May I be Peevish?

When you quote movie dialogue, you’re not repeating a thought the actor had. The clever turn of phrase, the truth, the beauty, the hilarity, the pithy combination of words–that’s something the screenwriter or the novelist wrote[fn]. Something drafted, re-drafted, carefully curated and crafted into resonance by a writer.

But it was not the actor’s thought. There’s a reasonable likelihood it was not even something he believed. It’s acting.

It’s good that it moved you. It’s special that this particular actor was able to imbue the words with enough reality to shove them deep into your brain and lodge them there. Art, entertainment, performance fill real needs for catharsis or respite.

But conflating actors with their dialogue is unfair–to the writer, of course, but also to the actor. The actor’s skill is, in part, tricking you into doing just that, but it’s not really a compliment to fall for it, once the performance is over.


[fn] Sure, yes, there are those very famous improv moments in movies. Yes, sure, memorizing one’s lines is often more about getting the gist and flow of the scene and making sure the important bits get said than about verbatim memorization. However, “the important bits” pretty much all of the time are the words, as written in the script.


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