Both movies use a simple gesture to pack an emotional wallop.
On my recent trip to the United Kingdom to do four presentations at the London Screenwriters Festival, I had a pair of experiences which reminded me of two things about the craft of storytelling:
- Movies are primarily a visual medium
- Simple gestures can pack an emotional wallop
The first part of this instructional journey occurred when I did my Pixar: Craft of Storytelling presentation. In front of a packed room with many attendees reduced to sitting on the floor and in the aisles, at one point in my talk, I referred to the lead character in the movie Wall-E:
In the case of Wall-E, when we meet him, he is lonely. He manifests this in a most poignant moment while watching a well-worn videotape of the movie “Hello, Dolly,” replicating the image of a couple holding hands:
When Eve enters his life, Wall-E is immediately smitten [P. 9 of the script]:
Wally is transfixed.
Watches Eve from behind the device.
Tilts his head.
She’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.
A few moments later:
Eve finds the insect intriguing.
Lowers her arm.
The end separates into individual hovering sections…
A HAND — capitalized by screenwriter Andrew Stanton. It’s that significant to Wally and of course, we know why due to his fixation on the human couple holding hands in his favorite movie.
Holding hands not only represents Wally’s desire for connection, it also speaks to the loneliness of his existence. That is, up until now!
That is the setup. The payoff comes at the end of the movie. After Wally has sacrificed himself to save the humans on the spaceship Axiom, Eve has streaked Wally back to Earth and put him back together. Then this [P. 92–93]:
Wally continues to stack his cubes.
She stops him.
Lifts his head.
Stares into his eyes.
Eve presses his “play” button.
Nothing but STATIC.
Eve begins to panic.
She hovers in silence next to him for a long time…
Finally, Eve grasps Wally’s hand.
Forces his fingers to interlace with hers.
Holds him close one last time.
Leans her head against his. Hums softly.
It Only Takes A Moment — one of Wally’s songs.
She touches her forehead to his.
A TINY SPARK between them.
Eve turns to hover away.
Her fingers caught between his.
She checks his eyes again.
…a tiny SERVO NOISE.
She looks down at their hands.
CLOSE ON WALLY’S FINGERS
They start to move.
Slowly close around Eve’s.
She looks back at his face.
Wally’s eyes gradually come into focus.
His brows raise…
He notices their hands entwined.
His dream come true.
As I was reading the script in front of the crowd that afternoon in London, I got choked up, tears swelling in my eyes. I have seen this movie a dozen times, yet the power of that simple gesture — holding hands — grabbed me by the heart and filled me with emotion.
The second part in my instructional journey occurred when I was flying back to the United States. I had heard great things about the movie Logan, but because I’m not a fan of superhero movies generally and the X-Men specifically, I hadn’t seen the film.
I watched it at 35,000 feet. And it’s an excellent movie.
There are two key relationships, one between Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Charles (Patrick Stewart), the other between Logan and Laura (Dafne Keen). The former is a father-son type relationships, the latter father-daughter.
Charles and Laura start off in deep conflict and mistrust, but over time — in part as a result of being forced to work together to survive — the girl warms to Logan. At one point, she reaches out to take his hand:
He shakes her hand away. That is the setup. The payoff occurs at the very end of the movie:
That simple gesture takes on a world of meaning between these two characters at a pivotal point in the story.
Two movies — Wall-e and Logan — which could not be much more different in terms of genre and tone, yet this simple gesture — holding hands — works equally as powerful in both stories.
It speaks to the desire we as humans have for connection. It also conveys yet again how movies are primarily a visual medium.