The greatest movie scenes in movie history is a subjective topic. If you’re defining greatness by what and how much a scene makes you feel, you’ve come to the right place.
In the last batch, I mingled in an episode of a TV show (guess which one?) with three movies. This time, let’s stay with movies, five of them. There is a theme in this selection – the endless fight, and the wonders of music.
V for Vendetta – the crowd surges
We live in a somewhat political time, don’t we? It feels like our power is not our own. It feels like governments don’t work for us. Secretly, we crave revolution. We feel it in our bones, because human beings have constantly enacted revolution. It’s who we are. V for Vendetta, a graphic novel come to life, celebrates the power of people, in no scene greater than the ending (although, I will say, the toilet paper recitation of a tragic love affair is a close second).
V is an insurgent, training a young woman named Evey in his philosophy. In the penultimate scene, V enacts his greatest scheme, plotting to blow up Parliament for the sins of the government, which has grown ever more authoritarian (sound familiar, my American compatriots?). In so doing, he urges the people to stand tall – and so they come en masse, donning masks and walking in the thousands towards a ring of soldiers assembled around the UK Parliament buildings. Guns are aimed, but the people don’t stop, because this is their moment. They assert their power and move through the soldiers, and as Parliament erupts in explosions – a final act of anarchy by the titular character (remember, remember, the fifth of November…), the crowd takes off its masks as the 1812 Overture blares.
Characters both living and dead look up at the fireworks, representing the freedom we have fought for the entire existence of our species. This is the stuff of resistance, of power, because we should not fear governments – governments should fear us. This is the scene where the quiet majority – the ones who never say much – finally find their voice and choose to be counted. And boy are they ever counted in this finale! About time.
August Rush – the New York concert
This strange little movie about a parentless musical prodigy takes a while to get moving, but when it does, it really moves. Evan, the prodigy, is searching for both the thrum of a true music and his missing parents, themselves musicians who parted from each other long ago. Will he find them? Is Robin Williams actually the bad guy? Will Keri Russell ever find her lost child?
It all comes together in a series of improbabilities that somehow work, in an open air New York concert in the park where our prodigy performs his opus, just after his mother has left the area – or has she? Is that a strange, almost familiar music she is hearing? And the father is captured, too, drawn towards the concert. As the parents come closer together through the crowd, the music mounts. And when they finally meet again – two star-crossed lovers who never had a chance – it’s like they were meant to be there. The music brought them, after all.
And when their son turns around, his song finished, he sees his parents – surely that’s who they are. There are no words spoken, and none are needed, because music is enough. It always has been. What’s it mean when a family long-separated comes together like this? Who knows. But it’s such a magical moment that your heart can’t help but swell to a massive new size, and that’s really the point isn’t it? All you have to do is listen. All you need to do is feel.
Rob Roy – a homecoming
Rob Roy is a hell of a movie. It came out not long after Braveheart, but is a much superior movie about Scottish resistance to English rule. It’s not as sweeping as Braveheart, but it does have Liam Neeson. His performance, as an honorable man in dishonorable times, is both noble and violent, as his livelihood is taken, his wife defiled, and people he cares about killed by the callous enemy. It’s truly a story about uneven odds, this simple man who is unwittingly pitted against the power of those who rule his country. Rebellion ensues.
A climactic final scene against the slimy Tim Roth – an ambitious, murderous bastard – is fated to see our hero die. In fact, our villain dances around him in an epic sword fight, until the hero pulls a fast one and comes out the victor. He had no right to win. That’s not how the story is supposed to go. But win he does, and off he goes to his home in the Scottish highlands, where he crests a final hill and sees a house with a smoking chimney, a wife doing work outside, two sons playing in the fields.
Cue the stirring music. Rob closes his eyes and tastes his fortune. As the boys see their dad on the hill – surely they didn’t really expect him to survive the duel – they yell out to their mother. She stands up and sees him there, and you utterly believe Jessica Lange’s facial expressions as they change from puzzlement to realization – the realization that her husband has come back to her. More music, and there on the Scottish highlands, the family is reunited in one of the most lovely moments in cinematic history.
Schindler’s List – farewell, Oskar
Of course, this movie has to be on the list. There are too many harrowing, emotional scenes in this movie to pay tribute to, but a special place must be reserved for Oskar Schindler’s goodbye scene with the Jews he has saved. As he prepares for his departure, the coldness of the salvation he offered becomes clear to him – he bought the lives of these people with money used to bribe the Nazis. But in that time, how much money did he waste? How many more lives could have been purchased with the coin that he squandered on nothing? As the reality of that crashes upon him, he collapses – and somehow, these beaten-upon, mistreated people simply comfort him. Generations will live, as they say, because of what Oskar has done.
Oskar goes his way. The Jews go theirs, until they are told by a Russian that the war is over. The fade to the present is so hard. It’s difficult for us to come to grips with the sins that we as a human race have done – but seldom as hard as that final scene, where we see the real people saved by Oskar Schindler – as well as their heirs – paying tribute at the man’s grave. Long lines of people who survived, and the children they have made. The heirs who are here today. And we realize the magnitude of what our actions actually are, and how they resonate forever. This final scene is a crushing blow of gladness and pain, laced together like it’s a new emotion altogether.
A Knight’s Tale – following your feet home
Heath Ledger was a great actor, but did we really know that when he made A Knight’s Tale? It seemed like a curiosity more than anything else, modern music over a loose facsimile of the Canterbury Tales. But something strange happens in this movie, right alongside the gimmickry of hearing Queen or David Bowie playing as knights joust. You start to sympathize with each of the characters, especially Heath’s William – a man who was sent away by his father when he was young, to train with a knight because there is no better hope for him.
And while William makes his fortune and finds his glory, the story is not really about that. The story is about fulfilling a promise to his father, he who proclaimed that the boy must change his stars. And William finally does – as he’s reunited with his father, who is blind and suspicious of this strange man with an assumed identify that has come to visit him in his hovel.
Who is this stranger? Soon enough, the father realizes that his son has come home to him, something it’s clear he never expected to have happen. There is no modern music in this scene! Soft strings and only two people, a reunion so well deserved. And after that, William prepares to face his arch enemy in the joust, and as he does, his father watches and hears his name chanted by the crowd. Victory ensues in the tournament, of course. But the victory had already, in this movie, been won.