Show me the bathroom

Forget critics' tiresome hand-wringing over auteur theory and the decline of dialogue writing. The real issue is: Why don't people in movies ever have to go?


Ann Hodgman
March 25, 1997 2:55AM (UTC)

not to go out on a limb here, but I liked "The English Patient." Ralph Fiennes all burned like that -- ouch! And that thing with the thumbs -- very realistic. I did think there were some problems with the dialogue, though. Especially the sandstorm scene, which should have been slightly reworked:

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COUNT ALMASY
(His words almost lost in the whirling winds)
Katharine, a terrible sandstorm is coming up! We must get into the car!

KATHARINE
Oh, no! Sandstorms can last for hours -- even days!

COUNT ALMASY
It's a good thing we didn't drink much water today!

KATHARINE
Yes! Still, before we get into the car, I wish we had time to --

COUNT ALMASY
Look! The sandstorm seems to have stalled for a moment!

KATHARINE
I'll just quickly step around to the other side of the car by myself --

COUNT ALMASY
And I'll take a little walk in this direction ...

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For someone whose tiny bladder has forced her to memorize the location of every ladies' room in the Northern Hemisphere, sitting through a two-hour movie is hard enough without having to worry about the characters, too. Why do all the past year's films except "Trainspotting" overlook this crucial issue when, in real life, it's the first thing to cross any moviegoer's mind?

"Renegade Marines have seized Alcatraz, and it's up to Nicholas Cage to stop them!" I hope he has a chance to go before he gets there. "We're about to drown in the Holland Tunnel!" At least it's dark and everyone is underwater from the waist down. "A volcano is destroying Los Angeles!" At least it's dark and everyone is trapped in molten lava from the waist down.

I'm not saying, "Show us the actual bathrooms, and people using them." I just want to know that the writer and the director have provided for the inevitable. Back to "The English Patient," for instance:

HANA
(Gazing up the hill)
There's a bombed-out old villa where we can stay. And the plumbing is miraculously intact!

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COUNT ALMASY
(In a hoarse whisper, drifting in and out of consciousness)
Plenty-of-bedpans-too.

It's only a question of fine-tuning. It wouldn't have to cost anything. And even if they can't solve the problem, directors should acknowledge that it exists. In war movies, when the soldiers are stuck in the trenches for weeks and weeks, why can't the sergeant bellow, "This is war, men. There are no toilets here"? Just a few simple words, and the audience stops wondering and settles back to enjoy the story.

Every love story ever filmed would benefit from more explanation. Maybe right before the first kiss -- no, wait, have them go ahead with the first kiss. Then have one of the pair (probably the man) say, "Remember, the bathroom is way, way down the hall where I won't be able to hear you. There's a new toothbrush in the medicine cabinet, too." The couple could then embrace with doubled ardor.

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(Not that a spare toothbrush would help some movies. Who can forget the horrifying moment in "The Big Easy" when Ellen Barkin, brushing her teeth after vomiting, breaks off to kiss Dennis Quaid without rinsing her mouth first?) But let's return to more pressing problems. What about disaster films where thousands have been rendered homeless but not buried from the waist down? Easy. "The National Guard has been dispatched to the site," the governor could announce. "They're bringing sandbags and Porta-Potties."

Kidnapped-by-aliens films, where you may have to spend years aboard a spacecraft whose Men and Women signs you can't read? There are two options here, depending on whether the aliens are the futuristic, "Independence Day"-type or the primitive, slimy Jabba-the-Hut-type. In the former: "We're lucky about one thing: These creatures are so advanced that they'll give us some kind of dietary supplement to get rid of the problem altogether." In the latter: "Hey, who cares? These are aliens! They don't have the same standards we do."

I propose that a special Oscar be taken away from any director who refuses to address this issue. What's the Academy waiting for? Until they fix the problem. I'm going to have to keep sitting through movies with my legs crossed, wincing on behalf of the characters. And I can't believe that's what the filmmakers intended.

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Ann Hodgman

Ann Hodgman is the author of three cookbooks, most recently "One Bite Won't Kill You," and of 40 children's books.

MORE FROM Ann Hodgman

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