VHS Revival looks back at those quotes which truly defined their characters.
Whenever we speak fondly of a particular character, what is it that immediately comes to mind?
Sometimes it might be an action or an expression or some other physical detail that sets them apart, but more often than not it is the words that they use and how they use them. Dialogue is everything to a character, because for most of us words are the primary source of communication, and through them we are able to further understand a subject’s personality and motives; we are able to communicate with them on a whole other level.
Cult movies such as Pulp Fiction rely almost entirely on dialogue, and many characters have been defined by the immortal lines they are bequeathed. In fact, many of the greatest characters can be defined by a single expression, those that cut to the very heart of their personas and remind us of all the elements that make them so memorable.
In the second part of our series, VHS Revival looks back at some more of those quotes which defined some of cinema’s best-loved characters.
Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.
Character: William Munny
Actor: Clint Eastwood
Movie: Unforgiven (1992)
Clint Eastwood is one of Cinema’s finest and most diverse directors, and he went back to his roots for his genre-tweaking western Unforgiven, a study of unredemption which lays down the old adage that, on a fundamental level, people do not change.
While staying true to those Fordian elements which depict frontier life, the movie was unique in many respects. This was the first time prostitutes were ever portrayed as having strength of character. It is also the first time a cowboy showed any kind of serious regret or remorse for his actions, the first time death was shown to have emotional consequence for the gun-slinging cowboys of the old west.
Having found God and turned a moral corner, a creaking Will Munny is coaxed out of retirement for one final bounty as he struggles to provide for his motherless children on a fruitless pig farm in the middle of nowhere. Struggling with memories of past atrocities, the formerly murderous Will is unable to kill with the same vigour he once did, until the murder of his old friend Ned (Morgan Freeman) brings out the devil in him, fulfilling all of the sinister foreboding which precedes his final showdown with sadistic Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman).
As Little Bill lies dying on a saloon floor with the rest of his cronies, he claims that he doesn’t deserve to die in that way. Staring cold and hard down the barrel of a shotgun, Munny has a different opinion however, growling a line that is indicative of his notorious past, as well as the morally corrupt present which succeeded in awakening a long dormant demon.
Wanna Hear the most annoying sound in the world?
Character: Lloyd Christmas
Actor: Jim Carrey
Movie: Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Back in 1994, Jim Carrey could do no wrong. After shooting to stardom with smash hits Ace Ventura and The Mask, expectations were high, and his next movie – in which he was paired in an unlikely duo with straight actor Jeff Daniels, proved to be the biggest hit of them all, a movie which not only cemented Carrey as perhaps the world’s biggest movie star, but which also announced writer/directors the Farrelly Brothers as big game, mainstream players.
Perhaps caught up in the fevered hype of Hollywood’s latest comic revelation, Dumb and Dumber was cited by some as being the comedy event of the decade, and although in hindsight that seems to be something of a vast overstatement, Carrey and Daniels exhibited a wonderful onscreen chemistry, and Dumb and Dumber is perhaps the warmest of what would become a predominantly lewd and flimsy catalogue from the Farrellys.
The movie’s charm lies in its inane stupidity, and in particular a couple of zesty physical performances from our two leads. Of all of the movie’s silliness, nothing sums up their distinctive brand of puerile humour like the moment when Harry and Lloyd pick up a hitman posing as a hitchhiker while on their way to return what was meant to be a ransom briefcase to a Mary ‘Samsonite’. Driving the hitman to the point of insanity with their childish games of tag and petty squabbles, he is finally able to calm their antics, only for Lloyd to perform his ‘most annoying sound in the world act’, a screeching falsetto delivered into his passenger’s ear canal like fingers along a blackboard through a megaphone.
Mock! Yeeeeah! Bird! Yeeeeah! Yeah! Yeeeeah!
Favour’s Gonna kill you faster than a bullet!
Character: Carlito Brigante
Actor: Al Pacino
Movie: Carlito’s Way (1993)
In the early 90s Actor Al Pacino and Director Brian De Palma were reunited for what might be considered a quasi-sequel to their 1983 crime classic Scarface. That movie was Carlito’s Way, and although Tony Montana died in the conclusion of their 80s cult classic, Puerto Rican Brigante is very much the character Montana might have become had he served his time instead of going out in a haze of cocaine fuelled gunfire.
Thanks to sleazy lawyer Davey Kleinfeld, Carlito is out of jail on a technicality, but in spite of the assumptions of the DEA and those who ran with the old Carlito, Brigante is looking to turn legit and make enough to get himself and his sweetheart out of the ghetto. That’s easier said than done, however, and with fresh faces come fresh worries, particularly when the converted Carlito can no longer see the angles that once kept his head above water.
Unbeknown to our antihero, the real problem comes in the form of Kleinfeld, a snake who became a major player in his client’s absence, and who lands himself and Carlito in the kind of trouble you don’t walk away from. Early on in the movie, Kleinfeld is full of favours in his apparent attempts to give his client a leg up in realising his dream, but Carlito is too smart to accept, quickly offering this cult line of pulp wisdom. Unluckily for Brigante, a man who swears by a moral code that only he seems to adhere to, he already feels he owes Kleinfeld for getting him out of jail, and by the words of his prophecy his fate is sealed.
Character: Edward Scissorhands
Actor: Johnny Depp
Movie: Edward Scissorhands
For me director Tim Burton is somewhat overrated, and in spite of his unique visual eye, his great movies are few and far between – either tragically dated like his version of Batman, or simply a case of style-over-substance. Edward Scissorhands is perhaps the director’s finest achievement, a movie drenched in the excesses of grotesquerie without ever drowning in them.
The film is about alienation, and the way in which those who are different are often feared, and invariably victimised. Edward – a puppy-eyed Frankenstein’s monster who has been hiding out in a Gothic castle at the edge of suburbia – is taken in by an honest-to-goodness resident, and quickly becomes the flavour of the month with the town’s desperate housewives, until ultimately they grow bored and begin to bay for his blood.
Edward’s hands are symbolic of his inability to fit in, and when his attempts at helping a young boy result in him causing the youngster accidental harm, he is run out of town by a murderous rabble hellbent on revenge. Even more tragic is the fact that Ed has fallen in love with his surrogate family’s daughter, Kim, who is the only person the runaway can still trust.
‘Hold me,’ Kim says as the two of them prepare to say goodbye forever, and with a cute double meaning, Edward holds out the same giant hands which clumsily sliced her younger brother, uttering the ironic and heartbreaking words which so accurately highlight his unique predicament. It is a wonderful gilt-edged touch which encapsulates the movie’s central theme quite beautifully.
Of Course; I’m a Terminator
Character: T-800 Model 101 Terminator
Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Movie: Terminator 2: Judgement Day
In 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger exploded onto the mainstream as James Cameron’s indestructible T-800 Model 101 Terminator, a relentless killing machine who combined the seek-and-destroy dread of a slasher movie with explosive sci-fi action. In 1991 Arnie would be brought back to reprise that role in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but T2’s T-800 was not the same heartless monster as his predecessor.
Here Arnie played the movie’s protagonist, a machine which had been reprogrammed by the resistance and sent back in time to protect a young John Conner, who would one day lead them to victory against the automated scourge that is Skynet. This new T-800 had been tweaked to learn from and adapt to human interaction, and once subjected to present day Earth’s environment, he would grow to become something of a surrogate father for John. In the ultimate irony, the student would become the teacher.
When he first arrives however, he is not much different from the T-800 from the original movie. He is a machine with an objective that will stop at nothing to achieve it. For him, human casualties are of no consequence. Early in the movie, a still naive and mischievous John realises that his new protector will do anything he commands him to do, and it isn’t long before he mischievously picks a fight with two muscleheads with the intention of unleashing his new toy upon them. Wasting no time in dealing with his aggressors, the Terminator pulls out his pistol and attempts to shoot one of them, only for John to misdirect the shot at the last moment. ‘You were gonna kill that guy!’ John exclaims. ‘Of course;’ his guardian replies, ‘I’m a Terminator.’
Not only does this perfectly encapsulate the moral corruption of a machine devoid of empathy, it sets the T-800 on a journey of emotional discovery, while cementing the sequel’s lighter, largely ironic tone. A true classic.
Cedric Smarts: Editor-in-Chief and Art Director
Science fiction author, horror enthusiast, scourge of plutocracy, shortlisted for the H. G. Wells Award, creator of vhsrevival.com
Likes: 80s poster art, Vangelis, classical liberalism, dystopian allegories, dissident political activism, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, George Saunders, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut