Thursday, July 27, 2006

Subtext - Back to the Future


Please allow me to introduce you to Miriam Paschal, an active member of TriggerStreet, celebrated “Reviewer of the Month,” and consummate writing machine who, at the time of this posting, has 6 scripts on TriggerStreet including The Gates of Hell, Rapture of the Fallen (an epic vampire story), Out of Nowhere (a twist on Jack the Ripper), and my personal favorite, An Unnatural Soldier, which was nominated for “Screenplay of the Month.” Soldier is the story about Sarah Morris who “put away her apron and took up a musket” in the Civil War.

Miriam is a woman so passionate about screenwriting that she actually times the scenes when she watches movies. Hehehe… How can you not love that? Her subtext example? Something off the top of her head – a scene from Back to the Future. She writes:


Lorraine's line, "Marty, you seem so nervous. Is anything wrong?" is on-the-nose, but Marty's line, "Because you might regret it...later in life" has quite a bit of sub-text. We've already seen that Lorraine will drink later in life, but Marty can't tell her that. He has a moral dilemma. The next line, "Everybody who's anybody drinks" is a set-up for the last part of this exchange, which is wordless. With a look of resignation, Marty takes a drink. He doesn't have to say anything. We can see that he's defeated in both his argument and his attempt to save his mother from alcoholism.

Here’s the scene as you see it in the movie:


EXT. HS PARKING LOT – NIGHT

Marty pulls Doc’s car into a parking spot.


INT. DOC’S CAR - NIGHT

Marty turns off the car. He adjusts his neck in his collar as he fixes his tie.

MARTY
Do you mind if we...park...for
awhile?

LORRAINE
That’s a great idea. I’d love to
park.

Marty’s head whips around.

MARTY
Huh?

Lorraine giggles and bats her eyes.

LORRAINE
Well, Marty, I’m almost eighteen
years old. It’s not like I’ve
never parked before.

MARTY
What?

LORRAINE
Marty, you seem so nervous. Is
something wrong?

Marty looks around and grabs the steering wheel. He stares straight ahead, out the window.

MARTY
No...no.

Lorraine glances around, brings out a bottle, and takes a drink. Marty glances at Lorraine and sees the bottle.

MARTY
Lorraine, Lorraine...

He grabs the bottle and pries it away from her mid-swig.

MARTY
...what are you doing?

LORRAINE
I swiped it from the old lady’s
liquor cabinet.

MARTY
Yeah, well...you shouldn’t drink.

LORRAINE
Why not?

MARTY
Because you might regret it...later
in life.

LORRAINE
Marty, don’t be such a square.
Everybody who’s anybody drinks.

Marty, with a look of resignation, takes a drink himself. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Lorraine light up a cigarette and does a spit-take.

MARTY
Jesus, you smoke too?

LORRAINE
Marty, you’re beginning to sound
just like my mother.


Here’s a bonus, something to fry your mind. Here’s how the scene was originally written. Consider how the scene was shortened. Consider all the lines that were cut…


EXT. SCHOOL PARKING LOT - NIGHT

Brown’s Packard pulls into the lot and parks.


INT. PACKARD - SAME

Marty, at the wheel, is very uneasy; Lorraine next to him looks beautiful in her best party dress. Marty glances at the clock on the dashboard. It’s 8 minutes before 9.

MARTY
Uh, you don’t mind if we, uh, park
for a few minutes?

LORRAINE
Why do you think I’d mind?

MARTY
Well, I don’t know, some girls just
don’t like to...

LORRAINE
Marty, I’m almost 18 years old.
It’s not like I’ve never parked
before.

She scoots over, very close to him. Marty fidgets. Boy, is he nervous!

LORRAINE
You seem nervous, Marty. Is
anything wrong?

MARTY
Uh, no...

LORRAINE
Have some of this - it’ll help you
relax.

She pulls a pint of gin out of her purse. Marty is shocked.

MARTY
What are you doing with that?

LORRAINE
I swiped it from the old man’s
liquor cabinet.

She takes a nip.

MARTY
Lorraine, you shouldn’t drink!

LORRAINE
Why not?

MARTY
Well, it’s just not healthy.

LORRAINE
Don’t be square, Marty. Everybody
who’s anybody does it.

She hands it to him.

MARTY
Maybe I could use a hit...

Just as he takes a swig, she pulls out a pack of cigarettes and lights up. Marty spits out the gin in surprise.

MARTY
Jesus - you smoke too?

LORRAINE
Now, Marty, you’re not going to
tell me that smoking is unhealthy.
Everyone knows that it calms your
nerves and it’s good for the
circulation.

MARTY
It’ll give you cancer!

LORRAINE
You know, you sound just like my
mother. When I have kids, I’m gonna
let them do anything they want.
Anything.

MARTY
I’d sure like to have that in
writing.

The comment goes right past Lorraine.

LORRAINE
So what are your parents like? Are
they as square as mine?

MARTY
Lorraine, lately I’ve come to the
conclusion that I don’t know
anything about them.

4 comments:

Rumour said...

ahhh back to the future, makes me thing about my micheal j. fox book cover i had in school.

The Moviequill said...

wwo, that was great to read the two scenes together like that, thanks

wcdixon said...

I know you've moved on to Mel now, but I've been mulling this Back To Future scene and think its more an example of dramatic irony than it is subtext. Marty (and we the viewer) already know the future, what will be...etc.

Mystery Man said...

Hey, wcdixon,

That's a good point. Ya know, as a whole, I agree that the scene really is dramatic irony.

But that little touch of Marty taking that drink spoke volumes, too. In essence it meant, "I give up. I've been defeated in my attempt to save my mother from alcoholism." It's a poignant wordless moment that said a lot to the audience. He tried. She won't even consider what he's trying to tell her. He takes a drink.

I love it.

-MM