Dialogues are difficult to write. But monologues are harder.
At least interior monologues let the screenwriter use his skills freely, one can be extremely poetic in interior monologues. Take the opening lines of Last Year At Marienbad (1960) dir. Alain Resnais, one of the greatest films ever made in the history of Cinema. This very long monologue follows a strange structure of repetition over a series of low angle tracking shots creating a disorienting mesh of words and images setting the tone of the film. Poetic enigma has rarely been created with such efficiency and economy in Cinematic history.
“…silent rooms where one’s footsteps are absorbed by carpets so thick, so heavy, that no sound reaches one’s ear, as if the very ear of him walks on… once again along those corridors, through these salons and galleries in this edifice of a bygone era, this sprawling, sumptuous, baroque, gloomy hotel, where one endless corridor follows another, silent empty corridors, heavy with cold, dark woodwork, stucco, moulded panelling, marble, black mirrors, dark-toned portraits, columns, sculpted door-frames, rows of doorways, galleries, side corridors, that in turn lead to empty salons, salons heavy with ornamentation of a bygone era…as if the ground were still sand or gravel or flagstones over which I walked once again…as if in search of you between walls laden with woodwork…among which even then I was waiting for you…far from this setting in which I now find myself standing before you waiting for the man who will not be coming now, who is not likely to come now to part us again, to tear you away from me. Will you come?”
The interior monologue eventually turns into a spoken monologue as the film progresses. I think this transition is virtuoso because it still justifies the excessive poetry even in the changed context. Even after six decades of it’s release this opening scene and the monologue sequence from Last Year At Mariendbad remains jaw-droppingly powerful.
Let’s consider La Jette (1962) dir. Chris Marker, another film which employs internal monologue to its full potential. The entire film is narrated in third person with only a series of photographs. The film features only a single moving shot which is barely noticeable. This strange visual narrative and the dystopian setting of the story are complemented with a poetic monologue which creates the dreamy, other-worldly nature of the film.
“This time he is close to her, he speaks to her. She welcomes him without surprise. They are without memories, without plans. Time build itself painlessly around them. Their only landmarks are the flavour of the moment they are living and the markings on the wall.”
But spoken monologues or soliloquies are tougher. You don’t want to sound too poetic as then it would sound theatrical and synthetic, but you don’t want to sound too prosaic either. You want to capture the best of both and make it sound cool and profound at the same time. This is a hard task. Remember a screenplay is not literature and one must know where to draw the line. And yet sometimes, if used properly, a screenplay or a part of it can reach the heights of literature.
I would like to present two of the finest monologues ever written in Hollywood. The first one is short but vividly cinematic and poetic.
“I have seen things you would not believe. Attacked ships on fire off the shore of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die.” – Blade Runner (1982), dir: Ridley Scott
The second one is calm as a monolith and lethal as a machine-gun mayhem.
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.” – Pulp Fiction (1994), dir: Quentin Tarantino
In the next part I will discuss how these beautiful use of monologues influenced me as a screenwriter and how monologues played such a huge role in my yet to release, debut feature film ‘Karma Is A She-Wolf’ and how poems can play an important role as monologues in films.