For my first post in the Breaking Emotions blogathon hosted by Mettel Ray, I chose to do the list 5 scenes that illicit awkward emotions (as opposed to the other option of doing 5 scenes that inspire fear). Awkwardness is something that happens all the time, and feeling awkward watching people in films feel awkward also happens pretty frequently (for me at least). The following five scenes are the ones that stuck out most in my mind for being unbearably awkward, both for the characters and the viewer. Some are also funny, as awkwardness tends to be, but overall they are just really awkward for everyone involved.
Coming in at number five is…..
That awkward moment in The Age of Innocence where Newland smells some random girl’s umbrella.
The Age of Innocence is one of my favorite films by Martin Scorsese (and also one of the most underrated and under seen by the director), and as it deals with the rigid social structures of 19th century New York, it is ripe for awkwardness. The story is that of a lawyer, Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) marrying May Welland (Winona Ryder), but falling in love with Ellen (Michelle Pfeiffer).
The awkwardness comes when Newland decides to follow Ellen to her relatives’ house, and spies an umbrella that he assumes is hers. He stops and smells it, standing there and losing himself while imaging his forbidden love, and then all of a sudden another woman comes along and says something like “Oh! You found my parasol!” Newland recovers pretty well, so that’s why this clocks in at number five. I still found this really awkward when I first saw the film, and it sticks out in mind even now. It’s just really awkward because Newland is genuninely having a moment there, but it turns out to be based on mistaken assumptions (which may or may not be indicative of his affair with Ellen as a whole….).
Coming in at number four is….
That awkward moment in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Collins proposes to Lizzy.
Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice is a favorite of mine, and like The Age of Innocence has a lot to do with rigid societal norms. Awkwardness inevitably arises. The story of the struggle of marrying off five daughters with no fortunes in early nineteenth century England focuses mainly on the mismatched pair of Elizabeth Bennett (Kiera Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Mathew MacFadyen).
But before that gets underway, Lizzy has to get rid of her cousin, Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander). This is a small moment in the film, but a horrifyingly awkward one. Mr. Collins is this annoying guy that nobody likes, is zero percent attractive, and is obsessed with his patroness, Lady Catherine (Judi Dench). He refuses to take no for an answer when he proposes to Lizzy, forcing her to repeat herself, which he then rationalizes and explains away. It’s unbelievable how awkward this guy is, and how he insists on forcing his awkwardness on others.
Coming in at number three is…..
That awkward moment in Citizen Kane when he forces second wife to embark on an opera career.
Citizen Kane is truly a film that needs no introduction, but I’ll give one anyway just to be sure everyone’s on the same page. Directed by and starring Orson Welles, the film tells the story of the wealthy and influential newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) from the various viewpoint of people he knew in order to shed some light on his mysterious dying word: “Rosebud.”
One such person is his second wife, Susan Alexander (Dorothy Cumingore), whom he forces into a singing career that she can’t handle and isn’t prepared for. As someone who has experienced her fair share of stage fright, I can sympathize heavily with Susan, who just wants to not “look ridiculous.” Unfortunately, Kane in this case cares more about how Susan makes him look rather than Susan herself. This isn’t so much a scene as it is a series of them; it is an entire montage devoted to Susan’s embarrassment. We see the audiences reactions and Kane’s attempt to turn it into something positive, Susan’s outrage over “Leland’s” review throwing her under the bus, and most importantly the sharp lights illuminating her disgrace. It’s just an awkward and unfair situation for everybody, and it was never easy for me to watch.
Coming in at number two is….
That awkward moment in the The Graduate when Benjamin takes Elaine to a strip club.
The Graduate, directed by Mike Nichols, is one of the most famous films out of the 1960s, and its story of Benjamin Braddock’s (Dustin Hoffman) uncertainty of what to do after college is legendary. His affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) and subsequent involvement with daughter Elaine (Katherine Ross) is full of awkwardness, all set to Simon and Garfunkel tunes.
There are so many awkward moments in this movie, mostly because Benjamin is the most awkward guy you’ve ever seen in your life. Trying to decide whether he wants to anger Mrs. Robinson by taking Elaine out, or anger his parents by not taking Elaine out, he strikes a strange bargain. He takes out Elaine, but tries to greatly offend her so he doesn’t have to take her out again. To accomplish this, he takes her to a strip club, which is pretty awkward. Elaine is the classic “nice girl” and can’t really handle it, and Benjamin’s being as big of a jerk as can. Making this even harder to watch is that later he decides he actually likes her after all, and then tries to repair the damage. There are tons of awkward moments in this movie (I probably could have made this list entirely out of scenes from The Graduate) but this is the one that sprung to my mind first (probably because it involves strippers).
Coming in at number one is….
That awkward moment in Rebecca when Mrs. Danvers manipulates the heroine into dressing up as her husband’s dead wife.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca is another one of my favorites, and even though The Graduate probably trumps it in terms of awkwardness, this is the first scene that I thought of for this list. I heard the word awkward, and this was immediately what I thought of. Rebecca is the dead wife of Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), and his second wife (Joan Fontaine) is pressured to become more like her by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson).
Joan Fontaine’s character is really insecure, so she’s easily susceptible to Mrs. Danvers conniving ways. In this particular instance, they are having a costume ball, and Fontaine’s character has kept her costume a secret. Mrs. Danvers convinces her to copy a dress from a painting of one the De Winter antecedents, without telling her that that’s exactly what Rebecca wore to the last costume ball before she died. The only other person she told, her personal maid, is also new, so she doesn’t know how awkward this is going to be. Fontaine’s character is really excited, but when she comes down the stairs she is greeted with gasps of horror. It’s not her fault, but everyone else is so overcome with the slightly-off image of Rebecca that they cannot console her, and Fontaine’s character runs away. This doesn’t help matters however, because she runs straight into Mrs. Danvers, come to torment her with her inadequacy. The whole first part of the film is built on the uncertainty the main character has over whether or not her husband loves her or his dead wife, and this brings this to a head in the most awkward way. She is actually confident in herself for once, and everything comes crashing down horribly.
That was a pretty fun list to make. It actually inspired me to watch The Graduate again, which was interesting. These scenes may not be the most awkward ones in the history of cinema, but they seem to be the most awkward scenes for me out of the films I’ve seen. The ones that are lower on the list can actually make me laugh, so it’s like an awkward/funny feeling, but the ones that are higher are more like awkward/horrific as in I usually skip those parts of the movie if I’m rewatching it. Awkwardness is different for different people, so my choices might not make a lot of sense to everyone, but for me these scenes are very awkward to watch. Thanks for reading, and hopefully (barring any avalanches of homework) I’ll be back next week breaking down another emotion.