The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Standout Scene

I never saw Philadelphia when it first came out. Movies about gay activism weren't high on my list of films to see. I'm also not really into drama. When I watch them , I prefer to watch the cream of the crop since even mediocre dramas don't exist for me. They're either very good and gripping or loathsome, glass-eating affairs. Lately I've been recording and watching movies that appear on HDNet. Philadelphia popped up in the listings and given how well received it was I decided to give it a watch. There are mild spoilers ahead. Philadelphia isn't a plot driven movie, but I feel that there are some character moments that are better left as a surprise.

I'm sure most of you know that it was a terrific movie, but being terrific isn't enough. I've seen many terrific movies that I can no longer remember. Wonderful films that are executed flawlessly, but offer nothing lasting. I'm happy to say that Philadelphia is a lasting work of cinema, and it is because of one scene.

Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) takes on Andrew Beckett's (Tom Hanks) case. Joe doesn't care for homosexuals, but takes the case because he identifies with the discrimination that Andrew has to endure because he has AIDS. Throughout the movie we see Joe's transformation of being a homophobe to really seeing Andrew as a person. As an audience we see that Joe finally gets it and his opinion of gays has indeed changed.

And then the convenience store scene takes place.

Joe is approached by a gay man who assumes that he is gay because he is representing Andrew. When Joe realizes that the man is trying to pick him up, he becomes unhinged. He shoves the man away, calls him a "faggot", and maybe even threatens him. You see his intellect has been telling him that his bigoted view of homosexuals is wrong. He's spent time with Andrew and knows him to be a good person. But when that man tries to pick him up he reverts to his learned behavior. You can't undo a lifetimes worth of ingrained belief in a few weeks. Films like Philadelphia remind us that good people sometimes do unsavory things.

Rarely in movies do we get to see this kind of honesty about the human condition. That is why when I think of Philadelphia I won't think about Tom Hank's excellent performance or the well crafted court room scenes or how well the story sucks the viewer in. I'll forever remember the convenience store scene. The best movies have these iconic or revealing scenes that say something about all of us, and a lot of the times it isn't highlighting our better parts.

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  • At 1:12 PM, Blogger Tavis said…

    Great insight. I haven't seen Philadelphia since it was first released in the theater.

    I remember the red-tinted opera song bit and thinking that it was the only moment in the film that felt like "a Jonathan Demme film." I was 19 at the time and more interested in film knowledge than high drama.

    Sounds like it's worth another viewing-- thanks for the tip.

  • At 8:33 PM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said…

    I think the Opera scene is also very good. It might not stick with me as much as the convenience store scene, but it is a great glimpse into what something means to another person. I think Hank's performance of that scene is more important than the writing in that I think the scene falls completely flat without a great performance.


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