At the movies

A Debra Winger Double Bill

Back in August, in this piece, I wrote about some dialogue from a couple of Debra Winger films that I first saw in the 1980s, “Black Widow” and “Terms of Endearment”. Recently I watched both movies again, as planned, to check if I’d remembered them correctly. I can report that the scene that originally prompted the piece really happened, though not quite as I remembered it.

In “Black Widow” Debra Winger’s character did indeed make up a story about her troubled past. In my mind she was at her desk telling the story to one of her colleagues but the action takes place at her apartment, after she has given up her job to pursue Theresa Russell’s character (the eponymous “Black Widow”). Her former boss is visiting and the place is all packed up ready for her departure. He asks her why she is heading off to Hawaii on what might be a wasted trip. Here’s the dialogue in full, which takes place around 44 minutes into the movie (44:24, to be precise).

Alexandra [Debra Winger’s character]: When I was a kid, my father, I told you this story didn’t I? My dad had quite a temper, used to take after me with this spatula, you know, stainless steel pancake turner, and that thing stung like hell. One of these times, I don’t even remember what I did, he came down the hall and he got me in my bedroom and he was beating the crap out of me [she turns to look at her former boss] and, uh, he stood up, keeled over and died [the boss, who had been looking away, looks back at her]. I figured this woman Margaret, or whatever her name is, has some deep resentment against older men. Are you buying this? Ha-ha, I can’t believe you really went for it.

Her former boss: Goddammit.

Alexandra: Don’t you know, no-one knows why anyone really does anything?

So, she doesn’t quite say, “I can’t believe your buying this?”, which is how I remembered it, but it’s pretty close.

My memory of the favourite line from “Terms of Endearment” was accurate but what surprised me was how late it appears in the film, which is 123 minutes long. Debra Winger’s character Emma gets sick in the last 30 minutes or so. For the first 90 minutes there is no hint of the hospital scenes to come. Here’s the exchange between her and Aurora (her mother, played by Shirley Maclaine), around 105 minutes in. It concerns Aurora’s relationship with her neighbour, the former astronaut (Garrett, played by Jack Nicholson).

Aurora: I took him to the airport and we were standing there in front of the door, hugging and kissing and saying goodbye, and you know what?

Emma: What?

Aurora: I got up the nerve to tell him I loved him. You know what his reaction was Emma?

Emma: I don’t give a shit Mom, I’m sick. Not everything has something to do with you. I’ve got a lot to figure out.

These lines of dialogue might already be somewhere else on the web but next time I want to remind myself of them it will be a whole lot easier. They’re here, in my exobrain. And if you have never seen one or other of these movies previously you might get a chance to do so in the future. Look out for these exchanges and recall that you read them here first.



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