The "Perfect" Scene

For a project in my Narrative Prod class, we have to direct and film a "perfect scene", in which all production elements: screenplay, composition, direction, lighting, sound, editing... are to the best of our ability. Although we were allowed to choose a pre-produced scene, it had to be something we felt we could improve upon-- or at least, produce in a way that stands ground to the original.

No small task. But fun.

I chose a scene from P.T. Anderson's Punch Drunk Love-- ironically, the movie of his I like the least.

begin digression

It's not a bad movie at all. It isn't a particularly great movie either. My theory is that the film is so personal (Anderson called it his "autobiography") and so uninhibited in style and content that these elements prevent it from fully connecting with an audience. A majority of its scenes are superb scenes: wonderfully written, directed and acted-- but in the end you remember it for the sum of its parts than for its whole. (Who needs plot or character development when you've got the Mattress Man phone call, the bathroom destruction, the homicidal pillow talk, "He Needs Me"...)

I guess it's Anderson's Lady In The Water: a movie that reveals more about it's creator's cinematic desires than anything actually on the screen. But as Anderson is a superior director to Shyamalan in nearly every respect, it is considerally more enjoyable.

end digression

The scene immediately follows Barry's (Adam Sandler) destruction of his sister's sliding glass doors, after his family gossips about his lack of love life in his presence. (Ouch.) He pulls his brother-in-law Walter aside to apologize, and ask for something.

(Apologies for the lack of true screenplay formatting.)


It's later and WALTER and BARRY walk down a small hall and into a kids room.

They're OC for a few moments as the CAMERA slowly pushes in and towards the room. Following sotto;

What's up?

Well I'm sorry. Before...


And I'm sorry that I did that.

It's alright.

I wanted to ask you because you're a doctor, right?


I don't like the way I am sometimes. (beat) Can you help me?

Barry, I'm a dentist, what kind of help do you think I can give you?

I know that. Maybe you know other doctors?

Like a psychiatrist?

I don't have anyone to talk to things about and I understand it's confidential with a doctor - I'm embarrassed about that and I don't want my sisters to know?

You want a number for a psychiatrist, I can get you one, that's not a problem. but what exactly is wrong?

I don't know if there's anything wrong with me because I don't know how other people are.....Sometimes I cry a lot.....for no reason.

Barry starts to cry. Walter just stares at him. HOLD.

Barry stops, recuperates, then leaves.....as he does;

Please don't tell my sisters.

What's going on in this little scene is truly incredible, both textually and subtextually. Having expressed his pent-up frustration in a spontaneous moment of rage, Barry returns to his senses and does the socially correct thing: he apologizes to the host, the begrieved party.

Walter's reaction is as sterile as carbolic acid. He's known Barry for years; this is typical. Barry has always been his wife's crazy brother, her only brother, the scapegoat of the family unit. This probably is not the first time Barry has apologized for property destruction. So he gives a arctic response: "It's alright."

Clearly it isn't. Barry knows this.

His shame, plus the disconnect between words and scenario prompts Barry to admit something that would never emerge in normal circumstances: that he doesn't like himself. And then asks for help.

Walter is now somewhat embarrassed: he is, in fact, only a dentist. Why his psycho brother-in-law should drop this bomb on him is inexplicable. So he sterilizes his instruments and retreats further, asking a series of questions regarding what kind of help Barry wants, and what precisely his problem is. He's gone from being a family confidante to an apersonal medical professional.

Barry is expecting all sorts of responses to his revelation: sympathy, empathy, disgust, ridicule, anger, etc. Instead, a man he trusts puts up a facade that prevents any rapport at all. He might as well be talking to a computer.

The words he spills out demonstrate just how lowly and fragile a state he is in. Barry doesn't know where to begin, because he hasn't a clue whether his feelings are even normal or not, given how little intimate contact he has with others. (Barry may have even have Aspberger's Syndrome. Or at least, he is extremely depressed.) He feels the need to excuse even bringing up the subject to another person, which of course is unwarranted.

He mentions his worst symptom and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: he bursts into tears. Regaining his composure for a moment, he leaves the scene by warning Walter against one of his worst fears: telling his sisters. They are a gossipy, despicable bunch who bully and henpeck their brother incessantly, even interrupting his business conferences to chew him out. They are his personal Furies, through which he is unjustifiably tormented.

(Later in the film we learn that Walter does tell his sisters every detail of their conversation, but by that point Barry is so smitten with Love that he hardly cares.)

Watching the scene with Sandler and the other actor (sorry I don't have the name), Anderson plays the scene on a tightrope: wavering in an unnerving balance between pathos and laughter. It's this quality most of all that has me attracted to it: a moment so powerful and emotional that you're not sure whether to cry or laugh.

It is funny: being so desperate that you have to admit your problems to a dentist, who doesn't want to hear them. It is terrible: being so lonely that the only way to cope is to bawl. In public.

Believe me, I've been in places like that before. Sad but true. To experince it is harrowing... in retrospect, ridiculous. Above all, the scene is honest.

The original shows the whole moment in one take. The storyboard my partner created breaks it up into more discrete moments, which I think can emphasize aspects of both the awkwardness and the raw emotion underneath the words. Let's hope.

I'll keep you posted.

No comments:

Post a Comment