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 – Miracle Ceasefire

How we as humanity cling to hope is our investment into the future that better and brighter days are ahead as long as we persevere, push forward, and leave our world a little bit better for the next generation. ‘Children of Men’ is great because it poses the answer to the question of how does humanity hope for a future when no babies are being born?

The world without hearing children’s voices, laughter, and even cries can be a dark and hopeless place. That central message of the now classic movie ‘Children of Men’ (2006) has stayed with me especially in the current times of a pandemic that we are living in. How we as humanity cling to hope is our investment into the future that better and brighter days are ahead as long as we persevere, push forward, and leave our world a little bit better for the next generation. ‘Children of Men’ is great because it poses the answer to the question of how does humanity hope for a future when no babies are being born?

When you think deeply about it, humanity is restored generation after generation thanks to our youth, their ideas, their drive, their desire to not repeat the mistakes of the past and to learn from history. When you take humanity’s future away, what is there left to fight and live for? It is a powerful premise and one for which I am glad Director Alfonso Cuaron decided to focus on. His movie does not pull any punches and shows humanity at its worst when women are no longer able to have children.

Without children, playgrounds and swing sets remain empty. Refugees and immigrants are persecuted and forced into detention camps, suicide pills are common place, environmental degradation is the norm rather than an obscenity, and violent factions fight it out with the government in a post-apocalyptic United Kingdom where suicide bombings are an increasingly common occurrence as Theo (Clive Owen) discovers when he is almost the victim of one in one of the earliest scenes. Perhaps the most frightening part of the whole movie is that no one has figured out why women can’t have babies anymore and the novel that the film is based on is also clear when it shies away from saying why men can’t help in the reproduction process anymore.

In ‘Children of Men’, no child has been born for 18 years and it can be hard to retain hope after that long that things will change. The world is in a downward spiral and things get worse as the youngest person alive, Diego, is killed by an angry crowd. Theo takes solace in the fact that he has a good job at the government ministry and has a funny friend who goes by the name Jasper. Still, you can tell that Theo has lost faith in humanity especially after the death of his infant son due to a flu pandemic and his estranged relationship with Julian, his wife. However, when Julian tells Theo about Kee, a pregnant African woman, who may be carrying the first baby in almost two decades, everything changes, and Theo finds his purpose again to live and to fight for a tomorrow. Theo dedicates himself to protecting Kee and her future baby and wants to get her to safety, which means getting her to the Human Project, a group of the world’s best scientists discussing how best to make humans fertile again.

Theo’s journey with Kee involves getting her out of a refugee camp, escaping men who want to keep Kee’s baby for political purposes and who are also armed combatants, and avoiding fascist police forces who intend to get in their way. To escape the escalating urban violence around them as both the government and rebels fight it out in bombed out Bexhill, Theo and Kee take shelter in a refugee settlement in a former apartment building. The three of them come close to being killed and the baby’s cries echo throughout the building much to the stunned shock, joy, and awe it inspires among the refugees, the rebel forces, and the government troops.

The way the cinematographer follows Kee’s baby and Kee around in a wide tracking shot is absolutely beautiful making it one of the most memorable scenes in cinema history. “How is she?”, Theo asks Kee. “Annoyed.” Kee replies. A refugee woman reaches out her hand to touch the baby and another woman sings a sweet song in her native language. Prayers and aspirations are given to the baby as Theo and Kee walk through the crowd. The rebel soldiers acknowledge the baby as they get away from the advancing troops behind them. The government’s military soldiers are in absolute shock as one soldiers’ yell at his army unit: “Ceasefire! Ceasefire!” All of them stop shooting at once and look upon Kee’s baby in disbelief, many of them never having seen a human child before in person.

To see the armed men in tanks and heavy weapons and their technological mastery stop, think, and realize how humanity and its future must be preserved and let free without being in danger. Not much can stop a war from continuing but a baby’s cries can most certainly pause it for a few minutes as this brilliant scene exemplifies. An immediate symbol of hope for humanity and its possible redemption is realized in its newest addition and it is a wonderful allegory to how despite our differences, any human around the world will stop to comfort, aid, and protect for a baby as we would do for our own children or grandchildren or even nieces and nephews.

Those men who don’t see the baby continue to fire at each other in the distance but any soldier, man, or woman who hears the baby crying lowers their weapon, pays their respect, and let Theo and Kee have safe passage as they represent a glimpse of hope finally for humanity’s future rather than its eventual extinction. Some of the soldiers pray to their God and others peer in to get a look at the baby with their own eyes but all are silent and in disbelief thinking that finally there might be hope again.

After a minute or two of calm and as Kee and Theo are about to get away, a rocket RPG hits the government soldiers and the men ignore the baby again and get back to fighting the rebel forces in the building that Kee and Theo just left. To me, that is a tragic symbol of how once we have something out of sight and out of mind, we go back to fighting each other instead of uniting around a common cause. As that RPG fires, I think to myself watching this scene how somebody always has to ruin it for everybody else. Unfortunately, Kee’s baby does not lead right away to world peace and a cessation of arms. However, it is enough time for the two of them to escape and have a fighting chance of reaching the Human Project.

A baby’s cries are more powerful and everlasting than any weapon, any political cause, and any division between humanity. While human nature cannot be totally pacified by children and babies being born, it allows us to fight for better days and for a future freer of pain, sorrow, and tragedy.

I hope that when you watch this scene, you’ll realize that even in our current age when fertility is not extinct and is not a present issue that we are still fighting to preserve hope for the next generation and generations to come. Whether it is preventing pandemics, stemming the worst effects of climate change, or preventing nuclear war between nations, we all have a responsibility to be stewards like Theo in protecting the babies of the future against any manmade harm that could befall them due to our own neglect and ignorance.

Please do watch this ‘Miracle Ceasefire’ scene and the rest of ‘Children of Men’ when you have the chance. It is an excellent film to see and this scene may be the best one of the entire film. Hope and redemption are only as strong as our ability to have a better future.

Anatomy of a Scene – The Climb

My love for The Dark Knight trilogy by Christopher Nolan is based on how realism blends with the superhero themes that make it a compelling series of movie. Not only is the acting, cinematography, and directions of these films brilliant but you enjoy the deeper themes and meaning behind the storylines. Some of these scenes including the one I am highlighting from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ have not only great symbolism but larger lessons for our own lives on how we react to adversity and the challenges that life throws at us. Even when you are not Batman, a superhero with genius level intellect and almost superhuman physical strength, we can relate to Batman because he is fallible, and he has his weaknesses like we all do.

The brilliance of this particular scene from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is it shows Batman or Bruce Wayne at one of his lowest lows. He is an older man, not as physically imposing or as intimidating as he used to be, and he has lost almost everyone who meant to something to him. This scene comes in the 2nd half of the film and is located in a pit which has a double meaning to it. From the depths of this pit, we wonder if Batman will be able to rise and become who he is meant to be in order to face his adversaries head on.

‘The Climb’ scene from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is the best scene in the The Dark Knight trilogy in my opinion. Between Hans Zimmer’s music to the dialogue to the feeling of suspense to the ultimate payoff, it is an incredibly powerful scene that will stick with you even years later when you have forgotten other parts of the movie. I would like to breakdown the scene’s setting and what is happening along with giving some background as to what is significant about the events of the scene.

The beginning of the scene begins with the Bruce training physically in order to be strong enough to leave the pit where he is a prisoner like other similarly forsaken men. He is confident in his abilities even after having fractured a few of his back vertebrae after getting ‘broken’ by Bane, a masked villain who seems to be immune from Batman’s stealth and fighting tactics. After being sent to ‘the worst hell on Earth’ according to Bane, Batman slowly recovers from his injuries with help from the prison doctor and the blind seer who give him the history of the prison. It is Bane’s prison and he has sent many men there to die as no one has ever escaped except for Bane, which is only a rumor at this point. Bruce tells the prison doctor that he is not ‘meant to die in here’ even though to the doctor, it makes little difference where Bruce dies since no one has ever made the leap to freedom to survive and leave.

Even with Bruce’s back healing and seeing the urgency of Gotham City being under lockdown by being threatened with a nuclear weapon and his armed henchmen, Bruce has to spend a few months doing pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups and any other activity in order to physically be ready to escape. “Survival is the spirit” says the blind seer who used to care for Bane when he was in the prison. Bruce is ready physically according to him and he says his soul is ready, but he fails a few different times and re-injures himself while trying to make this leap to freedom.

It is more than just your body being ready to jump but it is also about the spirit, which revolves around mental toughness. The blind seer reminds Bruce that he cannot make the leap if he does not fear death. Bruce is not afraid of death in general but is afraid of dying in a pit prison for which there is no escape while his home city burns and suffers. Bruce is angry at Bane and wants vengeance but before he is able to leave, he must conquer the ultimate fear of death by facing it head on.

The blind seer tells him again that he has to “Make the climb…” Bruce asks incredulously, “How?” having tried multiple times with a rope attached to him to prevent him from falling to death from the top area of the pit. The blind seer reminds him that he must jump “without the rope” which acts as a safety harness, “Then fear will find you again…” In order to conquer the fear of death and dying in the pit, Bruce must leap to freedom with nothing holding him back, not a rope nor his fears such as of bats.

Bruce only brings with him ‘supplies’ for his journey back to Gotham remaining ever hopeful he will survive this leap to freedom with no rope to hold him back or keep him from suffering the deadly consequences. Bane’s prisoners start chanting from their cells ‘Deshi Bashara’ over and over again and louder as Bruce gets ready to climb out of the pit. Bruce asks the Doctor, “what does it mean?” and the Doctor replies, “Rise.” Bruce’s father, before his death, asked his son, “Why do we fall?” and after all this time as Batman and the trials and tribulations he has experienced as a caped crusader, he finally knows the only answer in his life is to “Rise.”

Looking on and as the blind seer hears the ‘Deshi Bashara’ chants get louder and louder, Bruce begins his climb out of the pit without the rope. As Bruce gets towards the final jump out from the top ledge of the pit to climb out, the music starts to crescendo and the bats that he has feared all of his life since his parents’ death fly out of the top edge of the pit and surround him as he gets ready to jump.

Realizing he no longer has the constant fear of them, he realizes he is Batman risen again and can make the full jump with confidence that he will make it. Seeing daylight above him and having faith in his ability to rise up to save his city, Bruce holds on to the other ledge successfully making about a 3-meter jump to avoid death and live to fight another day. Having seen daylight and the sun fully for the first time in months, Bruce is aghast that he made it but his determination to save Gotham steadies himself for the long journey ahead.

Because Bruce Wayne is Batman, he remembers to save Bane’s prisoners, most likely innocent men captured in the fight asked the supervillain and throws them down the long ropes so that they too can climb out to freedom with his help. It’s the small details like that which make Nolan’s Batman trilogy the best of all Batman films. Bruce’s Batman persona does not forget the men who helped him heal his back, train himself physically, and offer the wisdom to face death head on in order to face Bane again and save the city. This very pit that Bruce rises from is directly inspired by the comic books themselves as it is similar to the ‘Lazarus Pit’ where men can be regenerated and made immortal again by the pit’s healing powers.

There is also references made to Ra’s Al-Ghul who appears to Bruce in a vision speaking about the ‘many forms of immortality’ that exist and how he may still be around through Bane’s control of the League of Shadows or otherwise. “There is a prison in a more ancient part of the world, a pit where men are thrown to suffer and die, but sometimes a man rises from the darkness. Sometimes, the pit sends something back.”

Bruce was able to get back because he rose from the darkness of his own despair from being broken in terms of mind and body but was able to risk it all in order to save his city. He faced his fears head on and was able to have enough confidence in his abilities to leap to freedom and be ‘sent back’ to Gotham to avenge those suffered under Bane’s tyranny. Bruce is a hero as well because he is selfless and thinks about others before himself such as those men in the pit he freed and giving them real hope rather than just a glimmer of sunlight by handing them down the rope so they could be free too from Bane’s cruelties.

This brilliant scene can have a deeper meaning for us all because during our lives, we will all be down in the metaphorical pit being unable to escape our own fears, doubts, and phobias. However, we must always face our fears and rise out of the pit of despair to give ourselves the best chance to succeed. Whether its feeding your family, learning a new skill to be employed, or winning a championship in an intensive physically or mentally challenging activity, we must face our fear head on and realize it is better to have thrust ourselves into these challenges head on than staying down in the pit of our own worries.

During our lives, we must cut the proverbial rope of convenience, comfort, and easy living to truly develop ourselves and our abilities. Life is not without risk including sickness and death, but we must continue to fight on and continue to escape the self-made pits that lie within each and every one of us. Motivating yourself to fight against these problems and letting go of your fears will make you a stronger person. Whenever life gets you down, remember to fight on and use this movie scene as a motivation for you to continue on. You will be down in the pit as Bruce was during this film, but it does not mean that you are doomed to stay there. With taking on your fears, living life how you want it to be lived, and overcoming challenges and obstacles, you too will make the leap to freedom in mind, body, and soul.