Repeatedly throughout Spike Lee’s strikingly scatological Inside Man, the bank robbers are observed digging a hole in the bank’s concrete floor. When the hole reaches a foot or two deep, the robbers find a sewer pipe (inevitably reminding viewers of the escape route in The Shawshank Redemption, although this bank pipe is much too small to serve as a means of egress for an actual person), spurring one robber to remark, “that’s a good-looking shit hole.” The purpose of this hole was, I think, made quite clear at the end of the movie, though it apparently left some viewers rather confused, wondering whether the hole was actually an instance of an inadvertent “plot hole” (see, for instance, the very animated discussion on Cinemarati of this and related issues).
This “shit hole” resonates with a pattern of references in the movie to anality and defecation, many of which revolve around the protagonist, Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington). For instance, when Frazier introduces himself to a bank employee who happens to be a Sikh (Waris Ahluwalia), the employee exclaims indignantly, “Detective Frazier my ass, where's my fucking turban?” (he had lost the turban in the tumult when police apprehended him when he was released from the bank). At another point, when Jodie Foster’s character (an eminently well-connected professional who discretely solves problems for the rich and powerful) tells Frazier, “Don't take this personally, but I don't think you can afford me,” to which he replies, “Don't take this personally, Miss White, but you can kiss my black ass.”
Most tellingly, however, is the discussion between Frazier and his partner, Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) after their meeting with the owner of the bank (Christopher Plummer). Mitchell unexpectedly asks Frazier if he can see his shoe. Frazier, startled, asks why, and Mitchell replies that it is because “I've never seen someone shove his foot that far up someone's ass” (Mitchell and Frazier then proceed to elaborate on the metaphor in considerably more graphic detail). This fascination with anality is suggestive because Inside Man, in its portrayal of the relationship between Frazier and Mitchell, is implicitly in dialogue with the latent homoeroticism that is typically a staple of the “buddy movie” genre as a whole (it should be noted, however, that Spike Lee for the most part wisely sidesteps the obligatory homophobic jokes which are a trademark of the genre, though the movie does begin with Frazier arguing with his girlfriend over his reluctance to propose to her, and subsequently joking with Mitchell about it).
To appreciate the implications of Inside Man’s scatology, however, it will be useful first to first take a detour through related discussions in several other works. In a famous passage near the beginning of Gravity’s Rainbow, for instance, Pynchon (who, incidentally, is a fan of Spike Lee’s "namesake," Spike Jones) describes how his protagonist, Tyrone Slothrop, in a sodium amytal-induced delirium, imagines himself plunging down a toilet in 1939 at the Roseland Ballroom in Roxbury, Boston, in order to avoid attempts by Malcolm X and “a dark gang of awful Negroes” to sodomize him. After entering the toilet, Slothrop then finds himself completely surrounded by excrement, simultaneously accentuating and eliding the racial and sexual anxieties which precipitated his plunge down the toilet in the first place. In a discussion of this and related passages, for instance, Shasta Turner agues that,
Shit opens a space of narrative chaos in GR that both overwhelms and beckons to Slothrop, who initially battles the excrementally-infused Other of his vision, and later locates in the chaotic world of blackness tentative possibilities for hope.
Excrement, for Pynchon, represents an erasure of difference, while at the same time being the quintessential Kristevan abject against which difference (and identity) is constituted in the first place.
Zizek, in a famous passage from the beginning of Plague of Fantasies (1997) (and subsequently recycled verbatim in a 2004 London Review of Books review of Ash’s Free World) similarly uses excrement, and its assorted receptacles, as a fulcrum against which to elaborate a theoretization of national, and ideological, difference:
In a famous scene from Buñuel's Phantom of Liberty, the roles of eating and excreting are inverted: people sit at toilets around a table, chatting pleasantly, and when they want to eat, sneak away to a small room. So, as a supplement to Lévi-Strauss, one is tempted to propose that shit can also serve as a matière-à-penser: the three basic types of toilet form an excremental correlative-counterpoint to the Lévi-Straussian triangle of cooking (the raw, the cooked and the rotten). In a traditional German toilet, the hole into which shit disappears after we flush is right at the front, so that shit is first laid out for us to sniff and inspect for traces of illness. In the typical French toilet, on the contrary, the hole is at the back, i.e. shit is supposed to disappear as quickly as possible. Finally, the American (Anglo-Saxon) toilet presents a synthesis, a mediation between these opposites: the toilet basin is full of water, so that the shit floats in it, visible, but not to be inspected. No wonder that in the famous discussion of European toilets at the beginning of her half-forgotten Fear of Flying, Erica Jong mockingly claims that 'German toilets are really the key to the horrors of the Third Reich. People who can build toilets like this are capable of anything.' It is clear that none of these versions can be accounted for in purely utilitarian terms: each involves a certain ideological perception of how the subject should relate to excrement.
This notion that practices of defecation functional simultaneously as universal commonalities, on the one hand, and as markers of cultural (and, Zizek suggests, ideological) difference, on the other, finally, is developed most memorably in Fruit Chan’s 陈果 2002 film, Public Toilet 公厕.
Fruit Chan made his film-making debut with the 1991 horror film, Finale in Blood, followed by two informal trilogies of films: his "Hong Kong trilogy" (Made in Hong Kong , The Longest Summer  and Little Cheung ) and his "prostitute trilogy" (Durian, Durian  and Hollywood Hong Kong) Each of these latter films combine serious reflection about issues of geopolitical realignment and the transnational trafficking in women, with an off-beat macabre and scatological fascination with circulating body parts, body fluids, bodily excrement, etc.
Public Toilet’s protagonist, Dong Dong (Tsuyoshi Abe), was literally born in a Beijing public toilet, and consequently becomes known as the “God of Toilets.” As an adult, Dong Dong embarks on a quest for a cure for his mother, who is now dying—a quest which reunites him with the public toilets from which he came. Interwoven with this story, meanwhile, are several other narrative threads situated in Hong Kong, New York, Korea, and India, all of which center around public toilets—which figure as both unifying factors as well as markers of socio-cultural difference. Underlying these intertwined themes of difference and commonality, meanwhile, is a notion of displaced return. As Peter Nepstad, for instance, observes, in the movie
There is a sense of dislocation that many of the characters share. One is an Italian, born and raised in Beijing. He returns to Italy because he "doesn't want to be an Italian that doesn't know anything about Italy." Two Indian brothers from Hong Kong feel like foreigners in both Hong Kong and their native India. The boneless woman from the sea, emerging onto dry land but not really belonging there. And finally, "God of Toilets," emerging from the toilet, and one day hoping to return. We are shot out of our mother's womb like shit from a tightened sphincter, to float lonely and confused around the toilet globe of life, waiting for that last flush.
Finally, the preceding reflections on anality and defecation allow us to return once again to Inside Man, and to suggest a deliberately provocative reading of the significance of the movie’s title (which, if the Cinemarati chorus are at all representative, appears to have inspired quite a bit of head-scratching among many viewers).
First of all, an extended scene in which the police are seen studying a blueprint of the bank and discussing possible strategies for forcing their way in, suggests that the bank itself (with its tangled labyrinth of rooms and corridors, connected to the outside world by only a single, narrow orifice) is structured like an intestinal system.
Second, the gastro-intestinal comparison applies not only at a structural level, but also at a functional one as well. Spike Lee, for instance, takes considerable care to establish that the bank customers, employees, and would-be robbers trapped inside the bank represent a genuine cross-section of the vibrant ethnic, religious, and cultural eclecticism that is New York City. However, when they all finally pour out the front door of the bank and end up sprawled all over the sidewalk, all wearing identical hooded painters’ outfits and facemasks, it is almost as if they have been “digested”—their individual differences figuratively erased, to the point that the police and the detectives are unable to distinguish bank robbers from hostages (this is not a spoiler, since it is established unambiguously in a series of flash-forwards of police interviews of robbers/hostages beginning comparatively early in the movie).
Matt Zoller Seitz, makes a similar point when he observes
[t]he way Inside Man starts out by isolating its supporting characters with discrete, zoomed-in close-ups (most of them are talking on cell phones or listening to iPods), and then, as the movie goes on, unites everyone by moving from person to person in lengthy, uncut, Steadicam shots. It’s a visual analog for how trauma forces people out of their private technological bubble and forces them to connect with what Deadwood creator David Milch calls “the larger human organism.”
Seitz' and Milch’s notion of the “larger human organism,” meanwhile, hints at a potential alternative reading of the title of Spike Lee’s movie. Rather than ask which of the characters in the film is the proverbial “inside man” (and each of the principle characters is arguably a potential candidate), we might read the title more abstractly (or more literally), in the sense that the gastro-intestinal inside of the bank is itself figuratively “inside man,” in the sense of being the “inside[s of] man.”