Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Good Guy Speeches

By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 3, 2013

We were talking last week about Villain Speeches. But there are some great Good Guy speeches too. I’m not even sure what to call these. Here’s one from Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham.

Bull Durham

Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner clash in Ron Shelton's "Bull Durham"

In the story, Nuke Laloosh (Tim Robbins), the clueless but athletically gifted pitcher, has just been called up to the major leagues, “the Show.” Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), who has been mentoring Nuke in the minors, has just heard the news. Crash knows that he himself is never going to get that life-changing phone call, even though he’s ten times smarter than Nuke and has worked ten times harder. The scene takes place in a pool hall. Crash is a little drunk. He launches into a soliloquy about how slender the margin is between making the Big Time and being stuck in the sticks.

CRASH DAVIS

Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – a gork … you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes… you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium.

“You’ve got a million-dollar arm,” Crash tells Nuke. “All my body parts put together don’t add up to seven cents.”

What would you call this speech? A lament? No. It’s an epiphany. It’s Crash facing a terrible truth, one that he has avoided his whole life.

Hangover

Ed Helms on the way to becoming a new man in "The Hangover"

Here’s another Good Guy Speech, from The Hangover. It’s Stu the dentist (Ed Helms) confronting his superbitch g.f. in the final scene.

MELISSA

Why would you go to Las Vegas?

STU

‘Cause my best friend was getting married, and that’s what guys do.

MELISSA

It’s not what you do.

STU

Really? Well, then why did I do it? Huh? ‘Cause I did it! Riddle me that! Why’d I do it? You know, sometimes I think all you want me to do is what you want me to do. Well, I’m sick of doing what you want me to do all the time! I think in a healthy relationship, sometimes a guy should be able to do what he wants to do.

MELISSA

That is not how this works!

STU

Oh, good! Because whatever this is ain’t workin’ for me!

In both these scenes, the hero (reluctantly) accepts reality. Before the scene, he had been passionately pursuing X. After the scene, he realizes he’s never going to get X.

Crash in Bull Durham recognizes that he’s not going to get to the majors as a player. His protege Nuke is, but Crash is not. In this scene, Crash accepts this. This is a monumental breakthrough for him because it frees him to move on—if not immediately, then perhaps in the future—to “X minus.”

This is Stu’s epiphany too. In this clash, Stu realizes that he’s not going to marry Melissa and live happily ever after, i.e. what he believed he wanted at the start of the movie. And he realizes something about himself that he never knew. He recognizes not just that Melissa is wrong for him, but that he has the strength to stand up to her. “Why did I do it?  Because I did it!” His new strength, meaning the crazy stuff he did in Vegas, really is him. He never knew that before.

What both speeches have in common is they show the hero redefining success. Success for himself. Success on his own terms.

Here’s another Good Guy Speech from the final scene of a film that’s a genuine tragedy (in the best literary sense), Shane.

Shane (Alan Ladd) has just shot it out with the Bad Gunslinger, Wilson (Jack Palance.) Shane has killed Wilson, thus freeing the homesteaders from the tyranny of the cattlemen. In the process, he has also saved the family he has come to care for, Joey’s (Brandon de Wilde)—and the woman he has secretly and silently begun to love, Joey’s Mom (Jean Arthur). For the young boy Joey, who has just witnessed Shane’s triumphant gunfight, the moment looks primed for a happy ending.

Shane

Brandon de Wilde and Alan Ladd in "Shane"

JOEY

Can I ride home behind you?

SHANE

Afraid not, Joey.

JOEY

Please, why not?

SHANE

I gotta be goin’ on.

JOEY

Why, Shane?

SHANE

A man has to be what he is, Joey. You can’t break the mold. I tried it and it didn’t work for me.

JOEY

We want you! Mom wants you!

SHANE

Joey, there’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back from it. Right or wrong, it’s a brand, a brand that sticks. There’s no going back. Now you run on home to your mother and tell her, tell her everything’s alright, and there aren’t any more guns in the valley.

Shane’s dream, when he rode into the valley at the start of the movie, was to hang up his guns. He wanted a normal life. He thought he could leave his past as a gunfighter behind. He believed the world would let him. Now he knows better. His past has caught up with him, and, more painful, he knows it will stick with him forever.

In all three Good Guy Speeches, the same thing has happened:

The hero has acknowledged a truth he has been in desperate denial of.

In all three, a passionately-sought dream has been replaced by cold, painful reality. This hurts. But these scenes (and the realizations articulated within them) liberate their heroes and set them on fresh courses. Stu is free to find a new girlfriend. Crash is free to move on to the next dream.

Bull

Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon in "Bull Durham"

CRASH

There might be an opening for a minor league manager at Visalia this spring. Think I could make it to the Show as a manager?

ANNIE

You’d be great!

Of these three Good Guys, Shane’s lot is by far the darkest. But at least Shane now recognizes and accepts his fate. He has become the archetypal Western Hero Who Rides Off Alone Into The Sunset.

I love these Good Guy Speeches because they embody the process by which all of us acquire wisdom. What is wisdom but the passage from denial of reality to acceptance? The ultimate statement of denied reality is, “I’m gonna live forever.” And the highest wisdom is accepting that none of us will.

If you’re a writer working on a book or a movie, ask yourself if your hero needs a Good Guy Speech. If he does, have you given it to him?

Remember that stars look for these speeches. They read scripts and novels searching for them. Actors are not stupid. They know that scenes like these and the speeches within them, if they’re written well enough, are unforgettable.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

13 Responses to “Good Guy Speeches”

  1. April 3, 2013 at 3:40 am

    I appreciate the “Good Guy Speech” that Steven delivers right here every Wednesday morning.

    Writing Wednesdays is up there with Seth Godin’s as a must-read blog for me. Always filled with practical and life wisdom.

    Thanks for keeping a good thing going, SP.

    Chris

  2. April 3, 2013 at 3:43 am

    This is really good. And it’s guy stuff, too. All three this-is-who-I-am speeches are short (Shane’s is the longest). Short packs a punch. I’m gonna bookmark this post.

    Thanks.

  3. Basilis
    April 3, 2013 at 4:20 am

    Great as usual, but I wonder: is this the only kind of a good guy speech? Right now I can’t think of any other word than epiphany!

  4. April 3, 2013 at 5:17 am

    Great insight here.

    -RG

  5. Teddy
    April 3, 2013 at 5:42 am

    Ditto that. Thanks for the good guy speech.

  6. April 3, 2013 at 5:53 am

    Great way to start a Wednesday (or any other day). Good stuff.

  7. Kent Faver
    April 3, 2013 at 6:18 am

    Thank you Steven! I think I just realized why I can’t not watch a Tom Hanks movie any time I surf by one on TV. It’s all the great good guy speeches. How about the ultimate two word good guy speech he tells Matt Damon on the bridge in Saving Private Ryan? Thanks for explaining it Steven.

  8. April 3, 2013 at 7:07 am

    I’m with Basilis in wondering at the role of epiphany in the good guy speech. Does this recognition or anagnorisis always have to be tragic?

    Obviously The Hangover and Bull Durham aren’t tragedies, but the hero speeches feel tragic in the moment. They’re accepting they’ll never get X, as much as they may have wanted and sacrificed to achieve it.

    The only good guy speech I can recall without a character epiphany is Maximus’s “My Name Is” speech in The Gladiator. Obviously a big moment of recognition for the villain of the piece, but not much of an epiphany for the good guy. At least not on the surface…

    The funny thing about that speech is that, according to at least one of the screenwriters for the movie, Russel Crowe hated that speech. So maybe without an epiphany the good guy speech isn’t as attractive to actors? Or maybe it’s just that Russel Crowe is as hard to work with as rumor has it…

  9. April 3, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Good job, Steve!

  10. April 9, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    “Killing a man changes you, but not the way most people think. After you’ve killed a man, and it doesn’t matter if it was justified or unjustified, good reason or bad reason, even accidental or deliberate. Once you’ve ended a man’s life you know it can be done. And you know it can be done by you.”

  11. Curtiss Mooney
    April 10, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I liked Wreck-It Ralph’s epiphany speech at the final BAD-Anon meeting before the closing credits, when he acknowledged that being a “Bad Guy” wasn’t all that bad after all. Wait, didn’t he turn out to be a “Good Guy” by saving the day and preventing both “Sugar Rush” and his own game, “Fix-It Felix” from being turned off and sent to the scrap heap?

  12. HarleyJules
    April 18, 2013 at 5:30 am

    Not only do the stars look for these speeches, but I think the movie-goer looks for them as well. I can remember many times sitting in the theater watching the building of plot and theme in a movie in anticipation of a climax. You can almost set your watch by it; about 10 minutes before the end of the movie. The hero looks back on everything and makes some bold statement or one short soliloquy that somehow captures the essence of the entire movie. It is in that moment that I find a connection with some aspect of my life that now suddently makes sense.
    It’s that scene that answers the question: what would I do if I were (insert actor/actress here).
    So, not only are the actors not stupid in searching for those epic movie moments, but the movie-goer needs to make sense of the world too and these climatic speeches do just that; give us purpose…and keep us coming back to the movies!

  13. erinpnt
    October 4, 2013 at 10:28 pm

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