Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Subtext - The Woodsman


I’d like to start this series with my own submission from a movie that’s superb but difficult to sit through – The Woodsman. (The script’s available here.) It’s written by the talented Steven Fechter with the help of director Nicole Kassell and based upon Steven’s play.

Kevin Bacon plays Walter, a pedophile who (after 12 years in prison) tries to reenter society. While working at a lumberyard, he meets and falls in love with Vicki, played by Kyra Sedgwick.

Consider the way these two characters circle each other as they both try to decide if they want to be together.


[To set this up, Vicki saw Walter walking along the road after work and she’s giving him a lift home…]


INT. TRUCK - NIGHT

Vicki glances at Walter.

VICKI
There’s something wrong with this
picture.

WALTER
What picture?

VICKI
I’m talking about you.

WALTER
Me?

VICKI
Yeah, you.

Walter looks out the window.

VICKI
Here’s this nice, hard working guy
who suddenly appears out of the
blue and rides the bus to and from
work. I mean, who rides the bus
anymore?

WALTER
People without cars.

She gives him a look.

VICKI
Very weird.

WALTER
No weirder than a sharp, young,
good-looking woman working in a
lumberyard.

VICKI
What’s weird about that?

WALTER
Most women wouldn’t choose it.

VICKI
Guess I’m not like most women.

Vicki takes out a cigarette and presses the cigarette lighter in, revealing a tattoo on her wrist of a pair of breasts with angel wings.

Walter notices the tattoo. Vicki notices Walter notice. She smiles at him.

VICKI
You’re quiet at work.

WALTER
I’m just quiet.

VICKI
You don’t hang out with the other
guys.

WALTER
Neither do you.

VICKI
They’re all assholes.

Walter shrugs.

VICKI
You never spoke to me before.

WALTER
I thought you were a dyke.

Vicki laughs and stops at a red light.

WALTER
(smiling)
Are you?

VICKI
What do you think?

She shoots him a look.


INT. WALTER’S APARTMENT - NIGHT

Vicki paces around the apartment.

Walter takes two beers from the fridge then turns and stands holding them, watching her.

VICKI
Southern light.

WALTER
What?

VICKI
Your windows face south. Northern
light is the purest. But southern
light is very good.

WALTER
I’ll buy a plant.

VICKI
You should buy several. I’ve got
shitty light in my place, but my
plants don’t seem to mind. Light’s
important, but it’s not everything.

She looks at Walter.

VICKI
You plan to drink both those beers?

WALTER
Sorry.

Walter hands her a beer.

VICKI
Thanks.

She takes a swig then gazes back out the window.

VICKI
Is that a school?

WALTER
K through sixth.

VICKI
Doesn’t it get noisy?

WALTER
I like the noise.

VICKI
My place faces a truck street. I’ve
got cracks in every window from the
shaking.

WALTER
You must hate it.

VICKI
I go backpacking a lot. Lose myself
in the wilderness for a week or
two.

Vicki wanders through the stark living room space, looking at what little there is to look at.

WALTER
What about bears?

VICKI
What about them?

WALTER
They could eat you.

VICKI
(laughing)
Yeah, they could.

She looks closely at the bus map taped to the wall, the only decoration in the place. She looks at Walter.

VICKI
I thought you were just shy, but
now I think it’s something else.

WALTER
What?

VICKI
You’re damaged.

Walter drinks his beer and sits down on the couch.

VICKI
Something happened to you.

WALTER
Yeah?

Vicki sits next to him.

VICKI
I’m not easily shocked.

WALTER
I get that impression.

VICKI
So... what’s your dark secret?

WALTER
Why do you want to know?

VICKI
Don’t you think I should know
before we have sex?

Walter looks at her in surprise.

VICKI
I don’t like to waste time.

Vicki leans in and kisses him.

VICKI
So?

WALTER
What?

VICKI
Are you going to tell me your deep
dark secret before we have sex?

She kisses him again.

WALTER
No.

Vicki looks at him.

VICKI
Okay.

She kisses him. Hesitantly, he kisses her back.


Oh how hard it is on the road to redemption to open up about that which we are most ashamed, to face a woman who’s genuinely interested in you and admit the things you feel sure would ruin your chance to be loved. The undercurrent of Walter’s every word is, “I want you, but I’m ashamed. I don’t want to talk about it, and I need you to love me anyway.”

Vicki is, of course, his opportunity to experience a normal love affair for the first time, normal sex with a normal woman, feel normal feelings, whatever “normal” means. All he knows is that normalcy is going to be radically different from the habits of his past, and that’s scary. And the thing that impresses me about him (and I suspect might have impressed Vicki, too) is that even though he doesn’t talk about the past, he doesn’t bitch about the present either or stoop so low as to manipulate her into believing he was screwed in life. He is what he is. This is his life now, as pitiful as it is. One moment I love – she offhandedly gives him the chance to complain about the noise from the playground… but he refuses. “I like the noise,” he says. Here’s a man living in shit who doggedly refuses to complain about it.

And ya know, he doesn’t even have to talk about his shame. It’s engraved on his face. It’s written all over the shabby walls of his empty apartment, and Vicki most certainly reads the writing on the wall.

And thus, she asks him, “What is your dark secret?”

1 comment:

Miriam Paschal said...

"I like the noise." Man, I read that line soooo differently: still with a lot of subtext, but differently.

Walter lives across from the thing he wants the most: little kids. The noise they make at play is the one thing he allows himself. He's like a smoker who carries an unlit cigarette above his ear.

The noise of the children is the only thing he has left.