but if the subject pulls his hand out, he will be killed by the poisoned needle. The challenge is thus one of rationality over reaction. Those who survive are deemed “human.”
Novelty factor: Clearly, this one is right up my alley. Speaking of “Dune,” if you want to see the story in a good film adaptation, stay away from the awful David Lynch version. Instead, get a copy of the Sci Fi Channel’s surprisingly good miniseries from 2000 or the even better sequel, “Children of Dune” from 2003. With that said, the Gom Jabbar scene is the one part of Lynch’s film that is actually superior, accurately capturing the dread of the test. Leave it to David Lynch to get that part right.