Script To Screen: “The Abyss”
One of the most dramatic scenes from the 1989 movie The Abyss, written by James Cameron.
Logline: A civilian diving team are enlisted to search for a lost nuclear submarine and face danger while encountering an alien aquatic species.
Hippy and Catfish are setting up the cart and the oxygen kit, dropping things, making mistakes. One Night is teaching herself how to fill a syringe from a bottle of adrenaline.
Here he comes!
Jammer and Sonny leap into the freezing water, waist deep on the submerged diving platform. Bud bursts to the surface. Together they haul Lindsey across the platform, out of the water, and onto the deck. Her skin is blue-white, her chest still.
Bud rips his helmet off in a near-frenzy, like a man possessed, a man with a mission. The others are galvanized by his energy even though they all see Lindsey as dead, a corpse... cold and inert. Water flows from her mouth and nose and her lips are blue, her limbs completely limp. Hippy peels back one eyelid, to find the pupil fixed and dilated.
But when Bud shouts for them to move, they move.
Turn her over!
They flip his wife's body over. He straddles her, pushing down with both hands in the middle of her back. Seawater gushes from her slack lips. He does it again until the flow stops, then flips her onto her back.
Come on, hurry! Gimme the de-fib...
One Night and Catfish are fumbling with the emergency cart equipment. They've all been trained in CPR and use of the gear but that was years ago, and is a friend they're working on. They're all thumbs. Catfish drops the electrodes, picks them up quickly, hands them to Bud...
Here, here, here... no, you got to have bare
skin, or it won't...
Bud rips into her clothing, opening her jumpsuit, literally tearing away her T-shirt, revealing her bare chest... bony and still.
Jesus. Gimme those, come on. Catfish, move it,
man! Come on... come on!
He slaps the things into Lindsey's bare skin, one on the sternum and one on the side of the rib cage.
Is that it? Is this right?
Yeah! I mean, I don't know... it looks right.
All right. Do it!
One Night hits the switch and Lindsey's body convulses. It is a pure muscle reflex, and when it is over, there is not a hint of life. Hippy pushes him back and puts a black rubber oxygen mask over her mouth. He opens the valve on the cylinder and starts pumping the squeeze bag. They start packing electronic blankets around her to fight the intense hypothermia.
Do it again, One Night. Zap her again!
The current hits Lindsey again and her back arches. Bud doesn't wait for a result... he's in his own reality now, driven. He's doing it all at once, somehow, in a senseless frenzy... pumping on her chest with his hands, squeezing the oxygen bag, placing the electrodes.
Aw. Christ... come on, baby. Again! Do it
Lindsey's back arches. Her body relaxes, inert.
Come on, One Night... what are you waiting for?
A hush seems to have fallen over the group. They know instinctively that it's over. But Bud can't accept it. He looks at them, beseechingly, like they are somehow intentionally holding out on him. One Night starts to cry, quietly.
Bud, it's over, man. It's over.
There is a beat of silence. Bud stares down into Lindsey's half-open, motionless eyes.
TIGHT ON LINDSEY'S EYES, moving in until the pupil FILLS FRAME, a black void.
REVERSE, HER POV. SILENCE. A distant, distorted image, we see Bud, One Night, Jammer, Hippy, Catfish, staring down. It is like the circular top of a dark well, their faces shimmering as if through the surface of water. It is as if we are in a well, descending, looking up at a circle of faces growing smaller as we drop away... smaller and smaller, receding until it becomes a point of light in the void, like the fading bright dot at the center of a turned-off TV.
TIGHT ON BUD, rigid, staring. Catfish puts his hand gently on Bud's shoulder. Suddenly Bud tears Catfish's hand away and sets upon Lindsey like a madman, renewing his efforts in spades... totally manic.
No! NO! She's not... her heart is strong,
she wants to live... can't you see that? Come
on, Lins. Come on, baby! Zap her again! Do
it... DO IT!
They do. And Bud works, feverishly. He lock his lips over hers and starts mouth-to-mouth. It is frantic, passionate... the kiss of life.
Come on, breath! Goddamn it, you bitch, you
never backed down from anything in life... now
He slaps her face, hard. Her head lolls. He smacks her the other way.
LINDSEY's POV, from the bottom of the great well. The circles of faces and light rockets toward us in the blackness, as we soar upward from the pit. We see Bud yelling, but his voice is distant, windlike.
TIGHT ON LINDSEY, still. Then something incredible happens. Something they will never forget as long as they live. Lindsey coughs once, weakly, and her hands clench in a spasm.
Bud see it and his expression becomes beatific.
Come on, Lins. You can do it... fight your
way back, baby...
The others look on in wonder as Bud wills this woman back.
She starts to cough, weakly at first... then more violently as she draws air into her lungs. Bud crouches over her, rubbing her limbs... trying to re- establish circulation. It is like a difficult birth. Lindsey comes hacking and howling back into the world, wet and naked and fighting for breath.
Bud puts the oxygen mask over her face and she draws breath after agonized breath. He pushes her wet hair back from her face with his trembling hands, and watches her breathe. Color is returning to her skin as she lies there, gasping weakly.
ONE THE GROUP... Catfish, Hippy, One Night, Jammer, the others... they're all grinning, crying, beaming... gazing at the miracle of her rebirth.
ON BUD... tears are streaming down his face.
(a whisper, fierce and harsh)
You did it, ace.
Here is the scene from the movie:
There are few differences, notably additional dialogue. Can you catch them? And note the camera shots. Cameron had this scene blocked out shot by shot in the script.
One of the single best things you can do to learn the craft of screenwriting is to read the script while watching the movie. After all a screenplay is a blueprint to make a movie and it’s that magic of what happens between printed page and final print that can inform how you approach writing scenes. That is the purpose of Script to Screen, a weekly series on GITS where we analyze a memorable movie scene and the script pages that inspired it.
For more articles in the Script To Screen series, go here.