Huck Finn: Fishing Scene
(I've been thinking about this scene for a number of years, so have a lot to say--if you want to skip over the verbiage to get to the screencaps, I won't be too offended.)
I was sure I wanted my first non-LotR page of screencaps to be from this scene, since it's where Elijah first "blew me away" with his acting. It was a lot harder to decide just what to post from that scene, as every frame is worth looking at. I finally settled on an overview that shows the stages of Huck's thoughts. But there are really no breaks between stages (except for the point where we briefly see the plantation owner and his son); each moment leads into the next so that the entire process is gradual, subtle, and incredibly real. To give some context, I have started with the first frame that gives us a close-up of Huck and ended with the last frame of the scene.
A common misconception of Huckleberry Finn - probably based on film and other adaptations of the original book - is that he's a "rascal" or a "mischief maker" who doesn't think too much about what he does until he's in danger of being caught. In reality, Twain's original character is very internally directed, and his efforts to sort out right from wrong form the backbone for the more "episodic" external events in the book. Ten-year-old Elijah makes a cute little rascal when this adaptation calls for that, but it's internally-directed scenes such as this one that give him the chance to prove he's an actor.
In this scene, Huck is fishing with the owner of the plantation where he "washed up" after the raft sank, and the plantation owner's son, with whom Huck has become friends. It's a situation where Huck can truthfully say, "I ain't never had it so good in all my life," a statement that becomes more poignant the more of the backstory of Huck's struggle for survival you add from the book.
But Jim "washed up" onto that same plantation and has been added to the corps of slaves working its fields, a role with physical and psychological brutality far beyond what he experienced with Mizz Watson. Jim has never had it so bad in all his life, and if he's going to escape it's up to Huck to give him a chance - by leaving with him. Quite a decision for a boy who considers himself "low-down and ornery."
Huck's overt action in this scene consists of two head turns - first toward the plantation owner and son followed by a return to the center, then toward Jim with a return to the center. (Jim's not in the scene, and we're never actually told that the second turn has Huck looking in his direction, but there's no need.) IMHO, though, the real action of the scene is taking place within Huck, and we see it in each subtle change that comes across his face.
-#8: Huck's already thinking, long before he starts turning. We see a half blink in #5
-#26: Between frames 8 and 9, the camera turns briefly to the plantation owner and his son, showing their happiness in being together and their affection for each other. When the camera returns to Huck, he's already turned to watch them. This may be reading too much into it, but I've always felt Huck's smile in #9 ff is melancholy, not just because of Jim, but because he knows that even if he stays in this new-found life, he'll never have that kind of a father-son relationship. I was initially impressed that Huck would have such complicated thoughts and feelings. It took awhile for my brain to register that this was an actor
creating my awareness
of those complicated thoughts and feelings completely through what I saw on his face and in the way he held his head.
By the time Huck has turned forward again, even the melancholy smile is gone as thoughts of Jim return, evidenced by the fact that Huck then begins to turn toward Jim. Notice that his head begins turning in #17, but his eyes have already started the process in #16
: just one of those little things that all add up to make the character's emotions totally credible. I'm not even going to try to put labels on the emotions shown during that second turn. It's one of those times when Elijah is somehow able to show a complex mix
of emotions within the character in such a way that we can completely understand it without being able to name it.
-#28: I wanted to mention the "moment" shown in #27, because it was one of the two very specific things (the other being the melancholy smile in #9 ff) that convinced me this kid was no ordinary actor. It's actually quite a long moment, although I've only posted one frame of it. Huck, with closed eyes, is facing a "moment of truth" in a literal sense--facing the truth of the situation he and Jim are both in.
It would be easy to call what Elijah does during this moment a "sigh," but IMHO it's actually a shudder. Whatever his decision, he won't find relief in it, so a sigh would be out of place--but a shudder is completely fitting. A bit of an "emotional Froshadowing" of another scene along a river; although the two scenes don't look much alike, they both involve facing a decision that has no easy way out.
is the final frame of another fairly long moment, when Huck has to begin to look at the truth with open
[And I think Stephen Sommers, the writer and director, deserves some credit for realizing that with Elijah's face telling so much of the story, he didn't have to add an overpowering amount of exposition to this scene.]