That awkward moment when...

March 06, 2016

Sometimes my favorite movies have one moment, or one scene, where I'm just like ... hmm... that's kind of weird. It usually doesn't affect how I feel about the movie as a whole, but, depending on the scene, it can leave me feeling troubled, confused, bewildered, or just kind of awkward. The best example I can think of occurs in Laura (1944).

If you haven't seen the movie, be forewarned, I delve into spoiler-territory here. Also, if you haven't seen Laura, what the heck? It's one of the best film noirs of all time, and it's available on Netflix Instant. Now skedaddle, go watch it! Hop to it!

Alright, this is the scene that bugs me every time --

Laura and Mark are standing in the kitchen getting ready to make breakfast when they hear someone unlocking the door. In walks Bessie, Laura's maid, who had discovered what she assumed was Laura's dead body a few days beforehand. Naturally she's scared out of her wits. She screams, she hides her face in her hands, she's physically shaking. And Laura says, "How about taking over here? Fixing us some coffee and eggs?" Bessie is still in shock, replying "But I... I saw it with my own eyes. I don't understand." And Laura tenderly reassures her, "have you ever heard a ghost ask for eggs?" and then Laura and Mark leave the room.

I get that it's 1944 and Bessie is "the help" and an affluent woman like Laura might not treat her with as much respect and kindness as she deserves. BUT. It just seems incredibly weird that, given Bessie's over-the-top reaction to seeing Laura alive, their first inclination is to put her to work. Like, take her to sit on the couch for a few minutes. Give her the day off. Fetch her a glass of water, for goodness' sake.

Part of the reason that this always feels uncomfortable or awkward to me is the fact that Bessie is so unflinchingly devoted to Laura. Out of all the people who know Laura, Bessie is the one who seems the most grief-stricken by her death, the most protective of her privacy, the most affected by her reappearance, and the most outraged when Mark announces that Laura was the murderer. Her actions before Laura turns up alive serve to fill in the blanks of Laura's personality. You learn bits and pieces from Waldo and Shelby, but because both of those characters seem so self-absorbed and shifty you don't fully believe everything that they say. It's through Bessie that you feel you're learning about the real Laura, and come to believe that she must have been the kindest woman to ever walk the earth.

So then it's kind of jarring when you see them interact for the first time and Laura seems so singularly uncaring. I mean, unless I've been misinterpreting this movie my whole life, which is definitely possible.

Actually. Okay, new possible theory. Maybe this scene is supposed to indicate that Laura really isn't the best person after all. Mark falls in love with the idea of Laura, and so does the audience. We believe her to be the angel that everyone says she is. But the reason that, as Mark says, Laura "certainly surrounded [herself] with a remarkable collection of dopes" is because Laura fits right in with them. She's callous towards the people who care about her, and Mark is about to get trapped in her web.

Maybe? What do you think? And do you also have favorite movies with one scene that rubs you the wrong way? It's funny, I've seen Laura so many times and this scene has bugged me with each repeated viewing. But it wasn't until I sat down to write about it that I realized this one scene might actually be relevant to understanding the movie as a whole, in a completely different way from how I had originally understood it.


Simoa said...

That is an interesting take! But I have a different interpretation. Although Laura does seem callous for setting Bessie to work, I think it was supposed to help mitigate the shock? Like you know, everything is still normal around here, make eggs! I understand your view too. Maybe a glass of water and some reassuring words would have been a better alternative.

DKoren said...

I also always thought Laura was trying to give her something normal and active to do to take her mind off the shock. Never bothered me, cuz I know people who do that, push you back into an expected routine so you think past something bad, but I can see your side of it too!

kate gabrielle said...

But when Waldo collapses from shock, Laura takes him into the bedroom to lay down and makes sure he's okay. I know he has more of a health scare than Bessie, but she shows concern for him and doesn't seem to have any for Bessie. On each re-watch it strikes me as more callous than the last time.

It's really not that big of a deal to me, though, I just thought it would be a silly little post :) Laura is one of my all-time favorite movies so I don't mean to come across as having any real issues with it.

Emmy Rubsam said...

It's always nagged at me that it is a little narcissistic of Laura to have her own portrait dominating that little apartment. I adore the film so, so, SO much, because I've convinced myself that it's a witty, happy Noir. What if we *have* been watching Laura completely wrong for years and your latter theory is correct?!?!??

I am not sure if I can handle dear Dana actually not winning in one of the few films he survives. (I'm still not over The Ox-Bow Incident)

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

That scene has always felt a little bit hmmm to me too. I'm loathe to accept your theory because I love Mark and want him to be happy, so I'm inclined to agree with DKoren, that Laura knows Bessie and knows that she'll be better able to recover from shock if she's doing something than if she's just sitting down.

There's a scene in Shane that annoys the humbug out of me too -- where Joe's getting ready to go marching off to his doom, and Joey comes in shooting and yelling his little blonde head off, and Marian freaks out and hollers at him to be quiet. I know it's supposed to highlight how tense they all are, and how worried Marian is about Joe, but it's jarring and feels out of place. One that makes me go, "Oh, did you HAVE to shoot it this way? This is the way it has to go?"

Kailey said...

I just rewatched this movie and totally agree! Personally I like to believe Laura was an absolute angel (I mean, just look at her gorgeous face u__u), and this is just one of those super awkward moments from old movies that the people who made it didn't really think through, lol.