“To be at a certain place or with a certain person for the rest of your days and to be at ease with your decision, that contentedness is to have found the ‘small measure of peace’ that we can spend our entire lives trying to capture but only a few ever truly find.”
There is a distinct moment in our lives when we realize that the fight is done, and the work is over. It is a pleasant realization that all you can do has been done and that you must take the rest of our days to welcome ‘a small measure of peace’ in one’s life, which is not easily found or embraced. To be at a certain place or with a certain person for the rest of your days and to be at ease with your decision, that contentedness is to have found the ‘small measure of peace’ that we can spend our entire lives trying to capture but only a few ever truly find.
It does not mean that the work is over but rather that the trials of our life have come to pass and that what we have fought for, bled for, or even cried for have now come to pass. While there may no final resting place until we depart from this Earth, finding a small patch of land to call your own, a garden or a farm for you to mend, and a woman (or a man) for whom you can love freely, that is the ‘small measure of peace’ to strive for obtaining, especially in one’s later years.
One man who was able to find his small measure of peace was Nathan Algren, who in ‘The Last Samurai’ can redeem himself, end his alcoholism, and fight with courage and honor in preserving the memory of the Samurai. While the Samurai age came to an end, Industrial Japan, and its Emperor, partly thanks to Nathan leading the Samurai into battle, to preserve their dignity and honor, were able to leave their mark on Japanese culture and history. While he may have been the last Samurai and a foreigner in Japan, he was able to rally them to a glorious end for which Imperial Japan would never forget.
“Tell me how he died.” “I will tell you…how he lived.” Even after losing his close confidant and friend in the final battle, the samurai Katsumoto, who took Nathan under his wing, told him the ways of the Samurai, and introduced him to the woman he came to love, Nathan wanted to preserve his memory to the young Emperor and to let the Imperial Japanese court know how special the age of the Samurai was and how it should not be forgotten.
“Nations, like Men, it is sometimes said…have their own destiny.” While nations choose to look forward to the future, they must also embrace the past to preserve their identity. What was once part of their culture may go away but it can leave an imprint and be remembered by generations to come. Japan’s destiny lies in looking to the future but always remembering the past, such as the age of the Samurai. Nathan Algren, the American who learned the ways of the Samurai, was able to throw off his own turbulent past as a Civil War captain by learning to fight with dignity and honor as a Samurai in a cause bigger than his own ego.
“As for the American Captain, no one knows what became of him…some say…he died of his wounds…others…that he returned to his own country…But I like to think…he may have, at last, found some small measure of peace…that we all seek…and few of us ever find.”
After trying to get himself killed or trying to deliberately drink himself to death, being able to survive as the last Samurai and tell of their traditions to keep the memory of Katsumoto alive, Nathan Algren was able to finally let go of the demons of his past and find the small measure of peace in a small Japanese village where he was first introduced to the only woman he truly loved. In her, Nathan finds a reason to stay alive, to make a life away from war and suffering, to be part of the woman’s village again, and perhaps start anew where he could be at peace with the past and have a pleasant future that is filled with love and peace.
As Nathan gathers his horse and rides down to Taka’s village, he is a man who is content, who is at peace, and who knows what exactly he must do for the rest of his living days. Taka and Nathan have a history together over the course of the film but by the ending scene, she is happy to see him alive and well again. Her beauty, grace, and femininity shine through as she gazes at Nathan, giving him a heartfelt smile, happy to see him in her presence again.
One look at each other says it all and they have been through so much in their time together that just to be making eye contact again is enough to fill up both of their hearts with joy. Like how Japan was willing to move forward to a new age while remembering the last Samurai, Nathan is also ready to be at peace with his past while looking to the future with Taka.
“‘The Wire’ is the greatest television show of all-time. Even as the show nears the 20th anniversary since when it first aired on American cable television network, HBO, it still rings as culturally relevant and as emotionally stirring as it was when it first debuted in the Summer of 2002. While technology may be different now, the characters would not be the same, the setting could be different from the show, the overall themes, and messages from ‘The Wire’ as well as the institutions that the show focused on for five great seasons have not changed that much.”
‘The Wire’ is the greatest television show of all-time. Even as the show nears the 20th anniversary since when it first aired on American cable television network, HBO, it still rings as culturally relevant and as emotionally stirring as it was when it first debuted in the Summer of 2002. While technology may be different now, the characters would not be the same, the setting could be different from the show, the overall themes, and messages from ‘The Wire’ as well as the institutions that the show focused on for five great seasons have not changed that much.
I could write a thesis on ‘The Wire’ and devote at least 10,000 words on the show in terms of an in-depth breakdown on how it’s the modern equivalent to a Shakespeare tragedy or drama. However, in this ‘Anatomy of a Scene’, I am going to focus on one of my favorite scenes in this classic television show. This scene is the opening one for the entire five-season series and discusses a core tenet of the show not just about what kind of ‘game’ that the characters play, but also the ‘game’ inherent to the setting of Baltimore, Maryland as well as America as a country.
The opening scene, more than any other scene, even if it is the 1st, one pinpoints exactly what ‘The Wire’ is about. In the first shots, you can see a young man lay face down dead on the ground on some dark city street with the police collecting evidence and a main character, who is a detective, questioning a potential witness. The associate of the victim talks about how they were involved with street gambling and how it was not fair that it was not right to kill the victim, non-ironically known as ‘snot boogie’ to the game’s players. The victim of the crime has a real name but is endeared to the rest of the game’s players by that nickname alone.
As the witness explains to Detective Jimmy McNulty of Baltimore Police, ‘Snot Boogie’ was the victim of the crime, but his associate did not expect him to be killed for stealing from the other players of the street game for playing craps. The associate tells McNulty that the victim is known for stealing and grabbing the money to run away but they never want beyond just ‘beating his ass’ up a bit.
While it is a grim description of the dangers of gambling illegally on the streets, the witness to McNulty’s murder case explains that there is an unwritten rule to the ‘game’ of street gambling and that ‘Snot Boogie’ should not have been murdered for stealing from the other players. Nobody ever tried to kill the victim even after he was found guilty of stealing money from the street game players even if they did often catch him and beat him for having done it multiple times.
The witness refuses to tell McNulty who killed his associate in this game and does not want to go to court even though he believes it was disgraceful how ‘Snot Boogie’ was killed because they always let him play even though he would always steal from them. “I got to ask ya, if every time Snot Boogie would grab the money and run away…why’d you even let him in the game?” “…What?” “If Snot Boogie always stole the money, why did you always let him play?” “Got to, This America, man.”
McNulty looks incredulously as the witness tells him this reasoning because at its face, it does not make much sense for a guy who steals from folks repeatedly to continue playing a dangerous and illegal craps street game. It’s clear to both characters that life itself, and life in America is far from being fair at the end of the day especially a man got killed, which was against to how the game was being played, according to the witness, even if he was stealing from them.
Even if the game is fair or is rigged to some degree, it occurs to the witness and then McNulty after he sees the guy’s reasoning that even if the game was not meant to be won and the result would always be the same, you still let the game play out. The game may not be fair like life itself in general or in America, but it must be played by everyone. It may not be a fair shot and there is no equal outcome, but there is equal opportunity out there for each player to be involved even if someone cheats, steals, and comes back to play again. The game exists for everyone to be given a shot at it and if they don’t, that’s against the principle of life itself and life in America.
There are tragic consequences to this craps game for Snot Boogie who loses his life senselessly as well as for the men who will go to jail for it or lose all their money, but the game goes on and it’s open to everyone. Like the witness explains, the game deserves to be played by everyone equally although the outcome may not be something everyone will like or even will cost some people dearly. This excellent opening scene opens with the most prominent themes of The Wire perfectly and almost seems like a graphic novel come to life. Its visuals are striking, the characters are who you can relate to on a human level, and there is a lot of foreshadowing about the rest of the show and its messages to the viewers from this tone-setting scene.
‘The Wire’ is a show about the early stages of 21st century America in its first decade of the 2000s but it is as still as relevant about 20 years later. The metaphor of this opening scene for not just a couple of guys in a craps game gone wrong in the street can pair directly too what can happen when capitalism can go off the rails when someone tries to beat the rules or try to gain an advantage when they are put at a disadvantage to begin with. If the game is rigged from the get-go even if you’re given a shot at it, what’s the point in playing by the rules? If you can beat the system even if there are dire consequences, is it not worth trying?
‘Snot Boogie’s associates knew he was a thief and a cheater because they believed that he still deserved a shot at winning like everyone else even though it was likely rigged so he would never make it after multiple tries. As the opening scene of the greatest television show of all-time shows the viewer, everybody can play the game even if they are a cheater in the sense of having equal opportunity, but what happens when no one is held accountable when the odds are stacked against them from the start of the game and there is no other way to win than by cheating the system and facing serious consequences?
The show may not be defined by its iconic opening scene but as you find as you watch the entire series, the metaphor for what that scene represents about the show and about the ethic that binds American society together long after you finish watching each of its five seasons.
“As one economic system is thrown into recession, other illicit ones, such as illegal gambling tend to flourish in its wake, which is what ‘Killing Them Softly’ does a good job of showing the effects of a recession leading to a boom in the illicit economy.”
‘Killing Them Softly’ is a 2012 movie that flew under the radar at the time of its release. It may seem on the surface as a movie about the mob regarding unpaid debts, illegal gambling rings, and retribution for those caught in the crossfire, but what makes this movie different is its allegory laid out in the film regarding its relation to the financial system. As the mafia tries to prop up its system of illegal gambling rings and extortion rackets by using different hired hitmen, there are radio and TV clips highlighting the role of different politicians trying to prop up the financial system in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. To keep the system functioning, drastic measures are taken.
As the U.S. economy suffers, illegal activities flourish and there are those people who get caught up in resorting to crime to keep their head above water. When the illegal system malfunctions such as a Mafia protected card game gets robbed by criminals outside the system, Jackie Cogan (played by Brad Pitt) is called upon as an enforcer hired to restore order to prevent the local criminal economy to collapse.
When any economy, illicit or legal, are ripped from its foundations, there will be enforcers or politicians who will need to clean up the mess left behind. While the allegory is not spelled out in the film, As Jackie is left to clean up the mess of the robbed card game by getting revenge on the small-time criminals who wanted to disrupt the system, many scenes highlight how the U.S. economy needs to be bailed out due to the irresponsible actions of the bankers and financial traders who got the country into this mess. While it may not be the most pertinent allegory, Jackie Cogan, is there to maintain order in their own local illegal gambling racket, similar to how leading politicians in government are called upon to maintain order when the national financial system is ready to crash.
Jackie Cogan is on his own throughout the movie and must rely upon himself to fix the mess left behind from the mob-protected robbed card game’s aftermath. He knows other mob enforcers who could help but they’re jaded, bitter, or too worse for wear having done Jackie’s job multiple times before to keep the mafia afloat. Above all else, Jackie is in it for himself to get paid and survive in an economic situation that is affecting everyone, criminal or civilian.
U.S. political leaders, similarly, were asked to intervene on behalf of the government, to step in to save a system that was being abused by financial firms, but also individuals, who made irresponsible decisions, and even illegal ones, which caused the national economy to crash. To prevent the system from collapsing, former Presidents, George W. Bush, and then Barack Obama had to step in to save the economy even though the system itself was at fault.
In the wake of the financial crisis that still resulted from the bad decisions and greedy actions of its players, when there’s a resulting increase in unemployment and poverty as the film depicts along with the collapse of some communities, some people will inevitably turn to criminal and illegal activities including gambling, extortion, and drug dealing. As one economic system is thrown into recession, other illicit ones, such as illegal gambling tend to flourish in its wake, which is what ‘Killing Them Softly’ does a good job of showing the effects of a recession leading to a boom in the illicit economy.
Without spoiling too much of the film, the ending scene takes place with Jackie and the mafia’s head accountant meeting at a bar to discuss his payment rendered for being an enforcer to keep the Mob card game running afloat after the perpetrators were punished for robbing it. Jackie, like the head Mafia accountant, are using each other for the money and stability of their own enterprises. Jackie Cogan is in it for himself as other enforcers were not able to do what he does, and he wants to be rewarded for it.
The Mob accountant is looking to make sure his illegal enterprise stays afloat without paying more than he needs to. In this scene, Jackie raises the rate of how much he charges for committing the hits on the people who robbed the card game due to the ‘recession.’ The mob accountant counters by saying that what they would him are the ‘recession’ prices and that he’s getting what another enforcer who couldn’t do the job would normally get.
“You know this business is a business of relationships.” The accountant tells Jackie that they want to keep the relationship with him going since every other enforcer is unavailable so he should not ask for more money given he might need to help them again. Jackie isn’t fooled by this plea to continue their ‘working’ relationship because at the end of the day, it’s about getting paid by them and they could not care less what happens to the enforcers who clean up the mob’s mess.
The accountant is listening to the 2008 election night acceptance speech by then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama imploring Americans to see each other as ‘one people’ and ‘out of many, we are one.’ Jackie doesn’t buy it given the circumstances for which he lives out his life in America. The accountant labels him as a ‘cynical’ person but he has reason to be as ends up cleaning up messes violently and criminally to keep the gravy train for others rolling.
Jackie sees even one of the founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson’ as a hypocrite because while he wanted freedom and liberty for all, he still owned slaves and wasn’t actually fighting for the ideals he espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Despite being known as an ‘American Saint’, Jackie believes Jefferson was out for himself and his own interests and that there are no unifying ideals that bind the country together besides the need for ‘money.’
“Don’t make me laugh…I’m living in America…and in America, you’re on your own. America is not a country, it’s just a business.” Jackie Cogan, after what he goes through in the film, is looking to get paid and survive at the end of the day. He is corrupted and evil but justifies his actions by telling himself and the audience that he’s on his own like many other people were in the financial crisis and must take this blood money from the mafia to make it in America.
When Jackie Cogan hears American politicians say that “we’re all in this together”, “we are one community, one nation”, he believes that no one is looking out for him, not even his mafia employers, and must fight for every dollar he can have because he would not survive otherwise. ‘Killing Them Softly’ is not just about a low-level mafia enforcer keeping a mob-run gambling ring going after doing contract kills on three people who robbed one of the games.
Throughout the film, whether its news clips, radio segments, or the desperate actions of its characters, ‘Killing Them Softly’ is primarily about the larger and looming allegory for the larger failures of the economic system who could not protect many of its citizens from financial ruin in the wake of the 2008 crisis. The effects of this past crisis reverberates even to this day, whose mess created such dire circumstances for people across the country to fend for themselves. While the small-town mafia and Wall Street can get propped up by those who intervene to save it, the film makes it a key point in this ending scene that for too many Americans, they believe they have been left behind by a financial system that does not work for them and for a culture where it’s “winner take all” and if you get left behind, nobody is going to be there to bail you out.
“One scene that conveys that ‘movie magic’ to me is a scene of verbal confrontation between Paul Newman and Tom Hanks in ‘Road to Perdition’ (2002).”
Movie magic is an illustrious concept to grasp but it often happens when you have those special moments to show off the full acting prowess by men or women at the top of their game. Moments like these are increasingly hard to come by when most movies today focus on non-stop action, horror, or thrills without taking the time to stop and let actors perform their best to act like real people in real situations. One scene that conveys that ‘movie magic’ to me is a scene of verbal confrontation between Paul Newman and Tom Hanks in ‘Road to Perdition’ (2002).
In another article, I wrote about my thoughts on this beloved movie of mine now almost twenty years of age but still ripe for a rewatch for me whenever the weather gets colder, and the sun goes down earlier. ‘Road to Perdition’ is a serious film with serious actors. This particular scene titled, ‘The Life We Chose, The Life We Lead’ lets these two juggernauts of Hollywood use their acting skillset to the fullest without any action distractions or cheap thrills.
Director Sam Mendes and the late and great Cinematographer Conrad L. Hall are able to use the muted lighting, the wide lens camera to help focus all of the audience’s attention on Hanks’ and Newman’ characters at a pivotal scene in the film. A good movie lets the attention focus in on the actors and heightens the importance of the dialogue so that nothing is missed, and every word, facial expression, and bodily movement means something to the plot. I fully appreciate this scene because it strips down the movie to its bare bones and puts its faith in the leading actors who make it a great film to begin with. When you are surrounded by great talent, you don’t obscure their abilities but rather let them shine in their roles for all viewers to enjoy.
Without spoiling too much ahead for readers who have not seen the movie, this ‘Road to Perdition’ scene focuses on the evolving conflict between Irish American Mob boss John Rooney (played by Paul Newman) and his loyal enforcer turned outcast named Michael Sullivan (played by Tom Hanks). They are at odds over the murder of his wife, Annie, and his youngest son, Peter, early in the film by John’s only son, Connor, who is now on the run from Michael but whom is being protected by John and his mob associates throughout the Midwest U.S. Both John and Michael find themselves protecting their own sons from each other while mourning the loss of their own special ‘father-son’-like relationship.
The old English idiom of ‘blood being thicker than water’ looms heavily in this dark scene as both men must sacrifice their friendship, their employer-employee relationship, and perhaps their own kin for these acts of bloodshed to stop. In this movie, the Road to Perdition or ‘hell’ is paved with the bloody sins that each man has committed to save the innocence of those they still love.
The metaphors of the scene itself especially at the beginning speak for themselves. John and Michael meet secretly in the catacombs of a Church basement where their talk of murder and betrayal is almost drowned out by the church choir practicing above them as they try to avoid more bloodshed. Similar to angels singing from heaven, the men are in ‘hell’ as they confess to each other how as ‘murderers’, they’ll never see ‘heaven’ like the dark catacombs they find themselves meeting in away from the light of the church or of the day.
In a last-ditch attempt to save John from certain death at Michael’s hand, Michael Sullivan tries to convince John that his own son is betraying him. Michael alleges that Connor is stealing from John and has been opening bank accounts while taking money from the men that Michael has killed on Connor and John’s orders. As an enforcer for the Irish mafia, Michael thought he was helping John keep control over his mob empire, but he instead was lining Connor’s pockets with blood money.
Amazingly, John is aware of all this even before Michael gives him the account statements from all the money Connor has been compiling over the years. With remorse and regret in his eyes, John Rooney admits to Michael that he tried to protect Michael from the fact that he was working for Connor and not himself but that he still loved him ‘like’ a son. The key word in their discussion is ‘like’ because Michael is not John’s son, but Connor is. Both men must do what’s in their son’s best interests even though they don’t always see eye to eye with their own sons.
John gave Michael and his wife Annie a home, consistent income, and the ability to live a middle-class American life and in return, Michael killed on John’s behalf and tried to protect his family from the gritty truth of being an enforcer. Michael lost Annie and Peter because of his murderous past but it is not too late at this point in the movie for his only remaining son, Michael Jr. Connor knows Michael Jr. is aware of the murders of his mom and brother along with Finn McGovern, a man who Connor was stealing from so Connor wants Michael Jr. dead. Michael Sr. and his son are on the run from Connor, but they know that once John Rooney is dead, the rest of the mob will give up Connor leaving Michael Sr. in a devastating position of playing ‘cat and mouse’ with his former boss.
Michael Sr. tries to reason with John to give up Connor to spare John’s life. John won’t allow Michael to kill Connor as revenge while he’s alive even though Connor murdered Annie and Peter previously. John can’t let Michael Sr. keep using his losses as a justify for another murder, which would be his son, Connor. “There are only murderers in this room. Michael! Open your eyes! This is the life we chose, the life we lead…and there is only one guarantee: None of us will see heaven!”
“Michael (Jr.) could.”, Michael Sr. hopefully responds. With his mob ties gone, his family torn apart, and his livelihood evaporated, Michael Sr. has one mission left in life and that is to protect his son’s innocence. Michael Jr. is a good teenage boy shielded from his father’s history of violence. To make Michael Sr.’s life worth living, it is worth protecting his son from Connor, his father John, and the rest of the Chicago mafia. Even if it means Michael Sr. dying to protect his son, it would be worth it to Michael to protect his son’s innocence and prevent him from becoming a murderer. At this point in the film, Michael Sr. knows just what to do and that involves killing John, who will keep hunting the two of them to protect Connor, his son.
To have Michael Jr. see heaven, to not go down the same path as his father, to live a full, happy life away from the violence and bloodshed he has already bore witness to, it is up to Michael Sr. to do what he must to protect his son from John’s son. The choir stops singing at the end of the scene signaling that Michael Sr. must decide about what to do once and for all about John.
“And if I go?”, Michael Sr. asks of John if he lets Connor and John live.
“Then I will mourn the son I lost…”, John tells him and walks away, with tears glistening in his eyes.
Michael Sr. finds himself with an impossible decision that his life of murder has led him to. Either he lets John, his boss, go free and let Connor escape as well, or he must stay and kill John for not giving up Connor to him. Either John will mourn ‘the son he lost’ meaning Michael Sr. or Michael Sr. will end up mourning the death of John, the ‘father he loved’ even though they are not related by blood.
Throughout this pivotal scene in the film, you can see the many years of friendship, love, and trust that each man shared with one another. Despite them leading a notorious life of crime and violence, they know they have done wrong and will eventually pay for it in this life or the next. The cinematography even indicates from this scene that they may end up perhaps in a ‘hell’ like in the catacombs of a dungeon that they find themselves in now with no exit in sight and away from the singing angels above them in heaven.
However, Michael Sr. knows his son must not lead the same life of misfortunate, pain, and regret that he has. While Connor, John’s son, is now a murderer like John is, Michael Sr. resolves to sacrifice his own innocence to protect that of his own son before it’s too late. In the process, he must continue to avenge the deaths of his wife and other son to protect the only precious thing he has left in this world. Even though he loves John like a ‘father’, he is the only man standing in the way of killing the man who murdered his family and preventing that same man from killing his only son left.
Both men walk away knowing that one of them is going to die after this meeting. The question remains: which man will it be and who is willing to sacrifice himself first to save their own son in the process? This scene of ‘Road to Perdition’ is one of the best in the film because it allows two great men of acting stature do what they do best with just dialogue, emotion, and having amazing chemistry between them even in a fictional world. It’s why I believe this scene and this movie is one of the great films of the 21st century and to which I will keep returning to watch in the future. When acting professors want to show a great scene of pure dialogue, I hope they choose to show their students this one because it will long live on in pure film lore and reverence.
“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.
“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.
“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.’
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.