Get to “I Love You,” Continued
True, there are wonderful stories that end with one character declaring (on the nose, as they say in Hollywood), “I love you.”
But it seems to work much better when the declaration is either silent, or expressed by an image or a gesture, or articulated in a phrase that’s as far away from “I love you” as possible.
It’s more fun.
The reader or audience gets it. They know Character A is declaring his love for Character B. So …
“Shut up and deal”
“Best job I ever had”
“Ah, f*@k it, Dude. Let’s go bowling”
deliver the goods and let the audience or reader fill in the emotional blank themselves.
In other words, the farther away we can make our overt final line from “I love you” (while still clearly meaning exactly that), the better.
“Text” is the line as written or spoken.
“Subtext” is the true meaning underlying the spoken or written line.
Subtext is always better than text because it lets the reader/audience participate.
The scene leading to the climax of The Wild Bunch is one of the great examples of subtext-beats-the-hell-out-of-text when saying “I love you.”
The Wild Bunch is the outlaw band based very loosely on the true historical gang of the same name, also known as the Hole in the Wall Gang or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 film of that name, the Wild Bunch in this final scene consists of Pike (William Holden), Dutch (Ernest Borgnine), Lyle and Tector Gortch (Warren Oates and Ben Johnson) and Angel (Jaime Sanchez.)
Setting; Mexico in the Pancho Villa era. The evil generalissimo Mapache has captured and tortured Angel, while the Bunch has been unable to take action because of the overwhelming number of Mapache’s troops. In the prelude to the final bloodbath, the Bunch wakes up after an all-night, self-loathing debauch in the dusty Mexican village where Mapache’s troops hold the captive Angel.
Pike is the leader of the Bunch. He stands and pays (very generously) the woman he has spent the night with.
He straps on his gunbelt.
Without a word Pike appears in the doorway of the room across the hall, where the Gortch brothers are wrapping up their own sordid night.
Pike’s eyes meet Lyle’s.
Lyle squints back.
LYLE GORTCH (WARREN OATES)
Lyle and Tector stand and strap on their guns. They step outside. Dutch sits in the blistering sun with his back against the adobe wall of the house. He is whittling a stick.
Dutch looks up.
His eyes meet the eyes of his compadres.
With a laugh, Dutch plunges the sharpened stick into the dust. He stands.
That’s “I love you,” as leanly and as eloquently as it can possibly be said.