Monday, December 8, 2014


Joe vs the Volcano, by John Patrick Shanley:
Joe comes in. Dede is typing away. Mr. Waturi is on the phone. Joe hangs up his coat. He misses with the hat again because of Dede’s typing. He leans over and switches the typewriter off. Then he picks up his hat, dusts it off and throws it in the garbage can.

(on phone)
No. No. You were wrong. He was wrong. Who said that? I
didn’t say that. If I had said that, I would’ve been
wrong. I would’ve been wrong, Harry, isn’t that right?

Mr. Waturi’s attention is split between his call and Joe, who is walking around the office like a tourist.

Listen, let me call you back, I’ve got something here, okay?
And don’t tell him anything till we finish our conversation, okay?

Mr. Waturi hangs up the phone. Joe is looking at the coffee set-up.



You were at lunch three hours.

About that.

Joe wanders away, into his office. Waturi looks after.

Joe is staring at the big wheel valve sporting the sign that says Main Drain. Mr. Waturi comes in as Joe moves forward and, with great effort, rotates the wheel to its opposite extreme. This scares Waturi.

Joe, what are you doing?

I’m opening, or closing, the main drain.
Nothing happens.

You shouldn’t be touching that.

Nothing happened. Do you know how long I’ve been wondering
what would happen if I did that?

What’s the matter with you?

Brain cloud.


Never mind. Listen, Mr. Waturi. Frank. I quit.

Joe starts to take some stuff out of his desk. He looks at his lamp, gets the cord, plugs it in, and turns it on.

You mean, today?

That’s right.

That’s great. Well, don’t come looking for a reference.

Okay, I won’t.

You blew this job.

Joe takes in the little room.

I’ve been here for four and a half years. The work I did I
probably could’ve done in five, six months. That leaves
four years leftover.

He’s been filling up a shopping bag with stuff from his desk: three books (Romeo and Juliet, Robinson Crusoe and The Odyssey), an old ukulele and his lamp. Now he’s finished. He walks out of the room without even looking at Waturi. Waturi goes after him as he exits.

Joe is walking towards the front door. Waturi follows him in. Joe stops at Dede’s desk. She’s typing. He looks at her. She stops typing.

Four years. If I had them now. Like gold in my hand.
Here. This is for you. (gives Dede the lamp)
‘Bye-bye, Dede.

You’re going?

Well, if you’re leaving, leave. You’ll get your check.
And, I promise you, you’ll be easy to replace.

I should say something.

What are you talking about?

This life. Life? What a joke. This situation. This room.

Joe, maybe you should just…

You look terrible, Mr. Waturi. You look like a bag of shit
stuffed inna cheap suit. Not that anyone would look good
under these zombie lights. I can feel them sucking the
juice outta my eyeballs. Three hundred bucks a week, that’s
the news. For three hundred bucks a week I’ve lived in
this sink. This used rubber.

Watch it, mister! There’s a woman here!

Don’t you think I know that, Frank? Don’t you think I’m
aware there’s a woman here? I can taste her on my tongue. I
can smell her. When I’m twenty feet away, I can hear
the fabric of her dress when she moves in her chair. Not
that I’ve done anything about it. I’ve gone all day, every
day, not doing, not saying, not taking the chance for
three hundred bucks a week, and Frank the coffee stinks
it’s like arsenic, the lights give me a headache if the
lights don’t give you a headache you must be dead,
let’s arrange the funeral.

You better get outta here right now! I’m telling you!

You’re telling me nothing.

I’m telling you!

And why, I ask myself, why have I put up with you? I
can’t imagine but I know. Fear. Yellow freakin’ fear.
I’ve been too chicken shit afraid to live my life so I
sold it to you for three hundred freakin’ dollars a
week! You’re lucky I don’t kill you! You’re lucky I don’t
rip your freakin’ throat out! But I’m not going to and maybe
you’re not so lucky at that. ‘Cause I’m gonna leave you
here, Mister Wa-a-Waturi, and what could be worse than that?

Joe opens the door and leaves. Mr. Waturi and Dede are frozen. The door reopens and Joe comes halfway back in.



How ’bout dinner tonight?

Yeah, uh, okay.

Joe smiles for the first time since we’ve met him, and closes the door again.

Wow. What a change.

Who does he think he is?

Notes: The first thing that strikes me is the honesty of the character in the dialog, basically merging the subtext with the action. He says what he thinks and feels. Usually this might be considered too ‘on the nose’ type of dialog. But it works here because we want to see him tell off his boss. Otherwise that tension of Joe needing to release, might take some other form, such as going postal or taking it out on someone else.

And he doesn’t do this at first. He’s about to walk out. But then he decides he will have it out. The whole time he walks around, the prelude to the monologue, we feel the building of tension. Something is going on inside and we don’t know what it is. But we can guess it has to do with his facing death and realizing how he’s wasted his time at this place (or maybe he’s just lost it). When he does talk, it comes out like some kind of classic scripture or epiphany about the meaning of what little time we have in our lives.

This scene marks the turning point that propels Joe into the adventure of the rest of the movie.
In a later scene Joe sits in amazement of the life he’s apparently missed and his companion Patricia remembers her father saying that most people in the world are asleep except for a very few who live in constant amazement. Here again we have a scriptural, spiritual sort of statement about life.
John Patrick Shanley also wrote Moonstruck which has life changing event themes as well. I think he is highly underrated.

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