Monday, December 15, 2008

The Absurdity Of Humanity

Human moments are strange moments. That's what makes them human. If every "human" moment were the same it would cease to be human and more robotic. Where most film-writing suffers is in its inability to create real human moments. Why? Because it's a risk. Because human moments are specific. And may not appeal to the masses. It's much easier to draw from what happened in a past film than to create something new and risk losing your audience.

I was not terribly enamored with the movie Rachel Getting Married, but there is a scene of note that I would like to share. After the wedding rehearsal dinner, Rachel's father, Paul, and his soon to be son-in-law, Sidney, engage in a strange competition. Evidently, Paul prides himself in his ability to load the dishwasher. To strategically pack it so that hundreds of dishes and forks and glasses get cleaned perfectly. This is a strange thing to be proud of, yet there are stranger things in which we take pride. For example, I make Chex Mix. Correction, I make excellent Chex Mix. I take pride in it. I think mine tastes the best. It's absurd yes, but it's part of me. As part of Sidney's entry into the family, he challenges Paul to a dishwasher load off - I suppose that's what one would call it. In the kitchen of Rachel's parents and in front of the wedding party, the two are timed and judged on their ability to successfully load the dishwasher.

As I watched this, I dismissed it. It was absurd and a bit strange in the sequence of the story. And yet. And yet. I can't stop thinking about it. Why is that? There was so much weight in this movie, and yet it's the dishwasher loading competition scene that sticks with me? Does it stay with me because it was just plain bad filmmaking? Or has it stayed with me because it was brave filmmaking? Was it a brilliant risk that the writer, Jenny Lumet, and director, Jonathan Demme, took knowing that it could go either way? I ask the question, yet I know the answer. It is in the smallest parts that we truly discover humanity. In the most insignificant places. And if you catch those - bravo.

When people speak of "risky" filmmaking, it is usually in context of the entire film. Seldomly is it used to describe a single scene. And while I can't applaud the whole film, I can certainly say that this is one extraordinary scene. Maybe that's an absurd statement, but hey, I'm human.


Anonymous said...


Sarah said...

What you're feeling is the beginning of something bigger. Today you thought about that scene. Tomorrow you'll start thinking about Sidney's family's toasts. Then a few days from now you'll realize how mean Rachel was to Kym. And the weird sense of balance they created. Then you'll realize that no matter how much you hated Kym's character, you wanted her to change. And you were really happy to see the sisters reconcile their relationship, even though it only kind of happened. Then after all that, you'll remember again that this wedding party that has been consuming your thoughts was just a movie. A really good, complex movie. Admit it.

Ray said...

Piper, you're weird.

It's true, though ... sometimes those little throwaway scenes are some of the truest and most succinct writing in a movie. Tarantino uses this technique in quite a few movies, which is one of the reasons I think his films get the recognition that they do. As an audience member, you feel like you're getting more from thefilm and its characters than rote screenplay beats and necessary plot points.

PIPER said...


I actually saw the movie some time ago, so if anything was going to stick it already has. What this movie has going for it is that it's a wedding movie which in my opinion is a sure-fire winner when it comes to screenplays. Much like a road movie. You can't lose. So part of me loved that aspect of it.


I make you laugh? Like I'm some kind of clown?

So are you officially back at The Rec now? It's nice to see your name click through to your profile.

Ray said...

@ Piper - I am at both sites. As for the name thing, for some reason Blogger wouldn't link to my name if I used the name/URL option in commenting. Only recently has it started linking my name to anything. Yet another reason you need to ditch Blogger and get your own site :) Just a suggestion, ya know ...

Burbanked said...

Very cool post, Piper, dare I say: one with a lot of humanity. I also dig seeing a movie that overall is good or maybe just okay, but has a scene or bit of character business or something that sticks. I watched THE HOST this past weekend, and there's a stunning dinner scene that's shot so beautifully, so simply, that the emotional impact of it is just devastating.

And for the record, I'd bet anything I could load a dishwasher better than you make Chex Mix.

Joseph B. said...

The dishwashing packing conest scene has stuck with me, too. I liked this film a lot more than you Piper (which is currently hovering VERY close as my fav of the year, it affected me that much) and its exactly the 'messiness' of this scene that spills over into the rest of the movie. It's not perfect, its a bit rambling, but it filled me with so much joy.

PIPER said...


The Host - the movie about the giant killer tadpole? Or another movie titled The Host?

And there's no way you can beat my Chex Mix. It comes straight from the side of the Rice Chex box. And I put a lot of love in that. And two and half teaspoons of sweat. That's the ticket.

Joseph B,

'messiness' is a great word. Real life is messy. And let me say that there are lots of parts of this movie that I like, but it was way too personal for me. And as a parent, I find no 'entertainment' in seeing a movie that deals with the death of a child. It was very hard for my wife and myself. But as I said before, I'm generally a sucker for wedding party movies.

Jonathan Lapper said...

So I'm having this Christmas party and I need 25 pounds of freshly made Chex Mix. Any ideas where I can get some?

Burbanked said...

Yep, the giant tadpole movie. And 48 times as much emotional investment as CLOVERFIELD.

See I don't add the sweat because Chex Mix is already high in sodium. I need to watch that 'cause of my daily bacon intake.

Er. Didn't know RGM had a dead child in it. You might've just ended my desire to see it, for the same reasons you cite.

PIPER said...


I should warn you that I don't come cheap. When you call to place your order, give the code word "Armtackle" and say you know me from the thing and they'll get you on the books. I also make an incredible fruit tea. I'll throw in a batch.


Speaking of bacon, that's my secret ingredient. Bacon grease. Makes everything better.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to think of other dishwashing scenes in movies and can only come up with one. In "The Break-up."

"I want you to want to do the dishes."
"Why would I WANT to do the dishes?"

Fox said...

I like this scene too, but what kind of ruins it for me is when the father discovers the son's plate.

Was the scene designed to lead up to that one moment? I don't think so, but it does kinda bring down the whole scene for me. I didn't like that part.

PIPER said...


You may have tapped into why I didn't fully enjoy this movie.

By nature a Wedding Party movie should be enjoyable. But not unlike the scene involving Hathaway towards the end where she finds herself enjoying the party too much - this movie couldn't allow me to enjoy it without bringing up tragedy.

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