Great Scene: “The Natural”

October 23rd, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

With the World Series upon us, I figured it was time to feature a great scene from a baseball movie and what a great scene it is: The ending sequence from The Natural (1984). With a screenplay by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry, based on a novel by Bernard Malamud, The Natural builds on the mythic elements in Malamud’s book: Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) like the knight Percival in Arthurian legends, his bat Wonderboy like Arthur’s Excalibur. The mythic themes work so well in the movie version of The Natural because baseball itself is one big fat metaphor for, well… just about anything.

The movie differs in one huge respect from the novel: The ending. In the book, the Protagonist Hobbs ends up a broken man, his baseball career doomed by suspicion that he helped lose a big game on purpose. In the movie, Hobbs gains redemption by winning the big game. There have been arguments back and forth about the moral validity of changing the ending, but what else could we really expect from Hwood — they like ‘happy’ endings. Moreover, it’s a helluva final sequence with a fitting and emotionally satisfying denouement.

We pick up the action in the 9th inning of what amounts to the championship game for the New York Knights. Two men on, two men out, Hobbs coming up to bat. Three big points. First, Hobbs turned aside from the opportunity to throw the game for a lot of cash. Second, he’s just out of the hospital after having been poisoned, so Hobbs is in a much weakened physical condition. Finally, Hobbs has just found out from his old hometown girlfriend Iris (Glenn Close) that Hobbs is the father of her son Ted. With all that in place, here is the script to the final sequence in The Natural.

Youngberry is looking in at Roy. He winds and delivers. 

Roy takes a whirling cut at it, meeting it squarely. 

The ball sails out in a low arc toward left as the runners go, but, 
the third base umpire calls it, "FOUL!"

SLO-MO capturing the fractured halves of Wonderboy as they sail down 
to the ground.

The crowd moans horribly.

AT THE KNIGHTS DUGOUT

heads drop in disappointment. Pop looks catatonic.

Roy looks on for a long moment. Bobby runs out and gathers in the 
splintered halves of Wonderboy. He returns dutifully back to Roy.

ROY
(indicating the batrack)
Pick me out a winner, Bobby.

Bobby trots back to the batrack. He lays Wonderboy down on the grass. 
He surveys the rack -- hesitates, then pulls out a bat.

ON BOBBY

handing Roy the bat. Roy looks at it and at Bobby, then turns toward 
the batter's box. He grips the bat in his two hands, stopping for a 
long moment to reflect. Now we NOTICE blood just beginning to seep 
thru Roy's shirt.

UMPIRE
(breaking in)
Hobbs? You okay, fella?

Roy re-sets himself in the box with the new bat.

ROY
Let's play ball.

UMPIRE
Awright, that's what we're here for.

Roy sets the bat on his shoulder. An eerie silence has pervaded the 
stadium in the wake of Wonderboy's demise.

Youngberry has a sneer on his face as he goes to his motion and -- 
reaching back for something extra -- releases the pitch.

CLOSE AT ROY

with a seething fury, he swings -- violently and perfectly -- the ball 
exploding off his bat.

The Knights bench bolts to its feet.

The crowd, electrified, a frenzied reverberant scream.

The ball, a white blur aiming straight for the lights of the stadium roof. 
CRASH! One light goes. Then in a chain reaction, they all start to go -- 
pop! pop! pop! -- like a giant short circuit.

THE TOWER

The Judge and Gus turn ashen with horror, disbelief.

The stadium lights -- flaring. Spurting. Lighting up the darkened sky like 
the Fourth of July.

The Knights dugout -- pandemonium. Spontaneous lunacy. Players hug and kiss; 
Bivens does a swan dive into their midst; Pop and Red collapse with joy in 
each other's arms.

The crowd -- delirious, raptured. Men pound each other's heads; women screech 
as we go to

TED HOBBS

still following the ball beyond the limits of the stadium, like a single, fleeing 
star.

THE ARC LIGHTS

One after another, each bank of lights begins to fizzle and dim. Entire sections 
of the stadium grow darker. And darker.

Wonderboy -- it lays in the grass. A nearby bank of light goes off, casting it into 
darkness.

Roy, head down, somberly trots the bases, barely visible in the diminishing light. 
There is a final, silent burst of arc light. Then, darkness.

The SOUND of the CROWD recedes and there's a WAIL in the WIND which grows louder as 
we QUICK CUT TO:

ROY'S HOMERUN BALL - FOLLOWING IT

A super trail blazer that glides dreamily into the growing light of a westerly sunset. 
Flying high and long over "our" country, the cities, the plains, going, going ... until 
at last it begins to dip, arcing down to a landscape -- familiar fields of gleaming, 
golden wheat ... falling ...

THE WHEAT FIELD

a BASEBALL GLOVE breaks the surface of feathered stalks, stretches spectacularly and 
catches the ball.

ROY

stares in wonder after his son.

BACK TO TED

He reappears from the wheat field smiling, his glove held triumphantly aloft.

END TITLES

Great stuff. And it’s interesting to note the key differences between the script and the movie including the name Bobby the batboy has emblazoned on the side of the replacement bat for Roy: “Savoy Special”; no sign of Ted, Hobbs’ son, but lots of shots of Iris reacting to the events on the field. Of course, one of the most fantastic elements in the movie sequence is the musical soundtrack composed by Randy Newman. So here it is, a great scene from The Natural.

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here. If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “Zorba the Greek”

October 22nd, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1964 movie Zorba the Greek, screenplay by Mihalis Kakogiannis, novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. IMDB plot summary:

An uptight English writer traveling to Crete on a matter of business finds his life changed forever when he meets the gregarious Alexis Zorba.

The uptight Englishman Basil is played expertly by Alan Bates. But it is Zorba who steals the movie and Anthony Quinn, who played the role, was nominated for Best Actor in 1964.

The movie is an almost perfect tale of head vs. heart. Basil is the quintessential uptight Englishman who has inherited a house on Crete. Zorba a passionate, half-crazed Greek latches onto Basil in the movie’s initial scenes, as a boat carrying Basil, Zorba, and other citizens of Crete make their away across the sea in a huge storm. While the story has several subplots with a thematic backdrop of a FOOW (Fish-Out-Of-Water) acclimating himself to a foreign culture, the emotional core of the movie is the relationship between Basil and Zorba.

In Act Three, after Basil has essentially given all his money to Zorba to feed his frenetic vision of creating a system to deliver logs from up top of the island down to the sea, the edifice collapses (in another great scene). And so after all the people who showed up to celebrate scurry away amidst the destruction of Zorba’s grand scheme and Basil’s last remaining bit of wealth, the two men are left alone on the beach for this great scene:

I first saw this movie in a religious studies class at the U. of Virginia. The professor cited this scene as an example of existentialism — that in the midst of despair and seeming hopelessness, these two choose to defy rationality and dance. If you watch the movie, and track the fitful advance of understanding between these two characters, so absolutely opposite each other, then grasp the power and beauty of them dancing on the beach, I am sure you will agree — this is truly a Great Scene.

For your added enjoyment, here is some of the wit and wisdom of Alexis Zorba:

Alexis Zorba: If a woman sleeps alone, it puts a shame on all men.

—-

Alexis Zorba: Damn it boss, I like you too much not to say it. You’ve got everything except one thing: madness! A man needs a little madness, or else…
Basil: Or else?
Alexis Zorba: …he never dares cut the rope and be free.

—-

Alexis Zorba: What kind of man are you, don’t you even like dolphins?

—-

Basil: I don’t want any trouble.
Alexis Zorba: Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.

—-

Alexis Zorba: How can I not love them? Poor weak creatures… and they take so little, a man’s hand on their breast, and they give you all they got.

—-

Alexis Zorba: On a deaf man’s door, you can knock forever!

—-

Alexis Zorba: No more fooling around, not in this place. We’ll pull our pants up and make a pile of money.

—-

Alexis Zorba: Why do the young die? Why does anybody die?
Basil: I don’t know.
Alexis Zorba: What’s the use of all your damn books if they can’t answer that?
Basil: They tell me about the agony of men who can’t answer questions like yours.
Alexis Zorba: I spit on this agony!

—-

Alexis Zorba: All right, we go outside where God can see us better.

—-

Alexis Zorba: Hey boss, did you ever see a more splendiferous crash?

—-

Alexis Zorba: God has a very big heart but there is one sin he will not forgive

—-

Alexis Zorba: If a woman calls a man to her bed and he will not go. I know because a very wise old Turk told me.

—-

Alexis Zorba: Am I not a man? And is a man not stupid? I’m a man, so I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe.

And there’s this. One of the reasons I love this blog is because of the insights I receive from readers. I originally posted this Great Scene back in 2009, but just yesterday received an email from Daniel Escobar who found it… well, let him explain:

I was writing a letter and I was looking for a picture of Zorba dancing when I found your site. I read what you said about Zorba. I agree completely. I just wanted to add that a teacher in college pointed out that one of the important parts of that last scene is that after the catastrophe happens and the smoke clears, Zorba realizes the lamb is burning and excitedly runs to save what’s there. This shows us how we should be (or how a child is), that after we have a catastrophe in our lives we don’t brood about it but rather jump to the next exciting thing.

The teacher said Kazantzakis was a great admirer of Nietzsche’s and he wrote his dissertation on him. The book spends a little more time on the British guy because it is supposed to be the idea of the Apollonian (the British guy played expertly by Alan Bates) struggling with the Dionysian (Zorba, obviously); a big Nietzchean theme. Zorba the Greek in my humble opinion is one of the few instances in history when the movie is actually better than the book.

That aside, I like the idea of Zorba forgetting the catastrophe in a blink of an eye and moving on to the lamb that is cooking because I think it is a great lesson.

Nietzsche has a great aphorism which I think captures this; “Maturity is recapturing the seriousness of a child at play.” A child is totally involved and in love with his playing (with an attention we no longer have). But he knows it isn’t important and he can leave it with a blink of an eye to go do something else. It would be cool if we were like that. What choice do we have, right? Zorba is a GREAT role model.

After I responded to Daniel, he followed up with this:

I’ve thought a lot about Zorba the Greek actually. The other great sub-plot is the whole thing with how they kill the widow. Nietzsche wrote a lot about “resentment” and how it was such a powerful and ugly force in society. Do you remember when they’re in the tavern how Zorba tells Basil that they are all seething because they want her but cannot have her and so they detest her? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a movie before or after. Very penetrating observation. From there to murdering her as a mob is only a hop-skip and a jump, of course.

The whole thing with the French old maid is wonderfully written and acted. Zorba is so sweet to her and her death is so pathetic and meaningless. Tragic with a capital T. Nobody writes things like that anymore. But they should because so many people are suffering things like that in the world right now.

Also the scene where the British guy teases Zorba about how he listens to Turks and Zorba says, “I listen to you talk and I see that your legs and arms aren’t connected to your head. You don’t feel what you are saying. You are like a puppet.” Or something like that [I forget the exact words]. I always thought Zorba was supposed to be an example of someone who is RIGHT HERE; RIGHT NOW, as we should be.

I knew about Kazantzakis and his interest in existentialism, but not about his fascination with Nietzsche. That knowledge and the insights Daniel sent my way are one example of how this blog can work, an ongoing dialogue about a narrative form we all love: movies.

Thanks, Daniel!

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here. If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “The Thing From Another World”

October 21st, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1951 movie The Thing From Another World, screenplay by Charles Lederer, based on a story by John W. Campbell Jr. IMDB plot summary:

Scientists and American Air Force officials fend off a blood-thirsty alien organism while at a remote arctic outpost.

The crew has spotted a strange object buried in ice.

Funny what you remember from your youth, but this scene with the men on the ice [starting at the 3:06 mark of the clip above] has always stuck with me, specifically how the men spread out to determine the shape of the object… and discover it is a circle. That leads to these lines:

We finally got one.
We found a flying saucer!

Thing From Another Planet

Such a powerful visual way to make the discovery, underscored by the dissonance of the horn section in the soundtrack.

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “Life of Brian”

October 20th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1979 movie Life of Brian, written by Graham Chapman & John Cleese & Terry Gilliam & Eric Idle & Terry Jones & Michael Palin. IMDB plot summary:

Brian is born on the original Christmas, in the stable next door. He spends his life being mistaken for a messiah.

Brian (Graham Chapman) attempts to escape a crowd of devotees who believe that he is the Messiah.

Given my background in theological studies and my adoration of the Monty Python troupe, I found Life of Brian to be both provocative and extremely funny. This scene encapsulates just about every theme and dynamic in the movie: mistaken identity, Brian denying his divinity, believers so desperate for hope their ‘faith’ trumps all logic, along with lots of inanity. The debate between Brian and the crowed reaches a peak with this exchange:

Brian: I’m not the Messiah! Will you please listen? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!
Girl: Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.
Brian: What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Messiah!
Followers: He is! He is the Messiah!
Brian: Now, fuck off!

[silence]

Arthur: How shall we fuck off, O Lord?

The use of the F-word is the ultimate expression of Brian’s frustration. It’s also quite a shock to think that a Messiah would use such foul language. All that is funny enough. But then the topper: The believers are so cocksure they have found a Savior, they are willing to embrace the profanity as part of a possible path to follow Brian.

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “Back to the Future”

October 19th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1985 movie Back to the Future, written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, Jr. IMDB plot summary:

A young man is accidentally sent 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend, Dr. Emmett Brown, and must make sure his high-school-age parents unite in order to save his own existence.

Discovering himself to have traveled back in time to 1955, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) stops into a diner for something to drink.

Background:

* The inspiration for the film largely stems from Bob Gale discovering his father’s high school yearbook and wondering whether he would have been friends with his father as a teenager. Gale also said that if he had the chance to go back in time he would really go back and see if they would have been friends.

* In the original script, Doc Brown and Marty sell bootleg videos in order to fund the time machine.

* In the first scene at the diner, Marty asks for a Pepsi Free. This refers to a brand of Pepsi that was the company’s first caffeine free cola. Ironically, in the same scene, Marty asks for a Tab, which was actually a diet cola brand produced by Pepsi’s rival Coca-Cola.

* The script was rejected 40 times before it was finally green-lit.

There a number of great scenes in Back to the Future, but this one stands out because of the way it handles several subplots:

* Marty and George (Crispin Glover): This is where Marty is ‘introduced’ to his father.

* Marty and Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson): This is where Marty first ‘meets’ his uncle Biff.

* George and Biff: We see how the bullying dynamic between the pair as evidenced in 1985 has its roots in 1955.

* Goldie Wilson (Donald Fullilove): When Marty blurts out, “You’re going to be mayor,” that sets into motion this character’s eventual election to city-wide office. This also sets into motion the dynamic that what Marty says and does in 1955 will have an impact on the future.

It’s a testament to the writers that they managed to handle all of these subplots intersecting in this one scene and do so seamlessly. It is a skill manifest in multiple scenes as Back to the Future is perhaps the single best example of how to use subplots to great effect.

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “Full Metal Jacket”

October 18th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today’s scene suggested by Bretton Zinger: The 1987 movie Full Metal Jacket, screenplay by Stanley Kubrick & Michael Herr & Gustav Hasford. IMDB plot summary:

A pragmatic U.S. Marine observes the dehumanizing effects the U.S.-Vietnam War has on his fellow recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting in Hue.

On night patrol, Private J.T. ‘Joker’ David (Matthew Modine) hears a strange sound coming from the barrack’s head.

Background:

* Gustav Hasford began working on “The Short Timers” (the book on which this film is based) while serving in Vietnam, and based many of the characters (and names) on soldiers he served with.

* Michael Herr, a very close friend of Stanley Kubrick, helped write much of the screenplay, particularly the part set in Vietnam. His contributions to the script are based largely on his own experiences as a reporter covering the war. Like Joker and Rafterman he was essentially freelance and allowed to travel anywhere in the country. Additionally, the scene where Joker and Rafterman watch the crazed gunner in the chopper machine-gun civilians is taken directly from “Dispatches”, Herr’s memoir of his experiences.

* The 7.62mm full metal jacket round that Pvt. Pyle refers to was the standard infantry round leading up to the Vietnam War. It was used in the M-14 infantry rifle that was designed during WWII and manufactured up until the Vietnam war era. Although the M-14 was used in the Vietnam War the M-16 had replaced it as the standard rifle. The M-16 uses a 5.56mm round.

The transformation of Private Leonard ‘Gomer Pyle’ Lawrence from innocent oaf to demented killing machine reaches its apex in this incredibly tense scene, made all the more powerful by the inevitability of the violence we have anticipated throughout the movie’s first act.

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “Apocalypse Now”

October 17th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1979 movie Apocalypse Now, written by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola. IMDB plot summary:

During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission into Cambodia to assassinate a renegade colonel who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe.

We meet Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) in a most dramatic way: Drunk in a hotel room.

Background: The scene at the beginning with Captain Willard alone in his hotel room was completely unscripted. Martin Sheen told the shooting crew to just let the cameras roll. Sheen was actually drunk in the scene and punched the mirror which was real glass, cutting his thumb. Sheen also began sobbing and tried to attack Francis Ford Coppola. The crew was so disturbed by his actions that they wanted to stop shooting, but Coppola wanted to keep the cameras going.

Here is Sheen talking about the scene:

Of the scene, Sheen says, “We had to establish a very, very dangerous character, trained to kill people up close and personal… with his hands.”

The scene certainly conveys Willard as a dangerous individual. And the blood on his hands is a portent of things to come.

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “As Good As It Gets”

October 16th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1997 movie As Good As It Gets, screenplay by Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks, story by Mark Andrus. IMDB plot summary: A single mother/waitress, a misanthropic author, and a gay artist form an unlikely friendship after the artist is in an accident.

Simon (Greg Kinnear), who was savagely beaten in a home burglary and is wearing a cast, is spending the night in a hotel suite with Carol (Helen Hunt) on a trip to Baltimore with Melvin (Jack Nicholson). Helen prepares to take a bath…

Several people requested As Good As It Gets and it would be easy to select almost any of the scenes featuring Jack Nicholson. However I chose this one because it is one of those scenes James L. Brooks excels at: A shift in a character’s perspective in the tiniest of moments.

Since his assault, Simon’s life has spiraled downward, depositing him in a dark funk, both personally and creatively. The trip to Baltimore, ostensibly to visit his estranged parents to borrow money, is as it turns out precisely what Simon needs — and not his parents’ financial help. He bonds with Carol and she with him. Because he is gay, she feels safe leaving the door open preparing for her bath… and that sets the table.

Beginning: Simon lies in bed, watching Carol seated on the edge of the bath tub.
Turn: He becomes enlivened and gathers his sketch pad and pencil.

“I have to draw you.”

Middle: Carol thinks he’s crazy, but as he describes her fine features, she softens.
Turn: She doesn’t close the door or resist.

“You’re why cavemen chiseled on walls.”

End: Carol actually lowers the towel to reveal her back all the way down to her buttocks.

A short scene, a little over 2 minutes long, but it propels Simon out of his creative funk. Indeed the excerpt above ends before we see Simon, enthused about what he’s drawing, rip off his cast, both literally and symbolically breaking free from the ‘prison’ in which he’s been living since the violence perpetrated against him.

A tiny moment. A big shift in a character’s perspective.

Takeaway: Look for moments around which to wrap scenes. Sometimes the most important steps in a character’s metamorphosis happen there.

How about you? What’s your take on this scene? Why does it work so well? What takeaways are there for us?

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “Cast Away”

October 15th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today’s movie is a suggestion by Jon: The 2000 movie Cast Away, written by William Broyles Jr. IMDB plot summary:

A FedEx executive must transform himself physically and emotionally to survive a crash landing on a deserted island.

Chuck (Tom Hanks) has just gotten done seeing Kelly (Helen Hunt) for the first time since his return to civilization. She gives him the keys to his car. They head outside into the rain.

Here is the dialogue in the scene after Chuck meets with Kelly:

We both had done the math. Kelly added it all up and… knew she had to let me go. I added it up, and knew that I had… lost her. ‘cos I was never gonna get off that island. I was gonna die there, totally alone. I was gonna get sick, or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when, and how, and where it was going to happen. So… I made a rope and I went up to the summit, to hang myself. I had to test it, you know? Of course. You know me. And the weight of the log, snapped the limb of the tree, so I-I – , I couldn’t even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over nothing. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I’m back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass… And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

Hollywood has had a long tradition of a type of ending: Give ‘em what they expect… then give ‘em what they want. The ending of Cast Away provides a double twist. The first scene above — between Chuck and Kelly — plays out, at least at first, in the traditional manner:

Give ‘em what they expect: Chuck will drive away and leave Kelly behind. In other words, Boy doesn’t get Girl.

Give ‘em what they want: Kelly races out in the rain to tell Chuck she loves him. Ah, so Boy does get Girl. They even sell this to the point of having her get into his car. She smiles. He smiles. This is going to be a Happy Ending. This is what the audience wants!

But then… no. She has to go home. So as Chuck drives Kelly back up the driveway toward her house, we’re back to Boy doesn’t get Girl. The first twist on the give ‘em what they expect, then give ‘em what they want pattern.

Then the second scene where Chuck delivers the monologue cited above, basically explaining how he processed finding then losing Kelly. That last line — “Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?” — is not only an acknowledgement of the wisdom he learned from his time on the island, it also sets the stage for the second twist. From IMDB:

He drives to Texas with the FedEx package decorated with wings in his Jeep. He attempts to deliver it but no one is there. He leaves it at the door with a note stating that the parcel saved his life. He drives south and at a four-way intersection and gets out of his car to look at a map. A friendly, pretty woman in an old pick-up truck stops and asks him if he is lost. He confesses he hasn’t made up his mind where he was going. She tells him where the four roads lead, and that north, the direction Chuck had just come from, leads to a whole lot of nothingness. She drives north and as she pulls away, Chuck is surprised to see the same pair of wings that were on the package on the tail gate of her truck. Chuck walks to the center of the intersection and looks in each direction for a few seconds. He then turns north and his gaze lingers in the direction the woman drove.

Look what the tide brings in: A pretty woman in an old pick-up truck who may be what Destiny has in store for Chuck. So maybe good ol’ Chuck is going to get the Girl after all… and the audience can at least imagine a Happy Ending, giving us what we want.

Takeaway: We can play around with conventions. Explore twists that provide a fresh take on what audiences expect. Better to have an emotionally resonant ending rather than something that comes off as too pat.

How about you? What’s your take on this scene? Why does it work so well? What takeaways are there for us?

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.

If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!

Great Scene: “On the Waterfront”

October 14th, 2014 by

October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.

Today: The 1954 movie On the Waterfront, screenplay by Budd Schulberg. IMDB plot summary:

An ex-prize fighter turned longshoreman struggles to stand up to his corrupt union bosses.

A worker Kayo (Pat Henning) has been purposefully killed on the orders of Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) in a supposed dock accident. Father Barry (Karl Malden) stands over the dead body while Terry (Marlon Brando) and the other workers look on.

Some background:

* On the Waterfront (1954) is widely known to be an act of expiation on the part of Elia Kazan for naming names to HUAC during the Joseph McCarthy witch-hunts of the 1950s. What is less widely reported is that Kazan intended it as a direct attack at his former close friend Arthur Miller who had been openly critical of Kazan’s actions. Specifically, it was a direct response to Miller’s play The Crucible.

* Arthur Miller was approached by Elia Kazan to write the screenplay, and did so, but later pulled it when the FBI and studio bosses required him to make the gangsters Communists.

* The idea for the film began with an expose series written for The New York Sun by reporter Malcolm Johnson. The 24 articles won him a Pulitzer Prize and were reinforced by the 1948 murder of a New York dock hiring boss which woke America to the killings, graft and extortion that were endemic on the New York waterfront. Budd Schulberg was captivated by the subject matter, devoting years of his life to absorbing everything he could about the milieu. He became a regular fixture on the waterfront, hanging out in West Side Manhattan and Long Island bars, interviewing longshore-union leaders and getting to know the outspoken priests from St Xavier’s in Hell’s Kitchen.

The scene has obvious religious overtones: The victim a martyr; Johnny Friendly a Pontius Pilate type deciding who would live and who would die; Father Barry a lone prophet crying in the wilderness. But he speaks the truth and the workers know it. Although nothing changes immediately, the murder and Barry’s speech stick with Terry eventually causing him to act.

Two takeaways: First, if a scene calls for a monologue, consider making the character delivering a truth-teller. There is power in the truth and that can create a desire on the part of a script reader to embrace a long recitation. Second, notice how Father Barry’s speech is interrupted twice by items thrown at him, one a piece of fruit, one a can which hits him on the forehead drawing blood. The contrast between his words and those actions — that visual element — heightens the impact of the moment.

From a historical perspective, it’s interesting to parallel this story to High Noon, both attempts on the part of the filmmakers to interpret and justify their respective actions during the House on Un-American Activities Committee, both those who named names of supposed Communist sympathizers, such as Schulberg and Kazan, and those who refused and suffered as result including Carl Foreman, screenwriter of High Noon, who was blacklisted.

How about you? What’s your take on this scene? Why does it work so well? What takeaways are there for us?

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.

Thanks for the suggestion, James! If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!