Thursday, October 05, 2006

Breakdown - The Skeleton Key

Great job, Miriam! (Click here for a complete list.)

The Skeleton Key

1- 1:27 – Caroline reads "Treasure Island" to Mr. Talcott as he dies. Outside the breeze stirs the Spanish moss and the music plays a soft counterpart to the peace and sadness of his passing. 01:27

2- 0:40 – She packs up Mr. Talcott's stuff. There are several close shots of his things as she examines them. She handles them with love and care, and then finds out his family doesn't want them. 02:07

3- 0:22 – She takes the box out back to the dumpster, but can't bear to add his box to the other boxes in there. The dumpster is full of the personal effects of dead people. 02:29

4- 0:38 – In the tram on the way home, Caroline looks through the want ads and circles one. 03:07

5- 1:04 – She goes clubbing with her best friend, Jill. Jill can't understand why Caroline cares so much about a stranger's stuff. She asks if this work is changing Caroline. Caroline replies, "I'm twenty-five years old. What's wrong with a little change?" Not only is this creepy foreshadowing, it's also the theme of the story. 04:11

6- 2:07 – This is kind of a montage sequence. It starts with shots of Caroline dancing at the club intercut with shots of her driving out of town and gradually leaves the town behind. In this series of shots, we see that she has adopted some of Mr. Talcott's things for her own. She passes two women on the road, one of whom has blind, white eyes (the bayou woman), and finally arrives at the oak alley to the house where she will be working. A big sign warns, "KEEP OUT." The music over this sequence is Death Letter, an ominous song. When she parks in front of the house, her car is the only bright spot of color. 06:18

7- 3:08 – This sequence begins indoors and ends outdoors. Caroline enters the house and walks through the big main hall from the front door to the back door. In the backyard she finds Ben in a wheelchair and Violet cutting his hair. Luke Marshall, the family lawyer, introduces himself. When Caroline meets her, Violet gives Luke a look of displeasure and walks away without saying anything. Caroline decides to leave. 09:26

8- 1:13 – Luke follows Caroline to her car and asks her to stay. In this scene I see Caroline as wanting to be convinced. She asks Luke what he would tell Violet. He says, "She could look all she wants, but I doubt she'd find any better than you." 10:39

9- 0:31 – Jill helps Caroline pack up her car. She's worried that Violet and Ben will suck Caroline into their elderly ways. If she only knew. [color=red]11:10[/color]

10- 0:19 – Caroline finds some good rock music on her car radio as she drives out of town. The tone and her mood are upbeat. Mr. Talcott's key ring dangles from her ignition. 11:29

11- 1:49 – Things get weird at the gas station. Caroline pumps gas, then looks for somebody so she can pay. There is a line of brick dust laid down across the door of the station and inside she sees alligator heads and hanging charms made from raccoon penis bones. She finds another door and hears strange music and chanting. She knocks and the bayou woman with the blind white eyes appears. Then a man with a knife comes up behind her. He's shucking and eating oysters. He tells her the price of gas and she pays. By the time she leaves, she's completely unnerved. 13:18

12- 2:26 – As Caroline unpacks, she discovers there are no mirrors in the house. She goes to see Ben and he grabs her arm. He seems to be asking for something, but he can't talk. Violet comes in and says he has to have his remedies. Then she says to Caroline, "You're scrawnier than I'd hoped. Prettier though. I bet you're all marked up, aren't you?" Why would Violet care if Caroline has any tattoos? 12:44

13- 1:08 – Violet shows Caroline the house. She and Ben have lived there since '62 when they bought the place from a brother and sister. There is an old picture of the brother and sister from when they were children. When Caroline picks it up another picture falls from behind it. It shows the children again, but with two black servants. On the back somebody has written "Papa Justify and Mama Cecile." 16:52

14- 1:08 – Violet gives Caroline the Skeleton Key and tells her to stay out of the attic. Caroline asks about the mirrors and Violet says she and Ben put them away because they don't like to see how old and wrinkled they're getting. 18:00

15- 0:49 – The tour continues. Violet informs Caroline that she likes to smoke and asks about Caroline's family. For the first time we hear that her father died last year after a short illness. Violet says, "You think too much about the time you have left, you don't spend it living." 18:49

16- 1:01 – Caroline bathes Ben and brings him downstairs and out into the garden. Violet and Caroline do some verbal sparring about gardens. Violet is very prickly. Then she asks Caroline to "do her a blessing" and run up to the attic and get her trillium seed packs. 19:50

17- 2:21 – This is definitely the Break Into Two scene. It starts with that cool, creepy shot of Caroline through the keyhole of the attic and elevates the mood of creepiness with several jarring camera angles. She goes into the attic and finds the seeds, but hears a rattling sound. This scene also has no music. It's all natural sound. When she investigates the sound, she finds a locked door blocked by a rack full of stuff. The sound is the doorknob hitting a metal can. Her key won't work and while she is looking at it, the door that leads into the attic slams shut. BOO. 22:11

18- 1:28 – Caroline grabs up the seeds and hurries out, only to run into Violet, who asks, "What took you?" This character has a very distinct voice and her dialogue is brilliantly written. Caroline says she thought the key opened every door and Violet asks, "What key?" Caroline asks what Ben was doing up in the attic when he had his stroke and Violet says Caroline will have to ask him. Yeah, right. 23:39

19- 0:42 – Caroline takes a shower and is startled by a shadow that passes behind her little mirror. I thought this was just included because Kate Hudson is H-A-W-T, but the director says he wanted to show her vulnerability and also her youthfulness. 24:21

20- 1:45 – This scene is shot with all natural sound too. Caroline wakes in the middle of the night. It's raining and she hears a weird knocking sound. She checks on Ben and his bed is empty. She checks a few rooms, then realizes that his door was locked because she had to use the SKELETON KEY to get in. She goes back to his room and sees water under the window, which is open. 26:06

21- 1:02 – Ben is out on the roof in the pouring rain. The knocking sound Caroline heard was his left foot dragging across the corrugated roof. Caroline tells him to wait there and he crawls faster, then loses his hold and rolls off. Caroline hurries down to meet Violet outside. Violet cries out, "What did they make you do?" She sends Caroline for Ben's wheelchair. 27:08

22- 0:49 – Caroline goes back to Ben's room for the wheelchair and finds a sheet smeared with mud. She picks it up to see "HELP ME" scrawled across it with dirt from the flowers on the sill. She bundles it up and takes the wheelchair outside. When she lifts Ben to put him in it, he grabs her shoulders and looks beseechingly into her eyes. John Hurt played this role almost entirely without dialogue and did a really fantastic job. 27:57

23- 0:59 – The next morning Caroline retraces Ben's journey to see if she can find where he was going. She finds a boat pulled up at the edge of the swamp. She hears a voice and turns to find Luke, who can't believe what Ben managed to do. "You cannot be serious," he says. 28:56

24- 2:03 – Caroline takes Luke up to her bedroom. He lingers at the doorway and says he's a gentleman, but eventually comes in. She shows him the sheet, but the message has disappeared. He asks about her father and she explains how she wanted to take care of him, but he was gone before she knew he was sick. She asks Luke if he thinks Ben could be asking for help. The sexual tension between them grows. 30:59

25- 0:42 – And of course Violet comes in and catches them. Luke assures her she is the only girl for him and she says, "Remove your perspirations." On the way out, he slips Caroline his card. 31:41

26- 3:54 – Caroline sneaks back to the attic and uses her hairpin to fish a bit of metal out of the keyhole. She compares it to her SKELETON KEY and it looks like one of the teeth. So who has a broken key? She goes into the room and sees all manner of strange things: a baboon's head, organs in jars, a straw doll with its eyes and mouth sewn shut, and pictures. There are pictures of Justify and Cecile and the family. There is a book of spells. And there are old phonograph records. Caroline takes one that is called The Conjure of Sacrifice. 35:35

27- 1:19 – Violet comes into the attic and Caroline has to hide. Violet looks around for a moment, and then leaves. Caroline realizes she has hidden behind a sheeted mirror. She pulls the sheets down to discover that this is where all the mirrors are. A close-up of an eye through a keyhole reveals that somebody is watching. 36:54

28- 1:28 – Caroline goes back to Jill's to listen to the Conjure of Sacrifice. 38:22

It is time, Lord
From the dry dust
Out of these chains
From the Devil's house

It is time, Lord
To take me
From the dry dust
Break me
From these chains
Bring me
From the Devil's house

Take me out of darkness
Walk me out of blindness
Lift me out of sadness
Save me from my damned-ness

Please, Lord

It is time, Lord

29- 1:03 – Jill tells Caroline it's a hoodoo room and explains how hoodoo is different from voodoo. Voodoo is a religion. Hoodoo is magic, but it can only hurt you if you believe. 39:25

30- 0:50 – Jill shows Caroline a Laundromat that supposedly has a hoodoo store in the back, but won't go in. She doesn't believe, but she doesn't mess with that stuff. 40:15

31- 1:08 – Caroline is worried for Ben. She returns, tucks him, and sneaks off to the attic. 41:23

32- 1:09 – The next morning Violet takes fresh flowers to Ben and drops them all on the floor. There is a mirror in the room. She goes to Caroline in a rage and tells her, "I told you no mirrors." Caroline says, "Tell me about the room or I'm leaving." 42:32

33- 3:59 – Violet begins by lighting a cigarillo and saying, "You're not from the South. You won't understand." The dialogue in this scene has the cadence and tone of a handed-down story. Violet says, "The way I heard it," near the beginning and later on says, "as the story goes." Most of it is flashback that switches back and forth between color and black and white. The director used a hand-cranked camera to get an old-fashioned feel.

Violet and Ben bought the house from the brother and sister, Martin and Grace, whose family used to own the house. When they were still children, they had two servants, Justify and Cecile. Justify was famous throughout the bayou as a 2-headed doctor: a conjure-man. He hit a straight lick with a crooked stick. One night the owner threw a big party and at the end of the evening they wanted to say good-bye to the children. They found them up in the attic with Justify and Cecile, who were in some sort of trance. They were shaking and their eyes were rolled back in their heads. The owner, his family, and his guests figured they were trying to hex the children and took them outside, where they lynched them and set them on fire. 46:31

34- 1:57 – Back to Violet, who explains that she and Ben can see the servants in the mirrors, or at least their ghosts. She says something about brick dust, but Caroline cuts her off. This is very clearly the midpoint where Caroline re-commits to her goal of helping Ben. 48:28

35- 0:51 – Caroline finds a whole drawer full of brick dust. 49:19

36- 1:46 – An accident in the bath leads to Caroline showing Ben her mirror. Ben has some kind of fit and Caroline gets him calmed down. He can see the ghosts too. 51:05

37- 2:59 – Caroline returns to the city and visits the hoodoo shop. She finds out that laying down a line of brick dust will keep your enemies from crossing to harm you. She also gets hoodoo cures for Ben. 54:04

38- 0:48 – She shows them to Jill, who says, "he's not your dad." Caroline says if she's not involved, then she's abandoning him. 54:52

39- 4:50 – Caroline sets up the spell she got from the hoodoo shop. The chant repeats a line about water running down to wash away his affliction and Caroline wets his head and arms with water as she says it. He starts to speak and manages to warn her to get out and tell her that Violet is trying to harm him before Violet breaks into the locked room (with her SKELETON KEY) and puts a stop to it. 59:42

40- 2:01 – Caroline has a bad dream. She hears once again the Conjure of Sacrifice and dreams that her eyes and lips are being sewn shut, just like the straw doll in the attic. Was it part of the dream that somebody cut her hair? Was it her imagination that somebody shut the door on their way out just as she woke up? 61:43

41- 0:34 – Caroline starts to pack, but then sees Ben staring into space on the porch. Instead of leaving, she goes up to the attic with her camera. 62:17

42- 0:45 – She shows pictures of what's in the hoodoo room to Luke, who isn't impressed. Caroline wants to know why the last girl quit. 63:02

43- 0:50 – Luke takes Caroline to meet the black girl who had the job just before her. This girl was impressed and got out as soon as she could. She says the rich brother and sister who owned the house before Violet and Ben both died of strokes right after they sold the place. Caroline says she doesn't believe and the girl tells her to leave the house before she does. 63:52

44- 2:30 – Luke drives her home, but as they pass the gas station, she tells him to pull over. In the house out back they find the bayou woman, who tells them about Justify and the Conjure of Sacrifice. It kept you from dying: not forever, but just for a while, by taking the years that a younger person had left (I did not figure it out at this point) She says folks say that Justify died before he could use it. 66:22

45- 0:45 – Caroline wants to go right in and take Ben, but Luke convinces her to wait and get proof. 67:07

46- 1:25 – As Iko plays on a record, Violet chops up a chicken while Caroline lays down a line of brick dust. Each of them has her own way of conjuring, I guess. 68:32

47- 1:46 – Caroline tries to get Violet to come into her room, but when Violet moves her foot forward it seems to stop of its own accord. She won't come in. "You're a funny one, Caroline," she says. She invites Caroline to supper. It's her famous gumbo (with dead chickens in it). 70:21

48- 0:33 – Caroline pours out Ben's remedies and tells him they are leaving tonight. It's raining outside. Then she drugs a whole jar full of sugar cubes with a hypodermic needle. 70:54

49- 3:03 – At dinner, Violet admonishes Caroline to eat her gumbo. Caroline asks Violet if she wouldn't like some sugar in her iced tea. She set the sugar cubes out special. Violet says she doesn't feel like sweet tea tonight. A huge flash of lightning knocks the power out. "Fiddlesticks," says Violet and goes to get two big red candles. Caroline pours the rest of the drug directly into the tea. When Violet comes back and sips her tea, Caroline asks what she did to Ben. "He's not safe in this house," she says. Violet gets woozy from the drug, but before she passes out, she says, "keep him in this house," and tries to draw a circle with chalk around her. Caroline snatches the spell out of her hands. 73:57

50- 2:24 – Caroline gathers evidence. She finds that Violet has hidden the record in her room, and also finds the sheet with "HELP ME" on it in mud. She then finds a clump of her own hair tied around with string. She puts Ben in the car and tries to leave, but the gate is chained shut. 76:21

51- 2:00 – Violet wakes up and starts sing-songing "Caroline" in her southern accent, which is a truly scary sound. She gets the shotgun and a flashlight and takes a couple of shots at Caroline. Caroline hides Ben in the garden shed and escapes in the boat. As she pulls away into the swamp, Violet calls out, "You've no idea how strong I am, Caroline." 78:21

52- 0:55 – Caroline rows through the swamp in a scene that looks like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. 79:16

53- 2:27 – She goes to Luke, who gets a call from Violet and leaves the room while he talks to her. While he takes the call, Caroline sees introductory law books and realizes that he's got Iko playing on the phonograph, just like Violet had. Then she finds Justify's three-headed snake ring with the ruby eyes and the missing SKELETON KEY with the broken tooth. Just as she realizes that he's in league with Violet, he grabs her from behind and strangles her until she passes out. 81:43

54- 1:03 – She wakes up in the passenger seat of his car. The world is so different, he says. "It's like being born, or dying. Of course I wouldn't know. Hush, hush, darling. I know it's hard." He drags her into the house and calls up in a jolly voice, "We're home." 82:46

55- 1:34 – Caroline finally realizes that it's her they want to sacrifice. Violet goes to find Ben. "Don't scratch her up any more than she already is," she tells Luke. Once alone with Luke, Caroline gets into her bedroom (where she laid the brick dust down) by asking for a picture of her father. 84:20

56- 0:50 – Violet finds Ben in the garden shed and Caroline gets outside. 85:10

57- 1:11 – The double-team her outside, so she goes inside and lays brick dust down at all the doors. 86:21

58- 0:47 – Violet gets in on the second floor (did she climb up?). She and Caroline wrestle and Caroline throws her over the railing and down the stairs. Luke sees Violet lying there and has hysterics. 87:08

59- 1:22 – Caroline calls 911 and then Jill. "It's all real," she tells Jill. Violet rides up in the elevator and cuts the phone cord. "You can't get away, Caroline." 88:30

60- 2:18 – Caroline escapes up to the attic to find hundreds of candles lit to form a circle. She gets chalk, sulfur, and a candle out of the conjure room and uses the spell she took from Violet to lay down a circle of supreme protection. The film switches from black and white to color just like the party. Violet shows up and says, "Why, child, I believe you broke my legs" like she's happy about it (WTF?). Caroline says that Violet can't hurt her. Violet asks, "Who exactly gave you that spell?" She says they've been waiting for Caroline to believe. 90:48

61- 1:16 – Luke comes up in the elevator and puts on both the ring and the record of Conjure of Sacrifice. Violet gets behind a mirror so Caroline can only see her own reflection. Luke chants, "The flesh, the coil, the frail, the weak" as the record plays. Caroline looks in the mirror and sees a younger Violet, then Grace, and finally Mama Cecile. Then everything shakes and Violet screams and pushes the mirror at Caroline. It shatters as it knocks Caroline over and all the candles go out. 92:04

62- 2:56 – "Caroline" gets up, takes a cigarillo from "Violet's" pack and lights it. "Luke" asks, "Are you all right, Cecile?" "I'm fine now, Justify," she replies. They discuss how much harder Caroline was than the lawyer. "Violet" comes around and grunts incoherently, just like "Ben." "Caroline" tells her the thing folks don't understand about sacrifice is it's really more of a trade. 95:00

63- 2:39 – Jill shows up as "Violet" and "Ben" are loaded into a stretcher. She reminds "Caroline" of her panicked call. "Oh fiddlesticks," "Caroline" says. She asks Jill to ride to the hospital with the old folks. "Luke" tells Jill those two old people really loved her. "Don't you know?" he says, "They left her the house." 97:39

There are 63 major scenes that average 1 minute and 33 seconds in length. Only five of them are over 3 minutes long and twenty-one of them are less than a minute long. The total length of the film itself, not counting ending credits, is 97 minutes and 39 seconds.

Music plays a big part in setting the tone for this movie, and in some scenes the director opted to go with natural sound, which was very effective.


Carl S said...

Fantastic Miriam. These are great, insightful tools. Your efforts are appreciated!

Carl S said...

Sorry to double post but...

Unlike many people I know, I loved this movie. I watched it twice on cable last month.

I plan to scrutinize your break down more closely when I get time.

Thanks again, Miriam!

Anonymous said...

Who doesn't like this movie?

I did this breakdown because I wanted to get to know it intimately.

Carl S said...

Some of my peeps in New Jersey just ddn't dig it. I can't figure why.

Anonymous said...

I liked this movie, but reading over the breakdown the story came across even creepier than I remember. The mind's eye is more vivid than the camera lens.

entreprenuer said...

Recently watched it in HBO, I loved the movie and reading your breakdown made me realize I've missed some of the clues laid out. Nice work!

Mystery Man said...

Guys, thanks so much for your kind comments. Miriam does such an incredible job. She's really great.


Mim said...

Thanks again, guys. It's really a labor of love. When I started doing this, my husband said it so totally figures I'd do something like this.

Anonymous said...

So Miriam has a husband, and Mystery Man is not her soulmate?

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