Scene Analysis – Aisle Dance – Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Expressing happiness is a multi-faceted predicament when it comes to humans. Some might want to do it with a nod, some with a smile, a guffaw, tears or to a certain extent, look at the sky and laugh maniacally, waving fists all around. When it comes to cinema, sometimes the expression of emotions lose their intricate undertones somewhere in the confines of the scene’s components, resulting in a distant portrayal of emotive understanding, through either music or the facial antics mentioned in the beginning. The characters, who in some instances resonate with the general public, are aided with such idiotic components that the audience feel like the character isn’t like that, to deserve uplifting music at every nook and turn of the character’s lips curving into a smile, creating a distance between the inner self of the character and the stage he or she is presented with.

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Maybe that’s why I find Adam Sandler dancing in a supermarket while buying pudding in Punch-Drunk Love the most endearing, emotionally captivating and destructive portrayal of joy on celluloid. Sandler’s Barry Egan has decided to put his pudding plan to action and has Guzman’s Lance accompany him to the supermarket to buy pudding – lots and lots of pudding. While Lance is busy clearing out a section with puddings, Sandler walks around, reminiscing on how his plan and the manner in which it is going to set its course is comical in nature, and that’s when the magic happens – Sandler breaks into a small moment of dancing, transforming it from a small scene of comparative sub-consequence to something so joyful, so emotional that it sends shivers down the spine.

Paul Thomas Anderson decimates the notion of expressing happiness by employing every facet of filmmaking into feeling the same emotions felt by the character in question. The camera, at the beginning of the 40-second shot, stays close to the floor and slithers towards Sandler walking around restlessly. Just as he starts dancing, the camera moves up in a melodious manner, swimming around with him as he dances his way through the trajectory. The camera (Elswit’s best work to date) en route transforms into something so humane that it decides to participate in the dance, demanding its share of joy, of something so magical that we forget our constraints and let ourselves free in the most urbane place of them all.

The most important component along with the camera is the music. “Tabla”, my favorite track from the movie plays throughout the scene preceding and succeeding this one, interspersed with the sound of synchronized crashing waves and telephone statics, just to show to what extent music can embody the character’s inner self. A clusterfuck of a human, Barry’s inside might be an amalgamation of the most awkward things ever, and Brion seems to perfectly get it right in the notes. What adds to the fun is Sandler’s movements and the music is in almost perfect sync, giving the whole scene a rhythmic motion, something so symphonic in its execution that the beauty of the scene in its entirety seems stifling enough, in a good way.

If we were to get into analyzing the aesthetics of the scene, my views might seem too far-fetched or too convoluted in admiration to be even considered as credible. The supermarket’s floor – stripes of blue and white – represent Barry through his unique dressing style, which magnifies into concepts such as fear and anger. His tap-dance on the floor might even cross into stamping or just dancing over them as a sign of conquest, as a result of Lena’s sudden yet intimate entrance into his neurotically fragile life. It is visible on the shelves too, the camera moves past the blue items while crawling on the ground, ascending and slowing down at Barry raising his arms and whisper “Yes!”, where the items in the background are of red color, again signifying the presence of Lena in his life.

I am confident that this scene is the point where Anderson truly matured as a filmmaker, serving as a bridge between the kinetic ensemble and the meditative spectrum. Punch-Drunk Love simply serves as a murky but light-weight launchpad for his style to undergo such a transition that continues to enthrall all of us cinephiles. This is also my favorite movie scene of all time, and I’m pretty sure when this will get published, my mind is going to be submerged with so many possible contenders for that title. For the time being, Punch-Drunk Love is my third favorite Anderson movie, and even though it has a very slim chance of winning over The Master to become my second favorite, I will be more than happy if it does so, just the fact persists that it’s not going to happen any time soon.

Post Scriptum:- Virtually no one can dance like Sandler did in this scene. Go try it out.


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