Anatomy of a Scene – Suds on the Roof

“For Andy, getting three beers a piece and to have some suds as him and the guys work outdoors in the heat is worth the perilous personal risk that he put himself through to make it happen.”

Sometimes, it pays to speak up and be heard even if you’re a convicted felon. Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) is a few years into his prison stint at Shawshank State Prison in rural Maine. He proclaims his innocence to Red (played by Morgan Freeman, his good friend in the prison, who still has a hard time believing him even though the two have become close first as Andy’s provider of cigarettes and posters of centerfold actresses and models but has become more of a confidant despite being skeptical of Andy’s claims of innocence. He tells Andy “Everyone in Shawshank is innocent, don’t you know that?”

As Red also explains, prison is no fairytale world and Andy runs into a rough crowd of prisoners who sexually assault and physically beat him to a pulp. Prison becomes very routine in that Andy tries to fend off his attackers, does his duty at the massive laundry room, and collects rocks in the yard to shape and polish with his rock hammer as a hobby to pass the time. Red also exclaims in the film, “Prison time is slow time…and a man will do almost anything to keep himself occupied.”

It is through his budding friendship with Red and his connections to the outside world that they can finally break the monotony of prison life and to have a small taste of freedom by bribing a few of the prison guards with cigarettes and whiskey to win the job of tarring the license plate factory roof. While it is arduous, backbreaking, and tiresome; it’s also Summer in Maine, a “fine month to be working outside”, and comes with more outside time in the prison and other special privileges, according to Warden Norton. With a small bribe and maybe some extra names in the sorting hat, Andy, Red, and their associated group of inmates win the job with no other prisoners being suspicious of how they won the prized work outside.

This scene that I like to call ‘Suds on the Roof’ focuses on the men at work with the hot tar with the summer heat bearing down on them. The head of the Prison guards gets fleshed out as a character when we learned that his brother died as a rich man being worth over $1 million dollars, which in the early 1950s would be 20x the amount today in 2021. Byron Hadley, being the vindictive, petty, and cruel man that he is likes to play the victim on how he is only getting $35,000 from his brother despite calling him an ‘asshole’ to the other guards and complaining on how it’s not enough or how the government and others will take some of that money he didn’t earn but inherited. This is a brilliant detail at the beginning of the scene to show just how pathetic and small he could be as a character, which is great writing by the film’s writers, because you begin to grow to detest how vile a person that Byron Hadley is.

Andy Dusfresne, our main character in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ overhears Byron’s ‘tale of woe’ about inheriting money from his recently deceased brother and seeks to take advantage of the situation by knowing that his tax and finance knowledge as a banker may play to his advantage. The way he stops mopping the tar, walking over awkwardly, and coming up from behind with the guards’ backs turned away from him is terror-inducing when you first see this scene. Andy’s crew, including Red, implore and yell at Andy to keep ‘his eyes on the mop’ and not to antagonize a vicious man that Byron is because they know from experience how senselessly brutal and violent, he can be to the inmates for no reason at all.

Andy, in this scene, he is as cool as a cucumber and basically tunes out their pleas of him to keep mopping and ignore Hadley’s tale of woe. Andy goes up to Hadley and says a few choice words that almost get him killed within the next few seconds. “Mr. Hadley, do you trust your wife?” That simple sentence has a lot of implications such as that she may be cheating on Byron and has been unfaithful to him but it’s really about Andy asking about their financial relationship although his poor choice of words almost leads to Byron throwing him off the roof of the license plate factory and then calling it an ‘accident’ with the outside world beyond Shawshank none the wiser about his actual premeditated cause to murder Andy.

“Because if you do trust her…there’s no reason that you can’t keep that $35,000!” …In just a few seconds, Andy’s quick thinking and knowledge of one tax-free gift to your spouse or wife helps keep Byron from throwing Andy off the roof to certain death. Andy is trying to save Byron some money and exclaims quickly that he can give his money up to $60,000 in a tax-free gift hence why Andy awkwardly started to ask him if he trusts her implying if he would trust her with such a large sum of money and if she would take care of it properly for him. Byron knows Dufresne as all the guards do as a ‘smart banker’ who ‘killed his wife’ and is worried that what Andy is advising him to do would be illegal and get him in trouble with the IRS and the law.

Andy assures him that this tax-free gift is entirely legal and if he doesn’t believe Andy, Byron can ask the IRS to check and make sure. Byron still looks down on Andy and doesn’t need his help to get all the money, but Andy replies fast that unless he wants to pay lawyers or a financial advisor to do it, which would cost a lot of money, Andy exclaims while hanging from the edge of the rooftop that he would do it for Byron nearly free of charge! Andy only needs the forms to start preparing him and the only cost that he asks for in return are a few beers for him and each of his “co-workers”, which is a hilarious aside that Andy would refer to his convicted inmate friends as co-workers rather than fellow prisoners. Even though they are in prison for life, most of them, they still form bonds of friendship to survive in terrible conditions, with a sociopathic warden and a vicious head prison guard preparing to harm or even kill them if they step out of line.

Now, the most surprising thing about this scene is that the ‘nearly free of charge’ refers to a specific brand of beer, “Bohemia style” as Red puts it and for them to be “icy cold” especially to quench the thirst of the hard-working prison crew toiling to tar the roof day in and day out. Andy, in a sense, wants to feel like he is doing his banking job again and instead of receiving a salary for just himself as he did before, he instead wagers his life to get beers not only for himself but for his crew of friends he recently established. He is selfless in this way in that he does not think only of himself but thinks of those others who deserve that small moment of freedom by drinking “cold ones” on the roof at “ten o’clock in the morning.” For Andy, getting three beers a piece and to have some suds as him and the guys work outdoors in the heat is worth the perilous personal risk that he put himself through to make it happen. For Andy, it was to help him feel a bit less like a convict in a prison on a life sentence and a little more like a free man, if only for a short while.

I believe Andy wanted to feel a bit more normal such as like him and his friends were tarring the roof of their own houses and to sit with the sun on their shoulders and feel free and have a bit of happiness in grim circumstances that they find themselves in day in and day out with little hope to their chances of getting out of prison. As Red indicates towards the end of the scene, they can make Byron, the guard, seem magnanimous or even ignored altogether because they have sun and they have cold beers and they have each other, which is more than the convict crew has had all together in years probably.

Andy is selfless to the end in this scene showing his true character as not of a cruel murderer but someone who even if unclear yet to the audience was wrongfully convicted, whose intentions were pure, and who missed his previous life as a banker and wanted to “feel normal again, if only for a short while” as Red so eloquently puts it. In this scene, we begin to see Andy’s true nature as a human being: awkward and clumsy at first but very brave, empathetic, and a kind heart that not only Red’s friends realize from his selfless act but that the guards also see even if they have to follow Hadley’s orders in dealing with him. Andy was offered a ‘cold one’ at the end of the scene but tells one of the convict tarring crew that he gave up drinking.

Red speculates to the audience watching as to why Andy would refuse the beers that he almost died to get but then realizes in the narration that it wasn’t about getting the beers at all or helping Hadley get wealthier, it was to have that freedom to choose again, to have a choice without asking for permission all the time from the guards, and to feel a bit of life again within the drab and gray walls of Shawshank. The freedom of choice is directly related to having free will, which was taken away completely from Andy and other prisoners. He wanted to restore it again briefly to have a bit of normalcy and break up the sheer monotony and harshness of prison life.

Andy would like to think and have again for a moment where he is not a mere convict but a human being worthy of some simple dignity, choice, and a small taste of freedom for some brief moments asking for those cold beers and if he must almost die for that freedom, it was worth it to him in the end. That feeling of ‘normalcy’ to Andy as Red puts it was the real driver for him to put himself at risk and to feel good about it after, to smile and feel some small sense of happiness that had been missing for so long. Lastly, Andy did not just do it for himself but to help his friends who had sustained his spirit in the drab prison even after being beaten, abused, and almost worked to death in the laundry room. It is not he who deserves to feel somewhat normal again alone but his crew as well who worked tirelessly to mop hot tar in the summer without any prospect of real rewards or gratitude. The beers were not just for him but for Red and for the others to feel like ‘free men’ and to be the ‘lords of all creation’ in their minds and in their hearts, if only for a short while.

Anatomy of a Scene – ‘At A Crossroads’

“Sometimes, the only way to move forward in life is to look for a sign or in this case, a person to help guide you in the right direction.”

“You look lost.” “I do?” “Where you headed?”, “Well, I was just about to figure that out.”

There are moments in life where the road ahead looks vague and uncertain, where we struggle to figure out what happens next or what should we do next. You can have a map with you, and you have an idea of where you want to go but there are four directions ahead and you’re not sure whether to go north, south, east, or west. Sometimes, the only way to move forward in life is to look for a sign or in this case, a person to help guide you in the right direction.

A brilliant movie in its own right, ‘Cast Away’ is about a man whose life is upended by mother nature and who will never be the same again. Without spoiling too much of the movie, Chuck (the main character) loses years away from his wife, his job, and his lifestyle and while he was away from it all, the world moved on without him. Most heartbreakingly, he cannot get back the time he lost working for FedEx or being with his wife or integrating back into his former lifestyle after having his life upended by mother nature.

Similar to how oftentimes in our lives, people move on without us. Friendships sometimes end, romantic partnerships fizzle out, and loved ones can grow distant from us on purpose or by accident. The message of the ‘Crossroads’ scene that I have included above is that life goes on with or without us and if we are still here on the planet, we cannot hold on too tightly to the past and must instead try to chart a new path forward even when that is often difficult to do.

This particular movie scene is one that a lot of us can relate to right away. You’ve finished your education, maybe you’ve quit a job, or you decided to retire and are wondering, ‘what’s next?’, which is an essential question of the human condition. It is hard to pause when you’ve had a routine upended or a part of your life just end one day, and you are not sure what will come next. You may have a couple of choices pulling you in different directions and you are looking for a sign of what to do next. Sometimes, that sign comes to you based on a significant item, object, or memory that pulls you in a certain direction but oftentimes, we just have to make the best decision that we have based on our thoughts and assumptions on the way forward. After making ‘crossroads’ decisions of my own in life, what’s important to realize is you have to make some choice and not stagnate in your own worries about what could happen. The worst decision would be to make no choice at all and let your life stay in a perpetual kind of limbo. Chuck was close to doing just that in ‘Cast Away’ before he found the sign that he needed in an unlikely place.

This ‘Crossroads’ scene starts exactly with that image of a crossroads on a non-descript road in middle America, which could be Kansas but is actually somewhere in rural Texas. Chuck, our protagonist, looks lost as he gets out of his car at this dirt crossroads, takes a big gulp of water in the hot Texan sun, and gets his large USA map out to chart his next decision. He just left the house of someone whose package with ‘angel wings’ helped him a lot during his isolation from civilization and for which he brought back their package as a way of thanking him or her. The people in Chuck’s life have moved on without him and he is not sure what comes next given he is a free man after years away from people but at the same time has lost his wife, his job, and his previous lifestyle to one fateful event that was out of his control, and which seemed like an act of God or mother nature.

Any part of this scenario would frighten and subdue even the most resilient person in the world, but Chuck is resilient albeit perplexed on how he ended up where he is without a sign of a compass to chart his way forward. When Chuck reaches this four-way crossroads and stops to check his map, a woman in a red, flatbed truck comes up to greet him and see if he needs any help and if ‘he is lost.’ She tries to give him advice on whether to go north to Canada, west to California, or eastward bound to the coast but he seems resilient if not a bit stubborn after being on his own for so long. Still though, the redheaded woman is kind and sweet in her manner and she says back to Chuck, “well, alright, good luck, cowboy!”

As the sweet-natured woman starts to drive away in her truck, Chuck notices something he’s seen before. A pair of yellow angel wings at the back of her truck’s bumper that he’s seen before on the package he had with him all those years. He knows now that the package he delivered was the one to her house and it was her package! A range of emotions hit Chuck all at once as he becomes shocked, bemused, and then pensive as if he should follow her or not.

Most intriguingly, towards the end of this scene, chuck now with the first sign in a while of where he might go next in life, stands in the middle of the four-way crossroads thinking about the woman whose package had such a big impact on him in his years-long solitude and how likely it is that he finds her attractive as well as kind. The camera pans out to show him in the middle of the crossroads looking at the different directions where he could possibly go next but then the camera lingers on his face as he moves to the direction where he really wants to go. It is the redhead’s truck’s direction down the long, sloping road ahead and Chuck begins to smile as he finally knows where to the long road of his life should end up next.

It is a very poignant and moving scene as we all must make decisions like Chuck in terms of where we want to go next in life. These decisions are hard to make and sometimes involve real regrets but also lead to joy, peace, and happiness. We must do our best to choose wisely in life, but like Chuck did, we must look for the signs where and when we can, and then we must make a choice because not making a choice is not living at all, it is merely existing and that is no way to go through life.

Anatomy of a Scene – ‘Why do we fall?’

“It feels more real than any other comic book movie and the character development is better than most other movies due to the major scenes having a deeper meaning behind them that continue throughout the Nolan Batman trilogy.”

As I have written in a previous blog article, ‘Batman Begins’, directed by Christopher Nolan is one of my all-time favorite movies and still my favorite comic book movie. It feels more real than any other comic book movie and the character development is better than most other movies due to the major scenes having a deeper meaning behind them that continue throughout the Nolan Batman trilogy. One of the scenes from ‘Batman Begins’ that really sum up the core message of this trio of Batman films from 2005-2012 is asking the question of ‘Why do we fall?’. This question not only summarizes the trilogy’s main message of not letting adversity or failure keep us from trying and eventually succeeding but also regarding the need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward in life.

This simple message of ‘why do we fall?’ is more than just about Batman’s own struggles in terms of having a traumatic experience of falling through a well, getting harassed by a swarm of bats, and injuring himself but it’s about our own setbacks in life and what we can do to put them behind us rather than dwell on them. This peculiar scene from ‘Batman Begins’ is central to the theme of the movie as Batman, an ordinary man who while having inherited obscene wealth and prestige, still suffers from tragedy early in life despite his well-to-do circumstances of birth.

This scene starts with a young Bruce Wayne falling into a boarded up well near his father’s mansion while playing with a childhood friend, Rachel, as they search for an arrow relic. Not only is the fall quite steep causing young Bruce to fracture his arm, after also falling to the bottom of the well, Bruce’s presence agitates a flock of bats who come out rapidly to surround and pester Bruce who is afraid by their mere presence. While his fright appears to be very real, it is likely that they are more frightened of him then he is of them. Luckily, Rachel tells Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne, about the incident who comes rushing with Alfred to get his young boy out of the well. The elder Wayne is a doctor who can set the bone and care for his son as a doctor would for any patient.

As Dr. Wayne and Alfred carry Bruce to his bedroom, he asks his son, ‘Why do we fall, Bruce?’ and he answers his own question as he knows the boy to not have picked up on the inherent wisdom that comes from falling: ‘So we can learn to pick ourselves up.’ This is the exact kind of fatherly advice that Bruce will remember not only as a child but as an adult as well.

Facing adversity not only as Bruce Wayne but also as Batman will cause him to remember the quote that his father imparts on him. There will be challenges, failures, and setbacks that he must deal with but the only way to get through them is to ‘pick yourself up’ and to keep moving forward. Dr. Wayne’s advice is key also in imparting to Bruce that only through ourselves can we overcome adversity and that we cannot rely on others to do it for us. While he was there for Bruce to help him get out of the well and to heal his bones, he like all fathers will not always be there for his children. Any child including Bruce Wayne must face the passage through adulthood, often by themselves, and be forced to reckon with life’s challenges head on and by yourself without the help of family and friends even when you are an eccentric billionaire born into wealth.

“All creatures feel fear…even the scary ones? Especially the scary ones.” Another key part of the scene that resonates is that the Bats did not attack Bruce because of who he was but because of what he did. All creatures including humans tend to lash out when they are fearful sadly and that includes the bats when Bruce unknowingly invades their territory in the well causing him to be attacked. This part of the scene is also a precursor to a later scene in the Opera house where a man, seemingly both desperate and homeless, steals from the Wayne’s and kills them out of both out of fear, self-loathing, and pain as he murders them to be able to live off the stolen goods to keep himself from economic deprivation.

A good film like this one develops side characters like Bruce Wayne’s characters to show how much they meant to Bruce before their deaths and how devastating the memory is for the young boy whose unfortunate murders would change his life forever. You really feel for Bruce given how wise, caring, and kind he was both to Bruce, to his wife, and to Gotham City.

In the scene, you also see Thomas Wayne plan to surprise his wife with a necklace of pearls and to ask for his son’s opinion before he plans to give it to her on a family outing to the opera house. He cajoles his son out of bed, seemingly healed from his injury, to join them at the opera house.

My favorite part of the scene is Dr. Wayne’s philanthropic efforts directed not just at charities, foundations, and such but also right to the city that helped made the Wayne’s very wealthy as a family. Bruce asks his father, “Did you build this train, Dad?” His father responds, “Gotham’s been good to our family. But the city’s been suffering. People less fortunate than us have been enduring very hard times.”

He goes on to say, “So, we built a new cheap public transportation system to unite the city. And at the center, Wayne Tower.” His son asks if he works at the gleaming financial center with his name, but Thomas says that he works at the hospital where he is most needed and leaves his company’s financial dealings to those men ‘better and more interested’ in that kind of work than he is.

In this version of Batman, Thomas Wayne is a philanthropist and billionaire you can’t help but be proud of in a way. He doesn’t shirk responsibilities and puts the money directly to help those who are less fortunate in a real manner while he is running the company. He may like to direct attention to himself and his name by having the public transportation system be centrally located in Wayne Tower but it’s a small price to pay for an investment project like that for those who need to get around the city in a cheap and efficient manner. For a billionaire to not hoard his wealth, to invest in the city he loves with an actual, physical embodiment of helping others get to work or to school such as a public transportation network, so the city’s residents can have greater opportunities, it makes his untimely death that much more tragic.

Not only a doctor helping at a city hospital but a man willing to put money towards an actual public good like transportation is an example of the rich and powerful galvanizing resources together to help people less fortunate than they are in a concrete way. Whether its building new schools, constructing a train system, or adding more hospitals, that is a real kind of philanthropy to a city that the wealthy of a society should realize their civic duty to do so beyond paying taxes.

Beyond Thomas Wayne’s message of ‘picking yourself up’ when you have an accident, or a tragedy happen to you, his willingness to invest money back into a city that made his family wealthy is a real example in a movie of how to give a fictional character real development in just one two-minute scene. It is a good example for other filmmakers and directors how to really start to care for a character before an untimely demise and to learn about why drives the other characters in the film who were affected by their death or demise. I highly recommend viewing this ‘why do we fall’ scene to better understand character development but also the Batman film franchise of Christopher Nolan as well.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, our world today could use more men and fathers like Thomas Wayne from ‘Batman Begins.’

Movie Scene link here: https://www.youtube.com/watchv=CPvGLawULKw&pbjreload=101