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.
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.
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.
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.
Why would you go to Las Vegas?
‘Cause my best friend was getting married, and that’s what guys do.
It’s not what you do.
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.
That is not how this works!
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.
Can I ride home behind you?
Afraid not, Joey.
Please, why not?
I gotta be goin’ on.
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.
We want you! Mom wants you!
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.
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?
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.