Sunday, November 04, 2007

Cape Fear vs. Taxi Driver

Hey guys,

While I'm out for a few days, I'd like to share a new Movie Breakdown article from Miriam in which she compares Cape Fear with Taxi Driver.

Thanks so much, Miriam. Great job, as always.



Cape Fear demands to be compared to Taxi Driver. For one thing, it again pairs Scorsese and DeNiro. This is not so remarkable. They made five films together before Cape Fear, including Taxi Driver. But Max Cady is like a more mature version of Travis Bickle, and in Cape Fear, Scorsese once again puts DeNiro's character alone in a room with a young girl in a sexually fraught situation. Just as Jody Foster's Iris was still immature and unaware of her sexuality, so was Travis similarly immature and mostly unaware of his. Max Cady has recognized and embraced his dark side. He has not only accepted it, he has wallowed in it. And Danielle (Juliette Lewis's character) is like a more mature Iris. She has awakened enough to her sexuality that she is eagerly exploring it: not only how it makes her feel, but how she can use it to manipulate.

Juliette Lewis was 18 when she worked on Cape Fear and she was nominated in the supporting actress category for her work. It was superb. There was no commentary track on the DVD I rented, but Scorsese, DeNiro, and Foster all discussed the difficulty of shooting the scene where Travis visits Iris in her room. She was only 12, and the two men tried as much as they could to protect her from the undertones of the scene.

They seemed not to have any such difficulties with Lewis, who gave as much to her scene with DeNiro as he did. Don't forget that it was shortly after this that she worked on both Kalifornia and Natural Born Killers. Both of her characters in these movies were very sexual in nature. Given her body of work, it's not surprising that when she was 18, and barely legal, she managed to pull off such a convincing sexual performance.

Another link between Cape Fear and Taxi Driver is the musical score. Taxi Driver was the last score Bernard Hermann composed before he died. And, rather than use another composer, Scorsese used Hermann's score for the original Cape Fear, released in 1962. Nothing could be more ominous than the original four-note brass motif.

Unlike what he did in Taxi Driver, Scorsese made a deliberate attempt to mimic Hitchcock in Cape Fear. Many of the shots are highly stylized. There are close-ups and shadows that evoke memories of Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, and especially The Lodger.

So without further ado, here is the breakdown of Cape Fear as compared to Taxi Driver.

1. 2:14 – Opening credits. Normally I don't count these, but here they set the tone for the whole movie. There are images used that occur later. The music is introduced, and acts as a clue later because it is so easy to recognize. They begin as the Universal logo fades out. At the last second, it turns watery. This fades to real water, which reflects unrecognizable images because it is moving. The first thing we see clearly is the hawk coming in to snatch its prey. The hawk fades to another watery reflection of circular images in an unnatural orange color. A staring eye is superimposed, as if it's just below the water. The reflections change. They could be blocky, maybe a house. A horrified face is superimposed, then the shadow of a stranger that seems threatening. All these images are obvious homages to Hitchcock. The imitation of his style is unmistakable. The sequence ends as the water changes to blood-red over the image of a hanging drop. Scorsese's name appears over this compelling image and then the credits are over. They fade to a pair of eyes that fill the screen, watching. 0:02:14

2. 0:25 - The image is in negative, suffused with red. The red fades, the negative fades to positive, and color comes in. The camera pulls back to reveal Danny (Juliette Lewis). She talks to the camera. "My reminiscence," she says. Beginning a film with a voice-over, or something as obvious as a character talking directly to the camera is one of those rules that can only be broken by a really good story-teller. In this case, the fact that it's her reminiscence becomes significant later. It's part of the B-story. She talks about the houseboat and how the name of her favorite vacation spot is a mystery. The only thing she was ever afraid of was that the magic would end and real life would come crashing in. 0:02:39

3. 1:02 – We meet the antagonist first: Max Cady (Robert DeNiro). We start with the pictures on the wall of his jail cell. They are violent: a man in military uniform, a woman pierced by swords. In front of this appears the back of Cady. It is covered with a jailhouse tattoo of a cross. Hanging from the arms of the cross are two dishes, like scales. One says, "Truth," and one says, "Justice." He turns around to reveal more tattoos. The way he's exercising and the way he moves reminds me of Travis Bickle working out to get focused so he could kill all the bad guys. Like Travis, Cady is pushing himself beyond pain to raise his level of endurance. But when he turns around, we can see that unlike Travis, Cady is completely at home with himself. Gone are the self-doubts of the younger man. This is a man who has embraced his dark side. To complete the scene, he leaves his cell. He is being released. He walks around the floor, past other prisoners, and through a door made of bars. It closes in our faces, the first of many. 0:03:41

4. 0:16 – Match cut on a chain link door opening to let Cady out. He leaves his books behind. "I already read 'em," he says, without looking back. Cut to a long shot of the jail with a stormy sky behind it. Lightning flickers through the dark clouds as Cady walks straight towards us. It's a pretty obvious image. As Cady is released from jail, a storm approaches. He walks right into the camera so that the last thing we see is his nose and his burning gaze. 0:03:57

5. 0:34 - Here is a stately Southern home. Spanish moss hangs from the trees. Danny greets the maid, Graciella (Zully Montero) and accompanies her inside. She moves like a colt: all legs and hips. The sound for the next scene starts with Leigh talking over the end of this scene. Danny and Graciella go inside and close the door in our faces (again). 0:04:31

6. 0:44 – We are meeting the protagonist by first meeting the people close to him. Just as we can define our characters by how they relate to the various people around them, so can we get to know one by meeting his friends and family (and enemies). Danny comes into Leigh's work area and strikes a comely pose. In contrast to her daughter's bare arms and legs, Leigh (the ever-sultry Jessica Lange) wears a baggy, oversize shirt. She's looking for a motif that's about movement. Danny suggests an arrow. Based on other themes and elements in the movie, I have to say this is a phallic symbol, and probably also representative of a knife, and therefore rape. They laugh together, but Danny's attitude is that her mother's work is not important. After she leaves, Leigh tells the dog that they switched babies on her at the hospital. The jealousy and competition between these two is firmly established. 0:05:15

7. 0:17 – Now we get a glimpse of Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte). He's a lawyer, coming out of the courthouse with his suit and his briefcase and a client who is talking about stocks and bonds and hidden money. 0:05:32

8. 1:20 – Now we see them all together. But we're distracted from the scene because it's set in a theater. Sam, Leigh, and Danny are watching Problem Child. I've never seen it, but I would hazard a guess that the clip Scorsese picked is at or near the end of the third act. Cady walks in front of the screen, casting his silhouette upon it, and lights up a big, fat cigar. He stretches his arms over the chairs on either side of him, throws his head back, and puffs up smoke like a chimney. Then he laughs at the movie. He roars at the movie. He guffaws and chokes and snorts and puffs out more smoke and generally destroys the whole movie-going experience for anybody else in the vicinity. This includes the Bowden family: Sam, Leigh, and Danny. They leave. Cady checks as they go to make sure he's had an effect. 0:06:52

9. 1:04 – Sam buys his ladies ice-cream in a parlor. Danny tells Sam that he should have beat up that obnoxious guy in the movie. He should have punched his face. She's in love with violence. He mock-wrestles her while Leigh watches. She's excluded from their fun and she's not happy about it. Sam breaks away to pay, but the cashier tells him that somebody else already paid. He looks where she points and sees Cady outside in his red convertible, smoking his big, fat cigar. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but Cady prefers ones that are extra thick and about six inches long. I don't think it's an accident. Sam hustles his girls inside, but when he looks again, Cady is gone. 0:07:56

10. 1:25 – Sam plays racquetball with Lori (Illeana Douglas), a cute younger woman. By their dialogue, they work together. By Sam's body language, he lusts after her. They finish their game and talk as they leave the court. She wants to know why nothing has happened between them and he tells her his wife doesn't even know she exists. Maybe nothing has happened in reality, but in Sam's mind at least, things have happened with Lori a lot. 0:09:21

11. 2:07 – OPPORTUNITY. Sam says good-bye to Lori and gets in his car. Cady grabs his keys and asks if Sam remembers him. Cady is in a position of power. He has the keys, he stands while Sam sits in his car, and he most definitely controls the conversation. He reminds Sam who he is and says they'll probably see a lot of each other, since he's living in town. Then he gives him back his keys and turns away, muttering, "You're gonna learn about loss." 0:11:28

12. 0:30 – Scene begins with a close-up of piano hammers on strings. This establishes that Danny has to do a reminiscence in the style of Look Homeward Angel for English and that she'll use their houseboat as the subject. It's short and simple, but explains why Scorsese chose the opening shot of Danny talking to the camera. The opening shot on the piano hammers and strings is repeated later in the movie for effect. 0:11:58

13. 1:05 – This is a more complex scene involving staged camera shots. Sam looms large in the foreground on one side of the screen while Leigh stands in the background on the other side. Then there's an angle in the mirror from behind Leigh. It's set up to show how they each have choreographed behavior and responses in their relationship. They don't like to stray outside the rules they have established for each other and for themselves. The topic is the houseboat. Danny brought it up, so Sam suggests it. Leigh vetoes it because she wanted to go earlier in the summer and he was too busy then. Now he wants to go to get away from Cady, but he doesn't want to tell her that. She's jealous of how close he is with Danny and opposes him on principle. To avoid an argument, he turns his attention to her body as she undresses and makes it obvious. Since he's now showing her attention, she is happy. 0:13:03

14. 0:45 – They make love. We see only Leigh's face. She is not aroused, but within the moment emotionally. Their hands entwine and she closes her eyes. The image fades to black and white and then to a negative shot, still on Leigh's face. It fades back to black and white. She opens her eyes and the color fades back in. Then the whole image fades to a bright yellow screen. 0:13:48

15. 0:49 – Leigh gets out of bed. Outside fireworks explode and light up the bedroom like colored lightning. Leigh sits at her vanity and looks at the triptych of her face. She touches her face with her fingertips. The image fades to a red screen. The red fades back to a close up of her lips as she caresses them with a pink lipstick (another phallic symbol). There is another fade to red. Leigh has lost the love of her daughter and no longer cares for her husband's love, so she has created a world for herself, where she creates her own love and affection. When the image fades back in from red, she has a cigarette and wanders to the window. The windows that line the bedroom have wooden shutters with slats: storm windows. Leigh opens the shutters and the fireworks play across her face. The POV switches to outside the window, looking through the slats, as her eyes widen with alarm. 0:14:37

16. 0:23 – Max Cady sits on the brick wall that lines their property: lounges on it really. He appears in silhouette with the fireworks behind him, his cigar smoke drifting up. Leigh moves to another window. We see another angle of Cady. She moves to a third window. We see a third angle. This one does not even remotely match what Leigh would see out the window. It's just to juxtapose the shots. Leigh wakes Sam and he hurries to look out the window, but there is no new angle of the wall. What does Sam see? Is Cady gone again? 0:15:00

17. 0:32 – Sam and Leigh throw on robes and hurry outside, but Cady is gone. As Sam searches the garden, Leigh touches her lips and realizes she has lipstick on. She wipes it off with her fingers. 0:15:32

18. 1:07 – Leigh and Sam have tea while he tells her what he knows about Max Cady. From what we learn later, he deliberately leaves a lot of stuff out, pretending that he's forgotten the case. The main focus of the scene is a power play between them when the dog gets up into her lap and Sam tells Leigh to make him get down. He can't control the dog, but she can, and he can control her. Leigh makes a nasty comment about his clientele, which hints that he hasn't exactly been an upstanding lawyer in the past. 0:16:39

19. 0:51 – In the morning, as Danny runs around getting ready for the day, Sam tells Leigh to keep her inside. They try to talk behind her back, but she knows something is up. As Sam leaves for work, Leigh asks, "What about a gun." With a grim look, he says, "We'd probably use it on each other." He turns away and adds, "Or Danny would." This is cryptic, because it could mean either that Danny would use it on them, her parents, or on herself. He leaves and Leigh closes the door in our faces. This is the third time this has happened. 0:17:30

20. 2:24 – This is the plot dump. After all the set-up with the tension between Leigh and Sam, their competition over Danny, and Cady's cryptic comments, we're ready to get some real facts on this story. It's a pretty static scene, but we've been primed to listen. Sam tells Tom Broadbent (Fred Thompson, the Republican candidate) about the Max Cady problem. Broadbent appears in two scenes: this one and the one in which we meet Sam for the first time. The function of his character seems to be a sounding board, much like Chiwetel Ejiofor's role in Inside Man. Tom recommends Lee Heller, a high-powered lawyer. Sam says he's applied for a restraining order and the hearing's in 10 days. This tells us that whatever is going to happen, it'll happen within the next 10 days. We find out the legal definition of trespassing. If you sit on somebody's back fence, it's not trespassing. Then we get the key piece of information. Sam does remember the case. He was Max Cady's public defender and he buried a sexual history report that showed the victim was promiscuous. This is the South, where things take a while to catch up. A report of promiscuity on a rape victim pretty much guarantees that the rapist will get off. Sam also tells Tom that Max Cady is illiterate. He couldn't possibly know about the report. But we've already seen the books in Cady's cell. We heard him tell the guard, "I already read 'em." Max Cady might have been illiterate then, but he's not now. 0:19:54

21. 0:43 – Back at home, Leigh tries to get Danny to sit on the porch with her. Danny has heard more than her parents intended and asks if the guy following her father is a flasher. Does she hope to get a glimpse of what he's showing? Leigh gets upset. The subtext is that she feels threatened by her daughter's budding sexuality. "Just don't go outside," she snaps at Danny. 0:20:37

22. 4:10 – As Sam walks down the street, Max Cady pulls up alongside him and keeps level with him until he stops. In a reversal of the first scene, Cady now sits in the car while Sam stands alongside. Yet Cady still controls the conversation. He points out some teenage girls and says how wonderful they are at that age. He complains that his own daughter doesn't know him, which is probably a good thing, based on the creepy things he said about these girls. Then he mentions that he learned to read during his 14 year stretch. As soon as he says this, Sam offers him money. Cady breaks it down to show that Sam is offering him $2/day for the time he lost in jail. The implication is that Cady himself will decide what is fair compensation for what Sam took away from him. 0:24:47

NOTE: I'm not sure where the first to second act turn is here. Normally it happens on a decisive action by the protagonist that moves the story forward. But Sam is a reactive character. He has plenty of depth and takes action, but it's always because of something that Cady has done. Cady may be the antagonist, but by story's end we have come to understand why he acts the way he does. We may not sympathize with him, but we can empathize. Based on the fact that this story is about how good and evil can both reside within one man, I'd say that this scene, number 22, is the first to second act turn. It echoes the Opportunity with the reversed positions of Cady in the car and Sam standing. It's a decisive action by Cady, who is not only the antagonist, but also something of a co-protagonist. I believe the plot points were set up in this movie to be taken in turns by Cady and Sam. The Opportunity happened to Sam, but it's Cady who moves the story forward into the second act.

23. 0:21 – Back at the office, Sam tries to get to work, but gets a call from Leigh. It's urgent. He reluctantly takes the call. 0:25:08

24. 1:19 – BAM! Sam's in the car, a look of shock on his face. At home, Leigh tells him through sobs how their dog cried and cried and then just ran down like an old clock. He was gone before the vet arrived. Danny sits on the sofa next to her with tears on her face. Sam's reaction is to gently chastise Leigh. He tells her she shouldn't have let him out. Leigh screams at him and claws at his face. She didn't let him out. Danny runs out and slams the door. I can't blame Leigh for going ballistic. Sam's first reaction should have been to offer sympathy. Obviously there's something very wrong in their relationship. 0:26:27

25. 2:40 – Lieutenant Elgart (Robert Mitchum, the original Max Cady) escorts Sam into a room with a glass window. In the room on the other side of the two-way mirror, two officers supervise Cady as he undresses. Elgart tells Sam it's in the bag. They'll get Cady for vagrancy because he can't pay his fine. But the officer brings them Cady's bankbook. He's got money. And Sam can't say how he got inside the house. He crept in like a ghost. On the other side of the window, Cady takes off his shirt and displays all his tattoos. He holds out his arms. His right arm shoots out in a fist. "Vengeance is mine," says the tat, along with the biblical reference. He shoots his left arm out. "My time is at hand." Under the word "truth" on his back is a bible. Under the word "justice," a sword. He turns around and removes his trousers. He's wearing jungle-print, banana-sling underwear: very sexy. And he's been working out like a madman, so he's in great shape. He straightens up and looks at Sam through the window. His expression asks, "Why are you picking on me? What did I do?" It also asks, "Don't you know I'm going to win?" 0:29:07

26. 2:02 – The town holds its Fourth of July parade. Sam takes his family. Through the floats, on the other side of the road, Sam sees Max Cady, watching him and his family. Cady is staring a Leigh. Sam pushes through the parade, shoving aside members of the marching band, and confronts Cady. Cady says in an undertone that Leigh is as hot as a firecracker. Sam pushes him down and Cady yells for the witnesses that his arm might be broken and demands to know why Sam pushed him for no reason. "What did I do to you?" They didn't hear what Cady said. It's a set-up to make Sam look bad. 0:31:09

27. 3:08 – Lori drinks in a bar. She tells her companion that she's getting over a married guy. The guy next to her is, who else? Max Cady. He tells her he just got out of jail, but says it was for a nuclear protest. She tells a joke about a guy who hacked his wife into 52 pieces. He says she's too small to hack into 52 pcs. He'd probably only get 40 out of her. They laugh and joke. She drinks and he has water. He tells her to stay sober because he's an animal. 0:34:17

28. 1:12 – This scene starts with a long overhead shot from the ceiling fan. It takes in the whole bed. Lori is on her stomach and Max crouches over her. He calls her Loretta. Who's Loretta? She's no longer with us. I hacked her into 52 pieces. Lori still thinks it's a joke. She's laughing hysterically and drunk off her ass. In an instant, he cuffs her and yanks her arm back to break her shoulder. Then he bits off a piece of her cheek and spits it across her bedroom. He tells her that the married guy she was seeing hurt him a lot worse than he's about to hurt her. "I got you now, bitch." She's not laughing any more. 0:35:29

29. 1:01 – Scene starts inside the piano on the hammers and strings. A hammer comes down on empty space and makes a hollow sound. The string is missing. Elgart calls. Sam tells Leigh that Cady raped another girl. Leigh thought it was battery, not rape. Too late, Sam remembers that he didn't want her to know all the details. Leigh asks how old she was. Danny comes down in the middle and hears Sam tell Leigh she was 16 years old. Danny asks 16 what? They ignore her. She mentions to nobody that her birthday is coming up. It must be her sixteenth birthday. 0:36:30

30. 2:47 – Sam goes to the hospital and finds out the victim is Lori. He realizes that Cady targeted her on purpose. Having worked in the prosecutor's office (Sam switched sides), she refuses to press charges because she knows her sexual history will get dragged through the mud. She doesn't care how many other girls Cady attacks. She's seen too many victims get crucified on the stand to go through it herself. It's interesting that she used the term "crucified." It reminds me of that cross on Cady's back. Truth. Justice. 0:39:17

31. 1:04 – Elgart tells Sam he can't handle this situation legally. In the old days, a man would stake out his goats to lure in the wolf. Sam asks if Elgart means he should use his family as bait. Should he blow off Cady's head? Elgart reminds him that he's a law officer and can't condone anything illegal. Sam's on his own. 0:40:21

32. 0:23 – Sam drives home, locks up the house, and closes the shutters. Danny is watching some scary movie on TV. The shots of Sam closing the shutters match the scene when Leigh opened them to see Cady sitting on the garden wall. 0:40:44

33. 1:18 – Sam hires a private investigator, Claude Kersek (the incomparable Joe Don Baker, who has a recognizable face, if not name). They discuss Cady's original case, which sent him to jail for 14 years. Kersek asks if Sam's daughter is 16. He says she's 15. But we know she has a birthday coming up. 0:42:02

34. 1:22 – Over dinner Leigh tells Danny that Sam hired Kersek. Sam says he feels relaxed already. They all laugh. The phone rings and they jump a mile. Danny even screams a little. It's Kersek with information on a man Cady killed in prison. He's watching Cady's apartment. Cady is inside, working out. Kersek says they couldn't place him at the scene, but they kept him inside another 7 years. Cady's lights go out. Kersek says he's on the move and signs off. Danny says, "I thought we were relaxed now." 0:43:24

35. 5:33 - Sam calls Lori from the phone in their bedroom and Leigh walks in on the conversation. He says good-bye, trying to make it look like he's talking to a colleague. Leigh goes ballistic. She screams at him and pummels his chest. Sam insists he didn't fuck Lori. She's just a kid. Apparently Sam did fuck somebody else once, which almost wrecked their marriage, so he thinks as long as he didn't touch Lori, that's okay. Leigh doesn't confront him, but we can tell she knows he's been fucking Lori in his mind. He tells Leigh that Cady is trying to split them apart. They have to be a team. He's trying to play her like he plays his clients and the jury and the defense attorneys. He's trying to co-opt her. She plays him with emotion, which is way more effective. Their fight is so loud that Danny shuts her bedroom door, turns up the TV, and calls a friend on the phone. Finally Sam thinks he's got Leigh convinced. 0:48:57

36. 0:11 – Sam ends up on the couch. 0:49:08

37. 1:59 – Kersek has trailed Cady to a diner. The waitress brings over a plate of food and tells Kersek that the gentleman in the corner (Cady) has sent it over. Cady has made Kersek. Kersek follows Cady outside and tries to threaten him, but Cady doesn't bite. He calls Kersek a busted-down cop, which really gets to Kersek. Cady is really good at pushing people's buttons. 0:51:07

38. 2:21 – Cady drives up to the house while Leigh is picking up the mail to deliver a dog collar to her. He says he found it. She explains that their dog passed away. Cady describes the dog, which tips Leigh and she tells him to get out. He tells her that both of them could have been happy if Sam hadn't betrayed them both. Just as he drives away, Danny comes out to check on her mom and Cady sees her. 0:53:28

39. 1:15 – Kersek tells Sam that Cady made him and suggests a "hospital job." It's basically the same thing that Elgart suggested, except without using his family as bait to give him an excuse to beat up Cady. Kersek will simply put two men on the job. Sam refuses. The law is his business and he wants to work within its limits. 0:54:43

40. 0:27 – Back at home, Sam finds Danny helping Leigh with dinner. Leigh whispers in his ear that "he was here today." 0:55:10

41. 2:19 – Cady calls Danny and pretends to be her drama teacher to establish an emotional bond. The scene starts on Danny, in her bedroom, and doesn't show Cady until the conversation has started. When we do see him, he is upside down. We get just enough time to see that he's hanging from a chin-up bar across his door and then the camera spins to that he's right side up in the shot. But his hair obeys gravity, making it look like it's standing out from his head, and his face is red from the blood rushing to his head. He looks completely demented. And DeNiro spread his signature grin across his face that sometimes looks charming and sometimes looks crazy. In this case, he managed to mix the two looks. He plays her some Aretha Franklin over the phone and talks about how her feelings are all mixed up and her body does things she's not familiar with. It's kind of disgusting, but Danny eats it up. Finally somebody is telling her things she's been feeling, but hasn't been able to explain to herself. He's the do-right man he tells her. 0:57:21

NOTE: In my opinion, this next scene is the midpoint of the movie. Sam, the ostensible protagonist, is nowhere to be seen, but in all other ways it functions as the midpoint. It's a blow to Sam that he is unaware of, it marks a drastic change in the direction of the story, and it spans the exact half-way point in terms of time. Scorsese could have worked with the writer to make this a more traditional midpoint, with Sam being involved in some way, but the whole story is about black being white, white being black, and shades of gray being shadows where people can hide. He emphasizes this by using negative shots at key points, and by fading color into black and white images to show that gray isn't really gray either.

Scene #42: The Seduction of Danny:
He precedes the scene with a shot of Danny walking down a long, deserted hall. It's like Alice going down the rabbit hole. I suppose you could make a case for it being vaginal, but to me it's more like getting into a tight spot. The previous night he told Danny the class would take place on the stage, which is in the basement. When she arrives, the stage is set for a production of Hansel and Gretel. Do you think Max is like the wicked witch? He offers her a joint, which is more appealing to somebody of her age than candy.

He asks her about the book she's reading for English, Look Homeward Angel, and tells her she can't escape her demons by leaving home. Then he asks if she's read any Henry Miller. She admits she's read Tropic of Cancer, sneaking it out of her parents' bedroom when they weren't looking. He tells her she should read Sexus, Plexus, and Nexus, the Rosy Crucifixion trilogy. He says Henry Miller described an erection as a piece of lead with wings.

Danny is enchanted. But she's wary. She realizes this is the man her parents are scared of and confronts him on this. He smiles and admits it. He's the big bad wolf. He's mixing metaphors of her childhood, which are familiar, with metaphors of adulthood, which she's eagerly anticipating. Then he reassures her. He didn't know anything about the dog. As far as he's concerned, her father is the evil one. Every man carries a circle of hell around his head like a halo. This is not just an interesting image. It reinforces the theme that good and evil can co-exist quite comfortably.

Then he gets to the essence of the conversation, and we see how both Scorsese and DeNiro have matured since Taxi Driver. When they put Travis in the room with Iris, they were hesitant to take things too far. The camera cut away from Jodie as soon as her blouse was off her shoulder. They put her hands out of the camera and used a sound effect for the zipper coming down. And they used a twelve year-old, who needed to be protected from the full range of what a man could do with his sexuality.

But by the time they made Cape Fear, they were no longer afraid to venture into darker realms, and they found a young actress who was not afraid to take that journey with them. Juliette Lewis captured perfectly the innocence wanting to become knowledge, the instinctual awareness of the lust directed at her, and the excitement of both mind and body.

Max steps close to Danny and asks if he can put his arm around her. She covers her face, giggles, and nods. She wants it and she's ashamed of wanting it. He caresses her face, runs his thumb across her lips, and then pushes it inside her mouth. She's shocked and he withdraws, then pushes it in farther. Fascinated, she sucks on it, her eyes holding his.

Then he cups her face and kisses her. She responds for along moment, and then is suddenly overcome with the enormity of what she is doing. She never knew she could feel these things.

She runs away crying. 1:08:30

43. 0:57 – Sam calls Kersek and tells him Cady came after Danny at school. He's changed his mind about the hospital job. How soon can Kersek arrange it? While Kersek talks to Sam, he mixes Jim Beam and Pepto Bismol into his coffee. 1:09:27

44. 1:46 – Sam finds Cady at a coffee shop and threatens him. It's pretty explicit. Cady tells him to look in the Bible between Esther and Psalms. 1:11:13

45. 2:03 – This is a weird scene, especially coming so closely after the Seduction of Danny. Sam visits Danny in her room and tries to find out what Cady did to her. She told Leigh, but didn't give the details. She's dressed for bed in a tank top and panties, and is lying on her side, which exaggerates the dip in her waist and curve up to her butt. It's pretty racy. She was scared before, but now she's gotten over that. When Sam asks her, she smiles and bats her eyes flirtatiously, refusing to tell him. He pounces on her, smothers her mouth with his hand, and shoves her against her headboard. He is way more rough with her than Cady ever was. Is he angry that he finds his own daughter attractive? Is he just afraid of her obviously budding sexuality? This scene looks more like a rape than the long scene with Cady, which was simply an expert seduction. Once again, white is black. He tries to recover himself by telling her to put some clothes on. She's not a kid any more. Oh really? 1:13:16

46. 3:56 – Cady turns the tables on the guys hired to do the hospital job on him. They get in some good whacks, which leave marks, but he basically beats them all to a pulp until they run away. He talks the whole time he beats them and quotes Silesius. I had to google more stuff for this breakdown than any other. Silesius was a seventeenth century German religious poet. Sam hides behind a dumpster to watch the beating and trembles in fear when Cady gets the best of them. Cady knows he's hiding and comes closer and closer to the dumpster, talking the whole time. He's great at mind games. Finally he leaves and Sam scurries away. 1:17:12

47. 1:32 – Sam finally calls to hire Lee Heller, the magical lawyer, but when Heller finds out who he is, he cuts off the conversation. Cady has already hired him, so it would be a conflict of interest. 1:18:44

48. 2:10 – In a courtroom scene, we find out that Cady taped Sam's "warning" before the beating. He has sustained enough injuries that it looks like he lost. Not only that, Lee Heller, the great lawyer who was once Sam's beacon of hope, is beginning disbarment proceedings against Sam. 1:20:54

49. 2:34 – Sam wants a gun. He's never held a gun, but he wants one. He tells Kersek he has to be out of town for the disbarment hearing. Kersek advises him that if Cady breaks into his house, Sam can legally kill him. 1:23:28

50. 2:24 – Leigh and Danny accompany Sam to the airport. Cady spins a tale of woe and pity for the girl behind the counter and she checks for him that Sam got on the plane. 1:25:52

51. 1:42 – There's no explanation of how Sam made it look as if he was on the plane when he wasn't, but he gets out of the car at home. Danny is pissed at him and taunts him about having to duck down below the windows. Kersek ties monofilament line to Danny's teddy bear, a nice reminder that not so long ago she was a little girl. The bear juxtaposes how Danny sees herself with how her parents see her. 1:27:34

52. 1:32 – They wait. Sam finally gets time to look in the bible and find out what's between Esther and Psalms. It's the book of Job. God took away everything he had to test his faith. 1:29:06

53. 0:47 – The night passes uneventfully. The next morning, Danny goes outside with the maid and finds a book under a planter on the porch. It's Sexus by Henry Miller. She sneaks it in under her shirt. 1:29:53

54. 1:01 – Sam confesses to Kersek that he's afraid of killing Cady. Kersek says the South evolved in fear. It has a fine tradition of savoring fear. 1:30:54

55. 0:34 – The second night they wait for Cady. Everybody is on edge and can't sleep. 1:31:28

56. 2:08 – This scene draws out the suspense. Danny sits in her room by her window, as if waiting for a lover. Sam and Leigh lie back-to-back on opposite edges of the bed, unable to sleep. Kersek sees the teddy move, but it's only a window blown loose in the gathering storm. 1:33:36

57. 0:35 – Sam wakes up and sees Cady leaning in the doorway of his bedroom, smoke drifting up from his big, fat cigar. The images fades to negative and back. Sam sits up, rubs his eyes, and Cady's gone. He wakes Leigh and tells her he knows how Cady poisoned the dog. He was already in the house. 1:34:11

58. 1:01 – Kersek creeps along the hall to discover the source of a noise. It's only Graciella, the maid, cleaning up in the kitchen. He greets her and makes himself a Jim Beam and pepto cocktail. The maid turns around and it's Cady in her clothes. Remember the missing piano wire? Cady strangles Kersek with it. Kersek manages to pull his gun, but Cady forces his hand to the side, and Kersek shoots himself in the head. Up in the bedroom, Sam and Leigh sit up in bed. As Kersek dies, Cady calls him a white-trash piece of shit. 1:35:12

59. 1:02 – Upstairs, Sam, Leigh, and Danny run around aimlessly. Sam and Leigh tell Danny to get back in her room. Leigh looks out the window (where she once saw Cady on the back wall silhouetted by the fireworks) and sees him running across the yard. 1:36:14

60. 1:11 – Sam finds Kersek on the kitchen floor. Leigh comes down with Danny right behind her. Danny averts her eyes from Kersek and sees Graciella, also dead. She screams. Sam goes to Kersek's body to take the piano wire from around his neck and slips in the blood. Then he picks up the gun. How stupid can you be? THEN he runs outside and fires off two rounds. How REALLY stupid can you be? Leigh drags him back inside and slams the door, which is another door slamming in our collective faces. 1:37:25

61. 0:39 – The family drives to Cape Fear. They pass roadside stands, a place selling honey, and a crude cross that asks, "Where will you spend eternity?" It looks like one of Cady's home-made tattoos. 1:38:04

62. 0:47 – While Leigh and Danny load the car with groceries, Sam calls Elgart. We don't hear Elgart's side of the conversation. Sam says he knows he shouldn't have fled the scene of a murder, nor should have Kersek's gun. He informs him of Force Majeur, a legal term that means all bets are off. They finish up and drive away. As the car pulls back onto the road, a crane shot goes under the car to show Cady clinging to the frame. Bernard Hermann's music from the opening credits comes up, striking fear into our hearts. The sky is ominous. 1:38:51

NOTE: Once again, the plot turns without Sam being aware of it. With the presence of Cady revealed under the car, we know we are heading to the final showdown, or third act.

63. 0:15 – We see the rippling water from the opening credits: the shimmering image we couldn't make out. Now it becomes clear. It's a road sign: "CAPE FEAR NEXT EXIT." The music swells. 1:39:06

64. 0:57 – Danny and Leigh unload groceries and take them aboard the small houseboat. Sam speaks to the dock owner. Unseen by all of them except a frightened black woman, Cady unbuckles himself from under the car. He's exhausted and covered with road dirt. Beneath the dirt, he wears a tight T-shirt in a small, gray camouflage pattern, and pants to match. He looks like a storm-cloud. He enters the men's room. 1:40:03

65. 0:14 – Cady greases up his hair and combs it with a mascara brush. As he leans close to inspect himself, a large crack in the mirror runs across his eye. These are all obvious images, but they work. 1:40:17

66. 0:09 – The dock owner starts an outboard motor as Cady hands him some money. The houseboat glides down the river and Cady watches it go. 1:40:26

67. 0:42 – Series of (carefully staged) shots. The houseboat drifts through picturesque scenery. The day wanes and sunset spreads across the sky like the blood on the Bowden's kitchen floor. Skeletal tree branches claw at the air as the houseboat drifts by. A storm creeps in and lightning flickers amongst the dark clouds. Sam throws the anchor. It cleaves the water with a deadly finality, trailing silvery bubbles. For good or ill, they have arrived. 1:41:08

68. 1:10 – Night. Shadows mimic people: haints. The houseboat nestles among the bushes alongside the bank. Inside, the Bowdens eat dinner and try to be nice to each other, but they're not much used to it. The storm arrives with a squall that rocks the boat. Sam assures Danny as he leaves, but he takes the gun with him. 1:42:18

69. 0:25 – Sam checks the anchor and stares into the rain-spattered water. The camera closes in on the water, much as it closed in on the Alka-Seltzer in Travis's glass in Taxi Driver. 1:42:43

70. 0:34 – Inside, Danny cries again over Graciella. Leigh calls Sam. He doesn't answer. Danny calls for him, her voice shrill with fear. He calls back that he can't hear them over the storm. 1:43:17

71. 0:08 – Sam walks back along the deck and Cady grabs him from the roof, his arms around Sam's throat. Sam's feet kick as Cady pulls him up. 1:43:25

72. 0:06 – Inside, Danny and Leigh do dishes as Sam's feet go past the window behind them. Way to build suspense. 1:43:31

73. 0:26 – On the roof, Cady strangles Sam until he passes out. He takes the gun, trusses him and dumps him on the deck, and then cuts the rope to the anchor. It's a great shot. It has a look of finality to it. 1:43:57

74. 1:36 – Cady jumps inside and says hello to the ladies, who aren't too pleased to see him. He flirts with Danny and she tries to flirt back. Now that Cady has killed her friend, Graciella, his image is tarnished in her eyes. He reminds her that she can't escape her demons by leaving home and asks if she brought Sexus. She says no, but she memorized the good parts for him. He says, "You know me pretty well, darlin'." She nods. He says, "You gonna get to know me a lot better." That breaks her. She screams, her face contorted in rage and fear (no wonder she was nominated for an Oscar), and throws some water heating on the stove in his face (this was established earlier, so it's not a deus ex machina). He barely flinches and asks her if she's offering him something hot. 1:45:33

75. 0:34 – This is the same scene, but there's a shift in both tone and camera angle, so I split it here. Cady lights a flare and lets it melt over his hand while he tells Danny how he spent 14 years in a 8x9 cell and worked to become more than human. The flare spits flame and wax in a horrible parody of ejaculation. 1:46:07

76. 0:43 – Another shift in both camera angle and tone. Cady throws the flare out the window and the cabin is filled with smoke. He tells Danny to wait in the hold and throws her inside, then locks the door. It's actually a tiny crawl space under the table. He asks Leigh is she's ready to be born again. "A few minutes alone with me and you'll be speaking in tongues." This actually foreshadows something we'll see in a few minutes. 1:46:50

77. 1:15 – Inside the hold, Danny lights matches to look around. She finds a can of lighter fluid and hides it in the waistband of her jeans. Meanwhile, Cady is seducing Leigh while Sam watches through the window. She pretends to enjoy it so she can search him under cover of caressing his body. She finds the gun in his pocket and pulls it out. 1:48:05

78. 2:41 – He snatches it back, drags her across the cabin, and handcuffs her to a rail. He opens the window and pulls Sam inside, then kicks him in the head. He yanks Danny out of the hold and throws her onto the kitchen table (this is a tiny space). Leigh appeals to Cady, reminding him how he told her they are alike. She emphasizes the jealousy she has for her daughter. Unfortunately, she's drawing a little from her own reality. Cady brings out a fresh cigar, savoring the moment. 1:50:46

79. 0:31 – As Cady lights his cigar, Danny pulls out her lighter fluid and, screaming with rage, squirts probably half the can on him. He goes up like a torch. His only option is to stumble outside and into the river. However, things are not great. Leigh is still handcuffed and Sam is out cold on the floor. 1:51:17

80. 0:35 – The houseboat is adrift in the storm-tossed river. The wheel spins until Sam comes to captain it. He stares out the window. Outside, the frayed end of the anchor rope flaps in the wind. Cady floats up from the bottom. His bloody hand shoots out of the water, flails, and grabs the frayed end of the rope. The boat heels in the storm. Waves pound the deck. Sam sees the cut rope and goes out to inspect it. 1:51:52

81. 1:14 – Cady takes control of Sam with the gun and brings him inside. He presides as the judge and says, "The people call Samuel Bowden." Then he takes him through how he covered up the sexual history of the victim. Sam tries to defend himself by reminding them that Cady is an animal. "You didn't see what he did to her." Cady beats him with the gun and forces the women to watch. 1:53:06

82. 1:49 – While the boat rides up on rocks and tears through trees, Cady forces Sam to quote the bar oath about how a lawyer shall zealously defend his client within the bounds of the law. Sam again tries to defend himself. Cady references Dante, talking about traitors in the ninth circle of hell. He tells Sam again, "I'll teach you about loss: loss of freedom, loss of humanity." 1:54:55

83. 1:25 – Cady turns on the women and tells them to take off their clothes. They're going to learn to live and die like animals. In their anger and fear, Danny becomes savage. Leigh becomes sultry. The boat slews around in a circle, throwing Cady off his feet. Sam grabs Leigh and Danny and throws them off the boat, then stops long enough to fasten one end of the cuffs around a pole. Just as he's about to jump in after them… 1:56:20

84. 0:24 - …Cady grabs his ankle. They wrestle while the boat hits a snag and everything spins. The camera does a complete 360. Sam falls over a railing into the water. 1:56:44

85. 0:33 – Cady grabs the gun, but can't see Sam. Sam creeps up on the floor and cuffs the other end of the handcuffs to Cady's ankle. Now he's moored to the boat: the sinking boat. Cady shoots and shoots, but the bullets go wild. The gun flies out of his hand and flies in a slo-mo arc in front of the window. 1:57:17

86. 3:25 – The boat hits an underwater rock and comes completely apart. It's a spectacular wreck. Now we can call it a deus ex machina. Cady and Sam struggle. Sam picks up a huge rock and finally becomes what Cady has tried to make him all along: a killer. But the river pulls them apart and drags Cady under. As he goes down, he speaks in tongues (something he promised he'd teach Leigh) and sings part of a hymn (something about bound for the promised land). Just before he sinks, he fixes Sam with a poisonous look of rage. 2:00:42

87. 0:52 – Sam crawls along the bank and stops to wash his bloody hands. He stares at them and jumps in fright. They are already clean. 2:01:34

88. 1:16 – Leigh and Danny find each other in the mud. Sam joins them. Danny's voice-over comes back in, wrapping up the story. If you hang onto the past, you die a little every day, and I'd rather live. Fade to the opening shot of her eyes, which fades to a negative of the same and freeze as it fades to red. 2:02:50

There are 88 scenes that average 1 minute and 24 seconds long. 82 of the scenes are less than 3 minutes in length. The longest, the Seduction of Danny, is 11 minutes long. 39 of the scenes are less than 1 minute long. Only 3 scenes are longer than 4 minutes.

The movie is full of phallic symbols, both in a benign context and in a violent context (like the flare). There is an electric jealousy between the mother and daughter, which hints that there might an Electra complex simmering there somewhere (Electra is the female counterpart of Oedipus). In the beginning Danny does seem drawn to her father, and much of his behavior towards her is seductive. Their wrestling in the ice-cream shop seems innocent until the scene is immediately juxtaposed with the scene of Sam finishing up a game of racquetball with a woman he has sexual feelings for. He touches Lori in almost the same way he touched his daughter. Later, there is a scene where he smothers her with his hand and holds her down with his body, while she is nearly naked in her own bed. He's symbolically raping her. When compared with Cady's somewhat gentle seduction, what Sam does seems much more violent.

Scorsese plays with the violence in the two men, both Sam and Cady. They are opposites of each other who embody many of the same qualities. Sometimes Cady seems gentle, but then we see him bite off Lori's cheek and spit it across the room. And Sam is supposed to be the ever-suffering victim, but he is possessed of an explosive anger. He doesn't even care when the dog dies, or for his wife's grief. To him, it's just another excuse to rip Max Cady's balls off.

In Taxi Driver, Scorsese showed us a man who wanted to do good, but couldn't help being bad. In Cape Fear, that same man has matured into somebody who still believes he is good, but has embraced his evil side in order to do good in the world. Even though he sees Leigh and Danny for who they are, rather than as status symbols (like Sam does), he is still willing to use them and hurt them in his quest for revenge against Sam.

The sexuality that simmers beneath the surface in Taxi Driver has come boiling to the surface in Cape Fear. The ending of Cape Fear is not as bloody as the bullet-riddled ending of Taxi Driver, but in some ways it is more violent. And it changes the life and perception of one young girl forever.


Mim said...

WOW! What a great present to wake up to. Thanks, MM.

You guys might also want to check this video out. I think it's totally cool.

Ryan Rasmussen said...

Tag, you're it!

Unknown said...


I thought you did a great job on this. The opening image of the cross tattoo with justice and truth on the scales is one of the most vivid opening shots I've ever seen. I was intrigued that the four longest scenes in the movie were the four main turning points in the story.

Mim said...

I'd never noticed until I got into it how much religious imagery there was, and also juxtaposed with the sexual imagery.

Very weird movie. And the whole relationship between Jessica Lange's character and Juliette Lewis's character...