17 January 2024

Three Little Words

  Occasionally I am reminded of the paucity of the written word.  Of course there are wonderful things about the written word.  As Penn Gillette noted, it's digital, or can be made so.  It is permanent in a way that spoken words cannot be.  But it has inherent limitations...

Consider the movie Forrest Gump.  I assume I don't have to put in any spoiler alerts at this late date.  In the movie whenever Forrest, a "slow" child, asks why he has no daddy in his life his mother replies "He's on vacation." This is obviously a convenient excuse for his absence.  (In Winston Groom's novel, by the way, the father died in an accident.)

But when Mrs. Gump is trying to get her son into a normal class as opposed to a "special school" for the retarded, the principal asks smugly "Is there a Mr. Gump, Mrs. Gump?"

And Sally Field, playing the mother, replies: "He's on vacation."

See? Those three written words tell you almost nothing.  But what Field gets across in her performance is: To get my son into  school I'm going to have to sleep with this bastard. And I will.

It shows what acting can add to a text.

I was thinking of this because of another scene I saw recently.

For All Mankind is an alternative history TV show on Apple.  It asks the question: How would history have changed if the Russians reached the moon first?  And the short answer is: The space race would have gotten hotter and we would have moved out into the solar system much faster than we have.

But in a third season episode called "All In" there is a stunning scene in which one character utters a three word phrase (not "He's on vacation").  Then they say it again.  And a third time.

The first two times it's a cliche.  The third time the actor makes it clear that the character has realized that their life is about to take an unexpected and very unwelcome turn.

Same words given a completely different meaning by the actor's performance.

It sort of makes me wish my characters could hop off the page and speak for themselves.


  1. A good actor can do amazing things for the written word. "We're gonna need a bigger boat", and "Well, nobody's perfect" were said... perfectly.


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