Tomorrow will be the last gasp of this series and I’m thankful for that. I have continuously labeled this as 50 favorite scenes, but it will be more like 52. My ability to approximate is obviously lacking. So tomorrow I’ll be pushing out my final seven. As for today, how bout five more? That’s a rhetorical question, you really don’t have a choice in the matter. I’ll understand if your reaction to this is along the lines of this…
Now What?: The 400 Blows
One of the hallmarks of the French New Wave is Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. It’s a touching portrait of a troubled youth, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) , whose family structure has done him no favors. Seeking a life of petty crime and school yard debauchery, our young protagonist finds himself unwanted by his family and unfit to live in society. The latteris determined by a misguided psychologist. In the end, Antoine finds himself in a work camp that doesn’t allow him to grow in a positive way. Desperate to be liberated, Antoine flees from captivity and runs to the one place he desires: the sea. During Antoine’s run through the beautiful French countryside, Jean Constantin’s wonderful theme musically translates the optimism in the young man’s stride. The notes turn sour however once Antoine reaches his destination. He now has nowhere to run as impending uncertainty sails in from the sea. What we’re left with is a freeze frame of Antoine staring back at us with an ambiguous contortion. The beauty of the ending, outside of the aesthetics, is that Truffaut gives us an opportunity to decipher that last frame based on our presumption of fractured youth.
The Smile: Magnolia
Magnolia is a hard film to digest. It becomes even harder to stomach when the film ends on a crescendo of frogs disrupting the lives of our characters. Yes, as some of you already know, the film ends with the sky opening up and the heavens releasing a torrential downpour of amphibians. The funny thing is though, despite my love for frogs hitting concrete, it’s not even the best part of the ending. In actuality, Paul Thomas Anderson ends his zany character study on the two lost souls who actually sort their shit out. While the rest of the crew of emotional misfits try to move on, PTA gives the drug riddled Claudia (Melora Walters) a beacon of hope in Officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly), a man who has courted her over the course of a day. It’s in this moment that Jim Kurring renounces the statutes (religious and state) that would limit his love for Claudia in a tender, soft-spoken monologue. Being played over Kurring’s heartfelt words is Aimee Mann’s song “Save Me”, a romantic plea for help. It overpowers much of the monologue, making the moment between Claudia and Officer Kurring seem more intimate and exclusive. Even with the song being demonstrative, we don’t need to hear the dialogue to know its impact. The impact: a tearful smile that creeps across Claudia’s face. Happiness is finally found in a sea of despair.
Meet Me in Montauk: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
There’s an undeniable level of heartbreak found within the world Eternal Sunshine… constructs. With each passing moment, Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey) is having his ex-lover, Clementine (Kate Winslet), erased from his mind. As his loving memories are being retroactively abolished, he grows increasingly weary of erasing the woman he once loved. Joel’s mounting regret peaks when he stumbles upon the very first moment he shared with the woman he couldn’t forget. Knowing this is the last known memory of his precious Clementine, Joel cherishes it much like a family cherishes a home movie that captured the perfect Christmas. He holds on as long as he can, but the memory begins to collapse on itself, leaving Joel on the cusp of being empty-handed. As Joel finds himself buried up to his shoulders in sand, he crafts an impromptu action in his now fading memory. He says goodbye to Clementine which prompts a whispered declaration: “Meet Me in Montauk”. Honestly, everything about this scene is perfect. The combination of director Michel Gondry’s visual ingenuity and Jon Brion’s score is enough to cripple me in a way that isn’t considered manly. Seriously, my heart hurts no matter how often I watch it. Making the scene more authentic and depressing is Carrey’s performance as the waning Joel. Defeated, reflective and romantic, Carrey delivers a wealth of emotion that easily taps into the regrets that lie dormant in a person’s mind. It’s a moment that would make anyone relish the love they’ve carried in their life.
That’s That Mattress Man: Punch-Drunk Love
Let’s be honest, I’m a Paul Thomas Anderson whore. Now that that’s settled, I direct your attention to the showdown that Anderson creates for his intoxicating film Punch-Drunk Love. Said showdown is between smut and mattress peddler Dean Trumbell (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Barry Egan (Adam Sandler). The latter is a man who finds himself in a relationship that is not only his first, but one that calms his violent outbursts. Upon their meeting, the heat between Dean and Barry is palpable. Paul Thomas Anderson keeps the dialogue to a minimum and the scene is better for it. He entrenches much of the scene’s angst in the quiet, seething glares that the two enemies send each other. It’s a brilliant way to build anticipation for a bloodbath that doesn’t come to realization. Instead, the grungy, lumbering physical demeanor of Hoffman is surmounted by the collected rage of Sandler. Never has Adam Sandler delivered a performance filled with such control and conviction. The love laced threat that Egan bestows upon Dean Trumbell is an empowering moment that still sends shivers down my spine.
Expectations vs. Reality: 500 Days of Summer
Just as I’m writing this, I’ve come to realize a lot of my favorite scenes involve a character being emotionally destroyed. I don’t know what this says about me, but let’s not be an armchair psychologist. Continuing on this disturbing trend of mine is the terrific scene from 500 Days… that shows the irrational hope people have for rekindling a dead romance. Using a split screen to show the gap between one’s desires and an inevitable reality, director Marc Webb crawls into the head of the lovelorn Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and delivers a heavy dose of real life pain. The differences between the two realms of truth start off on the miniscule side of things. In some way it’s fun to spot the differences, much like those visual displacement games found in bars. But as time marches on, the differences become far too heavy to bear as reality all but kills a dream. For as significant as it is for Tom to see his love taken off life support, it’s just as important for us as the audience to accept that Tom’s life won’t be living up to the cliché standards of romantic comedies. You have to respect a scene that not only visually entices the viewer, but eradicates their preconceived notions about recapturing love in the cinema world.