[For international readers who may not be familiar with American "touch football" or "flag football," the orange ribbons hanging from Mikey's waist are not one of his strange wardrobe choices. In this "gentler" form of American football, instead of actually tackling someone and knocking them to the ground, you grab one of their "flags," and they have to stop as if they've been tackled. In these pics, if I'm understanding it correctly, Mikey's team is wearing the orange flags and the opposing team is wearing yellow.]
If you want an enigma, you can't get much better than a silent Mikey Carver with Ang Lee behind the camera. Even a "normal speed" watching of this scene shows there's more involved than Mikey's lack of athletic ability. He runs--boy, does he run! He watches the ball--most of the time. He ends up in the right spot to catch the ball--and stands there. It lands just behind him.
I thought I kind of understood Mikey, but this behavior's hard to figure out. The more I see Mikey, the more I think he must suffer from some kind of medical disorder. A mild form of autism has been suggested, because he's so closed off in his own interior world. And having watched him just "blank out" in this scene, I wonder if he might have some kind of seizure disorder. Wish we had a director's commentary for this movie!
Part of the story is in Mikey's face and body. This series isn't even close to frame-by-frame, as that would take hundreds of caps, although I tried to show anything that seemed like a major change in his action or expression.
But some of the scene's oddity comes from the supposedly normal people in it. My guess (and that's all it is) is that during those shots Lee is giving us a bit of visual imagery that lets us have a brief glimpse inside Mikey's world.
Notes from a Script:
Thanks to a Faculty member, here's an early draft of the script for this scene. The noise that Mikey hears has been mentioned a couple of other times in the script when he's drifting off into his own world; in his final scene it turns into the hum of electricity. No one else ever hears the sound--except the audience.
My personal preference is to not have the audience hear the sound, which is how the movie was finally made. Since that would be the only subjective, interior experience the audience would have of any of the characters, I think it would be out of place in the movie. I'd rather see his reactions to his interior world from outside, as everyone else does. And, actually, I don't think hearing it would make Mikey any less enigmatic; it would just add another layer. (One consideration that we might feel differently about than most of the audience is that, IMHO, having Mikey the only character whose internal life we experience would tend to focus the movie a lot more on him. Good for us, maybe, but probably--to be honest--not so good for the movie's balance.)
Script for scene:
A group of boys break from a huddle, Mikey among them.
The quarterback takes the hike and Mikey runs out for a pass.
As he runs, his breathing increases in volume, filling his
ears, and transforming into the humming sound he'd heard
The quarterback spots him and throws a long one.
He runs in an oblivion of beautiful white sound.
The ball drops next to him as he continues, in a world of his
own, to run.
Suddenly, the humming ends and he stops and turns around, to
see all the other kids just standing there looking at him.
One of them makes a pot-smoking gesture, as if that's the
(as he returns to the
group, ball in hand)
Did anybody hear that?
The other kids snicker. Wendy looks on, and catches Mikey's
eye for a fleeting moment.
End of script for scene
To set up the logistics, here are Wendy and her friends, with the football game going on in the background.
As his teammate prepares to throw the football, Mikey takes off.
Here we come upon some players from the opposing team. But Mikey doesn't seem to notice them. He's focused on running, and that's what he does. It's as if they aren't even there. You almost expect that kind of thing from Mikey...
...but not from everyone else. The player in the sweater with the red stripe is from the opposing team (yellow flags as opposed to Mikey's orange). Mikey is running out to catch a pass, and doing a decent job of it. Members of the other team should be trying to stop him. But it's as if he isn't there.
Here, one player is looking away from Mikey and the other is looking past him. Still no effort to stop him, and he still doesn't seem to have seen them.
And that's the last time we see any other players until after the ball hits the ground. Mikey's running into open, empty space. How likely is this? Our first thought might be that the opposing players know him and know he's not going to catch the ball, so they don't bother to chase him. But if that were true, his teammates would know the same thing and at least one of them would be out there to catch it. But there's no one. It's a very odd situation, which makes me wonder if we're seeing the world the way Mikey does. Everything and everyone slips out of reality and all that's left is Mikey, the ball, and running. This is pure conjecture as far as the director's intentions, but it works for me.
The closer the camera pulls in to Mikey, the more indistinct the background becomes.
(Between these frames we get a shot of the football in mid-air. Nothing else--just the ball in the empty sky, which is probably all Mikey is focused on.)
After seeing the ball, Mikey seems to realize he has to run a bit farther to be in position to catch it.
(Here we get another shot of the football against the empty sky. )
Just as we get our first glimpse of another human being coming back into the picture...
...Mikey starts to "run out of gas"--and lose focus?
More spectators, more distraction.
He's now in position to catch the ball. But he's not looking towards it.
This is the last pic that seems to show Mikey looking at anything. In the caps on the next page, he's mentally "checked out."