1st place: Caoilfhionn Schwab, The power of transgender women
Transgender women, especially transgender women of color, are perhaps the most misunderstood and threatened sexual minority present in today’s culture, facing ridicule, injustice and violence from the public, the media, as well as law enforcement. Transphobia is widespread in our culture, which stems from the fact that transgender women provoke a discomfort in our male dominated society, and threaten their need to prove their masculinity and maintain their power in our culture.
Fear of effeminacy is at the heart of heterosexual masculine identity, which threatens males’ hierarchal privilege in our culture. Masculinity is a homosocial performance, largely policed and enforced by other males in society, and is defined in extremely narrow ways. Our culture holds a tremendous amount of pressure on men to prove their masculinity and to maintain their power in our world, and this pressure results in men acting out in violence, specifically because manhood is linked with violence, threat and intimidation. As social movements around equality gain momentum, whether they are focused on women, people of color, or the LGBT community, men feel pressured to reassert their power in our culture by using violence. At the root of violence against women is traditional sexism; men seeking to protect their power and control, and to enforce the notion that femininity is inferior. On the other hand, at the root of violence against sexual minorities are men attempting to protect their heterosexuality.
Transgender people expand gender boundaries in dress and behavior, shaking the definitions our culture has established as appropriate sexual identity and displacing fundamental assumptions people have about gender. Transgender women are especially alarming to a male-centered gender hierarchy, because they refuse the choices of socially constructed gender norms and that is threatening to men who have constructed their identity based on repeatedly proving and reasserting their membership of the male category. According to Julia Serano’s book, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Women on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, anti-transgender discrimination starts with the rejection of binary gender norms, but is better described as misogyny; a way for men to dismiss femaleness and femininity (3).
Transgender women face an extreme level of misogyny that often results in violence and misrepresentation because they are proof that female and male are not mutually exclusive categories, that women and men are not “opposite” sexes, bringing masculinity and effeminacy on an equal playing field that lessens the power and control that is associated with masculinity. Transgender women face misogyny to a different extent, according to Serano, because they embrace their femaleness and femininity, while “trans people on the female-to-male spectrum face discrimination for breaking gender norms” but not for their expressions of maleness or masculinity (14). This is because masculinity is held to a higher degree of respect in our culture, and to ridicule expressions of masculinity “would require one to question masculinity itself” (Serano, 14). Perhaps the most threatening aspect of transgender women is the fact that transgender women, according to Serano, “who despite being born male and inheriting male privilege ‘choose’ to be female instead” (15). This in turn questions the power of masculinity, because these people choose to embrace femininity and relinquish their gender-based power, the epitome of fear in the culture of masculinity.
The power transgender women have in dismantling all that the notion of masculinity is based upon results in an incredible amount of injustice, violence and scrutiny around the their community. According to Laverne Cox, the homicide rate of transgender women are the highest in the LGBT community; over fifty-three percent of LGBT homicides in 2012 were transgender women, and seventy-three percent of those killed were transgender women of color. Transgender youth face incredible bullying and harassment; about seventy-eight percent of transgender children from grades K-12, all too frequently resulting in suicide (Laverne Cox, “Creating Change 2014”). In order to dismantle the threat transgender women have on masculinity, this community rarely sees justice as a result of the persecution they face. Laverne Cox brings to light a law enforcement system in place that makes transgender women disappear, profiling them as sex workers and arresting them simply because they are wearing short skirts in the wrong neighborhood or for carrying more than one condom at a time. Cases such as Cece McDonald, a transgender woman who was arrested and incarcerated after she was attacked by a white supremacist, or Jules Gutierrez, a transgender youth who was arrested after she defended herself against her harassers, are proof that we seek to systematically oppress this community (Laverne Cox, “Creating Change 2014”). Viewing transgender women as villains is one way our law enforcement system and the media maintains the masculine hierarchy in our culture, by painting the persecutors as heroes and the persecuted as violent people who choose to act as women in order to “prey on innocent straight men or to fulfill some kind of bizarre sex fantasy” (Serano, 16).
Transgender women face other cultural traumas besides being seen as villains in society. Another way the media maintains male-privilege is to portray transgender women as victims, which robs them of their strength in the public’s eye, because strength and power are first and foremost associated with masculinity. By doing this, transgender women are seen as weak, therefore more susceptible to the public’s scrutiny.
Along with instilling fear and pity onto the community of transgender women, the media has an important role to play in shaping the culture’s idea that the gender identity of transgender women is illegitimate. In order to combat the fact that transgender women embrace femininity, despite the fact that they were assigned as men at birth with the gender privileges that accompany that title, the media uses the tactic of dehumanization to portray transgender women not as people, but as objectified body parts accompanying the “wrong” gender performance. This not only spreads transphobia across our culture, but cissexism and oppositional sexism as well; the beliefs that transsexual’s identified gender is “fake,” and that the categories of female and male are “rigid, mutually exclusive categories” (Serano, 12-13). Transgender women are hyper sexualized and hyper feminized in the media, provoking the assumption that they are sexual deviants here for men’s sexual pleasure, and are subject to men’s gaze and objectification. By hyper feminizing and hyper sexualizing transgender women, our culture is continuously forcing the community into an extremely low hierarchal position in order to avoid threatening cis male’s position in society.
The media continues to dehumanize transgender women by focusing storylines on transition surgeries, whether or not they are passable enough to be “real” women; asking invasive questions that would normally not be presented to any cis female or cis male, because in society’s eyes transgender women are not people, but a type of science experiment we can examine, scrutinize and pass judgments on. To consider transgender women as real people in society, would mean that our masculine culture would have to confront the power this community has, as people, to choose their gender and how they perform it, without the reinforcement that cis males are so used to experiencing.
Masculine power is inherent in our society and has been for hundreds of years. Transgender women subconsciously tap into the fears our culture has regarding masculinity and maintaining its position in society. Through the media and its portrayals of transgender women, and our law enforcement system and its failure to serve justice to the transgender community, masculine power remains unthreatened in our culture. Transgender women continue to push gender norms and binaries forcing the culture of masculinity to face its fears surrounding gender equality and the elimination of a gender hierarchy that has been responsible for the pedestal men sit upon in our society.
Serano, Julia. Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Berkely, CA: Seal, 2007. Web. <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/umassa/Doc?id=10447116&ppg=19>.
Cox, Laverne. “Creating Change 2014.” The National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change 2014. National LGBTQ Task Force. Houston, TX. 29 January 2014. Keynote Address.
2nd place: Stephanie George, Everything looks worse in black and white: Social commentaries on 1950s America in The Last Picture Show
The Last Picture Show (1971) is a reminiscent and dusty coming of age story, the first major film of the then 31-year-old Peter Bogdonavich. The screenplay is based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry, the first book in a trilogy chronicling the lives of teenagers Sonny, Duane, and Jacy, and their stumbling journey to adulthood in the setting of a dying Texas town. The novel takes place in Thalia, a place quite similar in appearance and history to Archer City, McMurty’s hometown. For the film, Bogdonavich renamed the city to Anarene to rhyme with the town of Abilene in Howard Hawks’ film Red River (1948). This was one of many subtle tributes in the film made to early classic directors. The Last Picture Show is often cited as a farewell to such film names including John Ford (Grapes of Wrath (1940)), and Orson Welles (Citizen Kane (1941)). Bogdonavich paid special tribute to Welles in particular, modeling much of the film around Welles’ 1942 film The Magnificent Ambersons about the phasing out of an earlier way of life in response to the automobile industry boom at the turn of the century. It is also because of Welles influence on Bogdonavich that the film was shot is Black and White, a first in the mainstream industry in post-60s film.
The basis of the film revolves around the lackluster lives of high school senior friends Duane, a likeable athlete, Jacy, a vain, seductive girl, Sonny, a serious and quiet friend, and Billy, Sonny’s mute and “slow-witted pal,” as they search for excitement and direction. They cling desperately to what sad offers the dying town gives them, spending their time at the local pool hall, watching movies shown at the small downtown theatre (the Royal), and finding escape in drinking, wistful dreaming, and engaging in messy and often exploitative sexual encounters. Looking to adult figures for guidance does them little good as they attempt to make sense of the bleak and suffocating world which surrounds them. Throughout the film, Bogdonavich not only tells a nostalgic coming of age story, but also manages to use the piece as a medium for critical social commentaries on 1950s ideals of prosperity, youth, and sexuality.
Themes of Prosperity
With the sad and dying town of Anarene as the backdrop for The Last Picture Show, prosperity is a prominent theme. The success of this theme translating to the audiences throughout the film is also due to the era in which the story is set. 1950s America, particularly the time between the Second World War and the Korean War, is often considered to be the pinnacle of American prosperity, success, and well-being. By the time of the film’s release, however, negative viewpoints of this era in American history were beginning to form, especially among younger generations. One poster for the film advertised it as “the picture show that introduced America to the forgotten 50’s.” The Last Picture Show challenged prominently positive and largely romanticized ideals of 1950s culture by exposing the history that often goes unmentioned.
Anarene is a fictional town named after the actual town of Anarene, located in Archer Country, Texas. At the turn of the century, Anarene became an industrial town, making its profit by transporting coal produced in a nearby mine. In the early twenties, an oil field was discovered nearby, taking away the town’s economy. Soon after, the population began to steadily decline. Soon coal production stopped. Within nine years the railroad station closed, and was eventually abandoned in, followed by the closing of the town’s post office in 1955. Plagued by the lure of wealth and the rise and fall of unsustainable industry, the real town of Anarene joined the ranks of many American towns that were abandoned when their industries failed them.
It would be no surprise to see the real people of Anarene in low spirits; tragically stuck in their ways from a time when much more seemed possible, and dreams of success, in business and personal endeavors, were surely within reach. Such an atmosphere is portrayed in the fictional town of Anarene.
The use of black and white film contributes an overall forlorn and nostalgic ambiance. The setting and atmosphere is crucial for telling the story and for allowing the film to function as a social commentary piece. If the town were lively, accommodating, and prosperous, then the characters would appear to be genuinely flawed, rather than as tragic products of their time. The only sources of social engagement are the local pool hall, movie house, and run-down café, which are all owned by Sam. Here the people of Anarene gather to gossip and talk with one another. By the end of the film, the movie house is closed, and the pool hall is set to close after Sam’s sudden death. Just like the actual town of Anarene, the fictional one represented in the film leaves its people desolate in the aftermath of dying industry.
Within the town of Anarene there are varying levels of prosperity. This can easily be seen by examining the difference between the characters of Genevieve and Lois Farrow. Genevieve is the café’s cook and waitress who works in her older age to pay for Sam’s medical bills. She is working a low wage job to support her male counterpart. In her apron and tennis sneakers, she is not conventionally attractive. Lois, on the other hand, is a beautiful and high-maintenance woman who married rich to satisfy her expensive taste. However, she is dissatisfied with her marriage, and resorts to drinking and extra-marital affairs with the local oil baron, Abilene, to make up for the unhappiness in her life. Although Lois has attained, superficially, all that a well settled woman could hope for in the early 1950s, she is spiritually and emotionally empty, as opposed to Genevieve, who despite living a hard life, is valued and loved by her husband and fellow townspeople.
Bogdonavich is criticizing the ideal of success that was defined by material wealth and industrial gains. This dichotomy between physical and spiritual prosperity is something that could only be appreciated in its totality through the lens of a culture shaped by a detachment from material obsession.
Themes of Youth
We are presented with a scene mid-way through the film showing Sonny, Duane, and Jacy riding in Jacy’s car. The scene is a nice introduction to the way in which youth is portrayed throughout The Last Picture Show. The teenagers in the film are endlessly searching for escape from the suffocation they experience living in Anarene. In this scene we see them literally trying to get out by means of transportation. The failure of this attempt is evident when they begin to sing their alma mater, proving that while they may be entering adulthood, they are never truly going to leave the confines of Anarene. They will never completely grow out of the people that the town has shaped them to be. Bogdonavich is making the point that while people age and grow, they never truly escape their younger selves; never completely mature.
This is exemplified again during Sam’s short talk with Sonny outside the pool hall. In the preceding scene, a group of local boys decide to hire a prostitute for Billy and coerce him to have sex with her in the back of a car. Sam, being Billy’s surrogate caretaker is appalled by this and expresses his disgust and disappointment with the boys. He tells the boys that he’s “been around that trashy behavior all [his] life” and that he’s “gettin’ tired of puttin’ up with it.” Considering that Sam is well into entering his older years, it is surprising that he would just now be coming to this conclusion. It becomes apparent that the same things the youth are hesitant to stand up to are the same things the adults cannot seem to take control over. They are as perpetually stuck as their moral compasses, providing little if any guidance.
Later on in the film, Sam has another talk with Sonny about his own adventures in his youth. Here we see a different attitude towards youth being presented. Sam reminisces about a past girlfriend who would go skinny dipping with him. He recalls a time when she bet him that she could beat him in racing horses across the swimming hole. “She bet me a silver dollar she could beat me,” Sam says, “She did… I bet she still has that silver dollar”. As Sam shares his past, he recalls the memories of spontaneity as the most pleasant and as the ones that he longs for the most. It is this side of youth that has left Sam and most of the adults in Anarene, leaving them with monotonous and dull lifestyles.
As it is represented in the film, youth is exciting and free, but something that cannot be held onto forever. In Graham Fuller’s paper, The Last Picture Show: In With the Old, he writes: “[…] people are often unaware that the times they are living are the best of times, that simple quotidian ritual and shared moments are what make the long journey tolerable.” Through the struggles of the teenage characters and the regrets and frustrations of the adults, we come to understand the value of enjoying youth, and the ultimately depressing results that occur in a culture that suppresses it.
Themes of Sexuality
Sex was a topic of chief concern in mid-twentieth century politics, culture, and film. Prior to 1968, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was governed by the Hays Code, which imposed strict guidelines upon film makers. Under the code, only scenes portraying “correct standards of life” could be portrayed. After the code was lifted, filmmakers excitedly included in their films everything they could not before. The scenes showing sex and frontal nudity in The Last Picture Show are unapologetic and blunt, allowing Bogdonavich to make social commentaries without having to excuse the acts themselves.
In a later scene, Jacy is home alone and Abilene comes over looking for Lois. He instead takes Jacy out to the pool hall, which is closed, and rapes her. When Jacy comes back home after the incident, her mother somehow senses what happened. Instead of showing her daughter sympathy and/or help, she simply sits her down to tell her that this should be expected, brushing it off as if it is not a big deal. This reveals the attitudes towards sexuality and sexual mores in 1950s America. Also brought to light in this scene are social definitions of sexual assault, which virtually did not exist until the mid-1960s. It makes sense that these critiques were made in a 1970s film, a time when feminism was strong and finally working its way into mainstream culture.
Another important piece of the film’s critique of sexuality begins when Sonny does a favor for his high school athletics coach by driving the coach’s wife, Ruth, to the doctor’s office for an appointment. When the pair arrives back at the house, Ruth invites Sonny in for a “soda – if [he] can stand [her] for a few more minutes.” They awkwardly enter and sit at the kitchen table. Ruth suddenly begins to sob. Sonny does not know to react, unaware of Ruth’s neglect from her husband. Later on at the community holiday dance, Sonny spots Ruth in the kitchen doing dishes. He begins talking to her and joins her to take the trash outside. Once outside the camera captures the two as they kiss. Sonny excitedly tells Ruth that he will drive her to her next appointment. Their affair quickly escalates and continues throughout the film. It is one of the most analyzed aspects of the film, often critiqued for its oedipal themes.
Themes of prosperity, youth, and sexuality were important in The Last Picture Show for creating an entertaining and thoughtful coming of age story, yet also served as a means for the film to function as a social commentary. Many of the commentaries made were those that could be appreciated to their full extent because of the time in which the film was produced. It can now be viewed as a retrospective piece. The Last Picture Show lends an eye to the changing tides in American culture and cinema between the early 1950s and the early 1970s, and helps viewers understand the attitudes and conceptions we hold today that both romanticize and criticize the past.
Fuller, Graham. “The Last Picture Show: In With the Old.” RSS. Criterion, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2012.
“Safeguarding Artistic Freedom.” Motion Picture Association of America. Motion Picture Association of America, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.
Schmidt, Walter G. An Encyclopedia of Texas Post Offices: Texas Post Offices under Five Flags. Chicago: Collectors’ Club of Chicago, 1993. 38. Print.
Dirks, Tim. “The Last Picture Show (1971).” The Last Picture Show (1971). FilmSite, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2012.
3rd place: Nicholas Kinsman, A soldier’s life
“Incoming,” cried the voice of the sergeant, as the faint whistling sound of an incoming shell slowly grew louder. I immediately fell to the ground and tried desperately to gain an inch of depth in the mud, in the brief seconds that I had, drilling my head into the earth as an ostrich would do. The shell missed us, and exploded a good thirty yards away, but the earth shook as if a giant were hopping on one foot. I lay still, feeling the mud slowly seep through my brand new uniform. I felt the cold seep into my body. I cringed as if the mud and the very earth were claiming me, but not yet. I had survived this round.
“Alright, you bastards get on your feet, for Chrissake, the Hun was just greeting you, that’s all,” shouted the sergeant. He spoke as if the shell was a welcoming hello, not a death knell that could have felled us indiscriminately. We got up slowly, trying to shake off the dense mud that clung to our clothes like slime to a piece of rotten meat. There were six of us; most were close to my age and like me had never traveled farther south than London, on a rare occasion. Living in the north of England and Scotland we accustomed to rain, but this place was something else. We were all geared up with equipment that weighed just as much as we did, and it made a big difference when we were trying to get up to the front. Before the mud, our uniforms were brown, while our equipment bags were kaki. Now everything, including our rifles issued new back at the supply depot, were caked in mud.
“Alright, come on you lot, we got to keep moving. Only a little more to go ‘til we get you to your home for the next six weeks,” shouted the sergeant, as he turned and started to march forward. He was caked in mud as well, but he looked as if he had been born of the earth. His uniform was permanently stained, steeped with the dark, black of the mud. And no amount of bleach could ever remove the filth. He wore only his ammunition belt, a canteen and a sheep’s hide to protect him from the cold and the rain. His face sported a black unkempt mustache. But his eyes were his most distinguishing feature. They had the look of complete exhaustion and indifference. Most men who had served at the front had those distinctive stare. They were haunted by untold horrors that had extinguished the light of love and warmth, perhaps forever. They seemed practically inhuman. Another element of man.
As we made our way through the mucky road to the front, I looked out in all directions for something the war had not touched, something that still remained of the old. But all I could see was miles upon miles of the dark mud; not a single tree, nor house still standing. The sun barely emerged from the darkness of the clouds, as if it wanted to avoid even seeing, through its window, what had become of this once beautiful land. It was quiet, except for the occasional explosion ahead, as a marker for where we were headed. I took a deep breath in to ease the stress, but I had forgotten the horrendous smell that permeated the air. It that could make one vomit, which it often did. The wind seldom carried the smell away. The stink of death engulfed us, like the mud, stuck to us.
We finally came to a deep ditch, a quagmire of mud. The only thing that kept us from falling into the undertow of hell itself was the rough planks lain on top to keep us afloat. “Alright, listen lads, we are about 200 yards from the front lines, so make sure you keep your bloody heads down, there are snipers all over the place scoping our lines to try and pick us off. Once we report to the captain, then well get you all sorted out. Be sure and follow the man in front of you. These trenches can be somewhat confusing.” The sergeant looked at each of us with those dark eyes, before turning and moving ahead, quickly and quietly. We did the same. While the trenches were meant to protect us, they seemed to me the gates of hell itself.
The walls of the trenches were planked with wood and lined with baskets that held the excavated dirt. There were also planks at the bottom of the trench, but they were rotted out from the rain and the muck it created. As we approached rats scurried out of our way. “Little bastards,” the sergeant growled. “You’ll kill more of them than Huns.” I remained quiet, unsure if he was muttering to me personally, or to the world in general. It didn’t matter; I was too focused on crouching to give his comment any real thought. We walked through the labyrinth of trenches. Sort of like the mazes you find in gardens, only the walls were mud and not shrubbery. After several minutes, we came to headquarters, which wasn’t anything more than a little hovel in the ground, identified only by crudely lettered sign. “Alright stay here and don’t move,” the sergeant said, as he went into the hovel. He came out a short time later with an officer. Who looked much like the sergeant, only he wore the insignia of a captain and he was clean shaven. He was not much older than we were, but he looked too old for his age. We jumped to attention and tried to give the best salute we could manage, under the circumstances. He paused for a moment and looked at us, as if examining food at a market. Finally he returned our salute and spoke not to us, but to the sergeant. “Is this it sergeant Rimms?”
“I’m afraid so sir. This was all they could spare.”
“Jesus, we were promised thirty men at least, not six boys. God, how are we supposed to attack, let alone defend our position when we are below half-strength? For Christ sake, you think…” the captain stopped and looked away from us, trying to collect himself. I had never before seen an officer swear like that, especially a gentleman. He turned and looked at us again, and looked at the sergeant “Take these recruits to Lieutenant Sandover’s platoon. He needs these replacements more than anyone else.”
“Yes sir. Alright you lot follow me.” With that, the sergeant made a quick nod to the captain and proceeded deeper into the labyrinth.
We followed; passing many men encamped in little hovels carved out of the side of the trench. Each one shared the same expression as the sergeant and the captain. They didn’t look up at us. Rather, they focused on what they were doing: playing cards, smoking, trying to light a fire or simply talking quietly to each other. They look almost dead, my famed regiment, renowned for brave men and many victories. Instead, huddled in their little groups, they were almost pitiful. I was very much sympathetic to their hardships. They had the look of sheep on my pa’s farm before we slaughtered them. “Jones, where is Lieutenant Sandover,” shouted the sergeant to a man hunched over, a blanket draped over him. Jones didn’t say anything; only pointed to a man sipping a cup of tea. The sergeant walked over and they talked for a bit. We didn’t catch the conversation, but by the look of the tea drinker, which I assumed was the lieutenant, it wasn’t going over well. Suddenly the lieutenant came over to us. We snapped to attention with a salute, but unlike the captain he didn’t salute back. “Jesus, Rimms. All the men must be dead. Now they’re sending us boys,” said the lieutenant. Although he shared our accent, his speech wasn’t as sophisticated or elegant as most officers. “My name is Lieutenant Sandover. I am now your platoon commander. It is my job to keep you alive for today, because tomorrow we’ll be attacking in the morning. In which case, you are on your own. Now you can take a break and get some sleep over there, near where Kingsman is sitting, but in any case you will not be needed, ‘til the morning. You will receive further orders from me. For now Sergeant Rimms will look after you, as best he can, as well as will the others in his squad. Sergeant Rimms take over.” And with that Lieutenant Sandover left.
“Sir! Alright you heard the lieutenant. Try to find a comfortable place to sleep because in 12 hours we are going over the top.” I could not believe what I was hearing: Our first day at the front and already we were being told to attack the Hun trenches. “Now Corporal O’Connell and Private Fowl will give you some tips on fighting. O’Connell! Fowl! Front and center,” boomed the sergeant as he called down the trench. Two men emerged from their shelter and trudged up to the sergeant. “What do you want, sarge,” spoke the biggest of the two.
“I was having a dream about an ocean paradise that was inhabited by beautiful women” said the shorter one who, wearing a hat with the symbol of the regiment on the brim.
“O’Connell, Fowl I need you lads to teach these boys how to survive the attack. Could you boys do that for me?”
“Bloody hell, Sarge” spoke O’Connell. Now closer, I could see the corporal strips dimly on his uniform. “These are replacements. God, they still have milk stains on their faces. We might as well dig their graves for them.”
“I don’t want to hear it O’Connell. Just do what you are told.”
“Will do, Sarge.” Satisfied, the sergeant walked away.
“All right Look sharp. Find a spot. Sit down, shut up and listen,” said O’Connell. Me and Fowl, here, are going to teach you to be killers. But first you need to know there are two types of artillery; ours and theirs. If you live that long, you will be able to distinguish between them, as well as calculate how far or near they may be. So when you hear them, hug the ground and pray to Jesus that you can gain an inch to protect yourselves.”
“But artillery is the least of your worries, because those bastards over there have a whole bloody arsenal of deadly weapons including machine guns, gas and all types of grenades that can kill a whole squad of men. Then there are the mines and the barbed wire that are all over the place. If you survive those, what you have to worry about is when you come face to face with one of those Hun bastards.” With that, Fowl unslung his rifle and gripped it with both hands. He hunched his back so we could have a good look at it.
“This is one of your best mates. Take care of it, and it will take care of you. This rifle holds five rounds and can stop a man dead at three thousand meters, maximum. It’s easy to load and fire. But it does you no good when you’re in close quarters. So that brings us to your other best mate.” With that O’Connell reached down and took out his bayonet. It was a good 14-inch long. He attached it to Fowl’s rifle.
“This,” Fowl said, “is the main tool of your profession. Granted, you have the firing power of rifle, but when you are charging a trench, you will not have time to reload because you want to get to your target as fast as possible. The longer you stay out there, the better target you will be. You have to sprint to the trench and when you get face to face with one of those fannies, you better stick this in him before he has time to stick it in you. Aim for the gut, rather than the chest, because sometime the bayonet gets stuck in the ribs. You’ll need it for the next one who will be coming over.”
After Fowl and O’Connell left, I cleaned my rifle to make sure it would not jam when I needed it tomorrow. I also sharpened my bayonet, making sure it could go through a man like butter. I tried to keep busy, but my whole mind was focused on what would happen tomorrow. Will I survive, or will I die? I didn’t expect it to be like this, the war I mean. I tried to keep calm and fall asleep, but my mind wandered. No matter what I did, my thoughts turned to tomorrow. I don’t want to die! I was so deep in my thoughts, that I didn’t notice the barrage of artillery that was shelling the positions we were to take tomorrow. I just stared at my hands and prayed to God that I would survive.
I was awoken by Thomas¸ one of the replacements, who whispered to me that we would be going over the top in 5 minutes. I looked around at the rest of my company. All of them were lined across the center of the trench, with the officers staring at their watches. Each man had stripped himself of all the non-necessaries, keeping only their rifle, ammunition, trenching tools, and their bayonets. I got up and took my place next to the Sergeant, who like everyone else, just stared at the ladder we had to climb. No one spoke. We just listened to the barrage as it grew even heavier. One man leaned over and vomited and I was close to follow. I just wanted to go. It’s the waiting that is deadly because it allowed fear to creep into your mind. I was absolutely horrified at what would happen. I tried to remember what Fowl and O’Connell said: that the only thing I had to worry about was the enemy in the trenches. This scared me even more, because I had never killed a man. Nor did I want to die. I could deduce that we would receive very little mercy, especially in the frenzy I expected to ensue.
“Fix bayonets,” came the call from the captain. We obeyed his order and every man took out his bayonet and stuck it on his rifle. I put on the cold steel on my rifle and made sure it was on and would not detach. I double checked that my gun was loaded and that my boots were tightened. I even made sure my scarf was in the right position. I checked anything I could to avoid thinking moment and what was to come. Then, all of a sudden, the barrage stopped and for a few seconds it was quiet. I could, for a moment hear a bird chirping, and for a brief second I was back home, in Yorkshire, with its green fields. I saw my mother, her golden hair, gentle eyes and hands, looking at me with complete love. I wanted her now. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, how I had made a mistake by coming here.
But then suddenly and fiercely the officers blew their whistles and a deafening cry came from the men as they moved up the ladders and charged. They screamed as loud as they could, with the bagpipers in the back ground giving them courage for the fray. I screamed as well, letting my fears turn to anger and rage. I screamed, for there was no going back. I went forward. I climbed up the ladder as quickly as possible, as if I was racing against the others who were climbing beside me. As I came over the top, I saw, what looked like to be hell on earth stretching before me.
I ran as fast as I was able, trying to pick a spot to reach. But I couldn’t help notice what was happening all around me. Men who had been running beside me, were dropping as if their souls were suddenly snatched away and their bodies left behind. I didn’t want to look down at the ground, for it was covered with the corpses of fallen soldiers who were so alive only moments before. I heard the cracking of bones as I ran over them. The field was covered with dead trees that stood as lonely bastions. There were holes everywhere, filled to the brim with water. I kept stumbling and tripping on the mud and always tried to regain my balance. I had to keep going. I had to reach the trench and safety from hail of bullets that seemed to fill the air. I looked back and saw the bodies of soldiers falling amongst the old corpses, adding to the seeds of death already planted in the ground.
Sudden a huge force pushed me back to the ground. I reeled back and lay in the mud. I felt a horrendous pain, like someone had put a red-hot spike into my gut and left it in there. Oh god the pain. God make it stop. PLEASE, it hurts so much.” The more I struggled, the more it hurt. I reached down and touched the wound gently. But the spasm of pain was unbearable. I screamed and yelled– anything to relieve the pain. Please Mother. Make it go away, I don’t want to die. Please God, for Christ sake, don’t let me die. Tears rolled down my face as the pain got worse and worse. I tried to sit up, but the pain made that impossible. I tilted my head and saw blood on either side of me. “Oh god I’ve been hit. Help,” I cried, “help, for God’s sakes. Help me please.” I tried and reached out my hand, begging for someone to hold it, but no one did. I kept crying– the pain, make it go away. I closed my eyes, but the tears kept coming. My voice was drowned out by the cries of men and the shelling, which seemed to engulf the world in fire.
I kept crying, waiting for something to happen, but the pain grew worse. “Please someone shoot me, someone shoot me. Please end the pain. Somebody. Anybody!” I grew light-headed and my body grew numb. I tried to cry out but no one answered. Darkness slowly closed in on me and my voice drained to but a whisper. I lay there, in the blood and the mud, as darkness claimed me.
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned, both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets the trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
Honorable mention: Melissa Bowden, Rain
INT BEDROOM DAY
A cool, overcast day in Northern MA. The room is sparse and small, with only a 1950s style secretary desk, a chair, and a neatly made bed. The home is of the Victorian era but has lost its grandeur; the wallpaper is yellowed, the ceiling is peppered with water stains, and the heavy old-fashioned oak door has the thick, bloated appearance that comes from many layers of paint. GIRL, 23, sits at the desk, humming along to “Into Each life Some Rain Must Fall” by Ella Fitzgerald and The Inkspots. She wears a long, dreamy white dress and a melancholy expression as she writes on a piece of paper using an old-fashioned nib pen. The PEN SCRATCHES above the music.
GIRL (Singing along)Into each life some rain must some rain must fall, but too much too much is falling in mine…
The Pen nib snaps and ink leaks all over the freshly written note. Girl sighs and reaches for another, but when she pulls open the drawer it’s empty.
INT HALLWAY DAY
The girl walks down the hall, now wearing a light jacket and a scarf. An umbrella swings back and forth in her hand.
VOICE (O.S.) Hey, don’t ya know you can’t leave when it’s raining?
The girl turns suddenly, startled, and is met with BOY, 25. He stands silhouetted in the doorway across from her own, wearing striped socks and holding a steaming beverage. He’s very collegiate-square glasses, sweater, khaki corduroys. His socks are eccentrically colored. She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, nervous.
GIRL Is it raining?
The Boy smiles and nods.
BOY Oh yeah, just started.
GIRL Well, that’s alright.
(She holds up her umbrella)
The boy pushes himself out of the doorway, strides toward her, and examines her. She cowers.
BOY Didn’t the landlord give you the rundown?
GIRL The rundown?
BOY Yeah, you know, no pets, no incense, no going in or out while
The boy takes a long sip of coffee while the Girl stares wide-eyed at him. After a beat, she smirks and lowers her jaw to look up at him.
GIRL I don’t believe you.
BOY Believe me or don’t-it’s da rules!
The Boy grins but, seeing her skepticism, his face grows solemn. He glances behind him, up and down the hallway, and then leans close to her.
BOY Listen, I don’t know how long you’ve been here, but you’ve gotta believe me. The man’s unstable. If you walk out that door, you’d better be looking for a new place to stay.
BOY Trust me.
The Boy looks behind him and, after a drag of his drink, begins to walk back to his doorway. The Girl watches until he turns to her.
BOY And, I must say, you’re a vision in that dress.
The Boy winks and turns, walks back into his room and shuts the door. The Girl stands, awed for a moment, before she glances at her umbrella and then back to the Boy’s door. She backs up to her own door, eyes on the other door, until she twists the knob, backs up into her room, and shuts the door.
INT BEDROOM DAY
Girl sits at her desk, a deja vu moment as she scratches at the paper in front of her. She wears a flowing blush-colored dress and a small smile. The day is overcast, and she casts occasional glances at the sky through the small window beside her desk. MAYBE BY THE INK SPOTS plays in the background. The girl begins humming, until a small DRIZZLE picks up, and then suddenly a DOWNPOUR. She puts down her pen and eyes the door. As if on cue, a KNOCK comes, and she stops the music. She rushes to open the door and is met by the Boy, carrying a mug of steaming beverage in each hand. He wears a new sweater and an even more bold pair of socks, but the same pair of khaki corduroys and glasses.
GIRL I thought maybe you’d be in class.
GIRL Come, sit down.
The girl gestures to her bed, but the Boy takes a seat in her chair instead, placing the mugs down so he can pick up her notes and peruse them.
BOY I always wonder what you’re–
GIRL No, please don’t–
BOY “Alas,” really, alas? How melodramatic, “Alas, you begin this letter after I am finished–”
GIRL No, please–
The girl reaches for the note, but the boy is too fast and squares his shoulders against her onslaught.
BOY –for today, on this twentieth of October, I am planning to end my…
The boy stops, his face falling. He reads on silently without objection from the Girl. When he finishes, he looks up.
GIRL It isn’t what it looks like.
BOY It isn’t
GIRL No, I swear, just let me…
The girl opens a drawer in her desk to reveal a stack of similar notes, all written in ink on the same sort of paper. Their dates are all different, daily, like a diary.
GIRL I, it’s a hobby. A habit. Creative writing.
The Boy, skeptical, takes the notes from her hands. He glances down at them, looks back at her, and then back down at the notes. He starts toward the bed with a low whistle.
BOY Some hobby.
The girl sits down in her desk chair facing him, watching him.
BOY Why though?
GIRL I don’t know. It calms me.
The boy makes a noncommittal humming noise, peruses the notes for an awkward moment, and then places them gingerly on the bed beside him before he sprawls out across its entirety. The bed CREAKS ominously below his weight. He places his hands behind his head; the girl places her hands on the back of her chair and balances her chin atop them.
GIRL You promised last time that you’d tell me the story.
BOY What story?
GIRL About why he won’t let us out.
The Boy closes his eyes.
BOY Ah, that one.
He opens one eye to look at her, and she nods vigorously. He shuts his eyes and sighs.
BOY Well, if you really want to know, they say his wife drowned herself in the rain.
GIRL Oh, come on.
The boy shrugs, eyes still closed.
BOY You’re the one who writes suicide notes for fun.
GIRL You can’t drown in the rain.
The Boy opens his eyes, turns to lean on his elbow, and stares at her.
BOY Who says?
GIRL It isn’t possible.
BOY I don’t know, maybe she was real desperate.
The girl, still skeptical, turns from him to face her desk. She organizes her pens.
GIRL Desperate or not, it’s impossible.
The boy reclines again on the bed and shrugs. His eyes are
distant as he stares at the ceiling.
Nothing’s impossible when you’re desperate enough, kid.
Rain Script Treatment
Single Sentence Summary: Rain is a surreal short film centered around two love triangles, one implied in the past and one present, that both result in two parallel suicides by drowning in the rain. (The script is an excerpt from the following, slightly longer plot.)
Rain is set in the present, but takes place in a dreary Victorian home in which the past seems unable to die. GIRL, the 22 year old protagonist, lives mostly for the thrill of creatively writing suicide notes. She’s just moved into the Victorian home and, lonelier than ever, spends more and more time at her desk listening to music and writing her morbid notes. One day, as she listens to “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” by the Inkspots, her pen breaks and she sets out to go buy another. Before she can leave the building, however, a stranger/neighbor (BOY) stops her in the hallway warns her that the landlord doesn’t allow anyone to leave during rainstorms.She laughs him off, but he persists; the intense and strange conversation disorients her, but he calls her “a vision” in her white dress and she is captivated.
In the next scene time has passed; Boy and the Girl spend every rainy day together trapped in her room. The Boy discovers her suicide note habit, which makes her uncomfortable but which he brushes off with incredible speed. Looking to change the subject, the Girl asks the Boy to tell her the story of why they are not allowed out in the rain. The Boy says that the landlord’s wife drowned herself in the rain. The Girl is skeptical, but the Boy tells her that the wife was likely desperate, and that Girl has clearly never been desperate enough to understand.
In the next scene the infatuated girl knocks on the Boy’s door on a clear day. He does not answer it, but she is instead met by the Landlord in a bathrobe. She is confused and returns to her room. The scene closes on her at her desk, fingers hovering above paper, unable to write. In the next scene, the next rainy day, the Boy smokes a cigarette in the Girl’s window and she asks if he’s the Landlord’s son. The Boy admits that he isn’t; he implies that he offers the Landlord sexual favors in exchange for his room and board. The girl is horrified, but the boy explains again that she’s clearly never been desperate. Angered by her judgment, he puts out his cigarette on a stack of her suicide notes and leaves her room. The Girl turns on the same song the film opens to, “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”. She puts on her white flowing dress, scatters her suicide notes around the room, and exits. The scene cuts to the Girl exiting the building in her white dress, its weight increasing in the pouring rain; she opens her mouth wide. The camera ends in the blackness of her gaping mouth.