About Schmidt: Film Summary
ONE: RETIREMENT PARTY
- Ten shots of exteriors of Omaha, with the Modern Woodmen Insurance building in the distance. Last three shots are HA of the building—sharp edges dominating. Cut to an interior of an office, high angle, and man in a gray suit sitting in his chair—boxes of files behind him. The office is bare—ready to be vacated. Cut to a modified POV shot of man on left of frame) staring at clock on the wall (right of frame). Close shot of clock. Ten seconds to five. Close-up of man—Warren Schmidt—watching the clock. ECU of clock face—last four seconds tick off. Back to high angle shot of man seated in office. He gets up. He looks around. He exits frame—cut to another angle—he exits door of office after taking one more look. Lights off.
- Titles up. Driving shot in the rain—reverse angle shows Schmidt behind the wheel. Music up. Wife sitting in front seat. Steakhouse—Happy Retirement, Warren Schmidt. Interior of restaurant. Shots of championship steers—fourth shot is a CU of the steer—his eyes like the eyes of a deer trapped in the headlights (just like Warren Schmidt). Cut to poster of CU of Schmidt. Cut to a retirement cake—in the shape of the Woodmen building. The “new guy” toasts Warren. He invites Warren to drop by any time. Another guy, slightly drunk, already retired, stands up and holds forth on the young punks taking over. He refers to the superficialities of life—the gifts here, the dinner tonight, the pension—mean nothing. “What means something is the knowledge that you devoted your life to something meaningful.” Camera tracks in on Schmidt. Wife takes his hand. “At the end of his career, if a man can say, ‘I did my job,’ then he can retire in glory and enjoy riches far beyond the monetary kind.” He tells the “hotshots” here to “take a look at a rich man.” He staggers off, and then Schmidt goes to the bar on the other side of the restaurant and has a drink by himself.
- Schmidt and his wife return home. Phone call from Jeannie, their daughter. He tries to act upbeat about receiving some kind of robe from Jeannie and her fiancé—but he does not truly seem excited about it. Later, in the bedroom, Schmidt’s wife applies cold cream to her face. Their conversation is routine—with the wife making most of the prompts. Schmidt sits down in the foreground to take off his shoes. The wife is in the background, at her mirror. Back to a close shot of Schmidt’s wife. “You know, my father didn’t think so much of you at first.” Cut back to two-shot—Schmidt struggles to remove his shoes. “Yeah!” he exhales, as he stands up to go to the closet.
TWO: RETIREMENT BEGINS
- Next morning. Schmidt wakes up a minute before 7:00—the body’s routine. Music up. He goes to the bathroom. His wife stays in bed. Schmidt at his desk downstairs. He does the word game in the paper. He is wearing his old bathrobe. Suddenly he hears a horn blare. Outside, he goes over to the large recreational vehicle (RV) parked next to the house. She sits down at the table in the RV and looks like a teenager who just baked her first meal for her parents—she is all excited about “seeing what it will be like”—that is, when they hit the road in their retirement. He doesn’t seem quite as enthusiastic. “We’re going to have a lot of good times in here, Warren. Here’s to a whole new chapter.”
- Later in the day. Schmidt watches television in the den. First a Bob Hope movie, then he begins to surf the channels. Suddenly he locks onto an advertisement for a Child Reach international charity—sponsoring a child in the Third World for only 72 cents a day. He reaches for the phone.
- Establishing shot of the Woodmen Tower in Omaha. Schmidt gets off the elevator and goes to the office of his replacement. Note that this man’s office is much nicer than Warren’s office. The new employee is uncomfortable. “Keeping busy! Keeping busy!” More awkwardness. “If anything bubbles to the surface, I’ll be sure to give you a holler.” Then the younger man says, “Whoops! Time for a meeting!” He invites Schmidt to ride down with him in the elevator. Notice reaction of Schmidt—awkward, tries to hide his feeling of rejection. Outside the building, alone again, Schmidt notices some boxes behind a fence—obviously headed for the trash—and obviously the same boxes we saw in his office earlier.
- ECU of a chicken on a cutting board—Schmidt’s wife whacking away at the meat. Here comes Schmidt. He says he was needed at work, and she says, “That’s wonderful.” Back in his home office. He goes through the mail. There’s the letter from Child Reach. He looks through the contents. Inside is all the information a sponsor needs—including a photo of the child he is sponsoring—Ndugu, a little Tanzanian boy of six (the size of a four-year-old) standing in front of a grass hut. He wears a blue T-shirt and red shorts. ECU of a check for $22 (monthly fee) for Child Reach. Reaction shot of Schmidt. He reads more information. The letter calls for him to correspond with his foster child. The editing emphasizes with ECUs “personal information.”
THREE: DEAR NDUGU
- Schmidt starts to write a note to the boy. Voice-over: “Dear Ndugu.” He introduces himself. Low angle shot of Schmidt as he ponders what to say next. Suddenly the ideas begin to flow. Music up. He tells Ndugu about his family, about his retirement, about his place of work. All of a sudden, the tone of his letter changes—“God damn it!” He complains about the kid who replaced him. “He doesn’t know a damn thing!” Great reaction shot—shows his teeth, as if wanting to rip into his enemy. “Cocky bastard!” as music hits a high note. Then Schmidt scratches out “Cocky bastard!”
- "Anyway, 66 must sound pretty old to a young fellow like yourself.” He complains about “the wrinkles around my eyes” (we see ECU of the same), “the sagging skin on my neck“ (ECU off the same), and the “hair in my ears” (ECU of same) and “the veins on my ankles” (ECU of same) and “I can’t believe it’s really me.” Cut to a tracking shot of an old photograph of a boy’s group—“When I was a kid I used to think I was special.” He begins to recall the dreams he used to have about someday starting his own company, having his photograph on the cover of Fortune Magazine—all with support of great images. Then a shift in tone of voice. “It just didn’t work out that way.” Tiny photograph of him when he made assistant vice president after 12 years with the company. Camera tracks back to show the article appeared in the “Woodmen Weekly Bugle newsletter.” He recalls making the “safe” decision. “I couldn’t put their security (of his family) at risk.” Then he concludes, “Helen—that’s my wife—she wouldn’t have allowed it.”
- Schmidt pauses at the letter. He looks around and thinks of what to say next. Voice-over: “What about my wife?” ECU of a picture of his young wife holding their daughter—at age 4. Cut to shot of Helen asleep in bed. “Helen and I have been married 42 years.” Suddenly Schmidt rises up behind her. “Lately I find myself asking the same question: ‘Who is that old woman who lives in my house?” He begins a litany of irritants. We see them leaving a store. He groans when she takes out her car key far from the car. He complains that she throws their money away on her teddy bears and other trinkets. He complains about her “obsession with trying new restaurants!” Music gets louder and louder. “And I hate the way she sits!” (CU of his wife’s buttocks plopping onto a chair) “and the way she smells!” (ECU of his wife’s underarms), “and she has insisted that I sit when I urinate!” (shot through the door at Schmidt sitting on the toilet)—and then to his pen moving frantically on the paper as the music reaches crescendo. He pauses again. “Then there’s Jeannie.”
- Music changes to violins! Camera tracks in on photograph of Jeannie when she was 10. “I bet she’d like you.” Then he adds, “She’ll always be my little girl.” He is talking about his grown daughter, about to get married, but all the images are of childhood—Jeannie as a three-year-old in the bath, then Jeannie playing the violin at a concert when she was 12, and Jeannie riding a horse when she was 14. Schmidt talks about her fiancé—Randall Hertzl—a salesman at a waterbed store. POV shot of Randall exiting the store and walking right up to a car, looking in, and saying, “How’re you guys doin’?” He concludes, “He’s not up to snuff—not for my little girl!” Back to the first framed photograph. Back to Schmidt—he closes the letter. The letter writing has been cathartic for him.
- Close shot of Schmidt’s wife vacuuming some spilled flour on the kitchen floor. Schmidt walks into the open doorway behind her with his letter for Ndugu. “Don’t dilly-dally,” she warns. Schmidt in his car. He listens to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. On impulse he stops at the Dairy Queen and orders a blizzard with Reese’s Pieces and cookie dough. Back home. Inside the house he finds his wife sprawled on the floor, the vacuum cleaner running. She is dead. He leans down over here—cut away to a tracking shot of the vacuum cleaner—the noise of the vacuum drowns out his moaning and crying as he tries to revive her.
- The coroner removes the dead body on a gurney as Schmidt watches. Quiet music begins. Warren walks closer to the right front of the frame—a distant look in his eyes. He begins to blubber—dissolve (now CU of Schmidt in the left side of the frame) as he listens (trying to control himself) to the mortician talking about finances and services—notice motif of dissolves here as Schmidt goes through the experience of choosing a casket, etc, as montage continues—montage music complemented by droning sound of the mortician’s voice—last dissolve is to the CU of Schmidt in the left of the frame. “Any questions about that?” Another dissolve—now Schmidt in profile on the right side of the frame—in background is minister saying, “Anger is okay! God can handle it if we’re angry at him.” A last dissolve—this one we see over-the-shoulder POV as Schmidt watches for his daughter to enter the gate at the airport. She comes from the background (out of focus) to the foreground, in focus, and embraces him—her fiancé stands in the background. Then he steps forward to shake Schmidt’s hand.
- Another dissolve—this time to the funeral (wide shot), and a dissolve to the minister talking away (music continues—we don’t hear the dialogue). Cut to Walter sitting at the graveside. His mouth is down turned, his eyes stare at the minister. He looks down. Cut to his POV—the casket. He looks to the side. Cut to his POV—the mound of dirt, covered by a green cloth. He looks up. Cut to his POV—a bare tree above the cemetery. He looks to his side. Cut to his POV—his daughter barely holding herself together. He looks past the grave and into the distance. Cut to his POV—a wide shot showing a man washing out an empty semi-trailer used to carry hogs or cattle.
- Another POV shot—this time the subject of the POV is a couple, friends of Schmidt, who stand in his doorway and say good-bye. Reverse angle as he reacts to their words. Inside the house is his old friend Ray--the guy who spoke at his retirement). “You’re a good friend, Ray.” They embrace. Ray is devastated by her death. He leaves. Jeannie cleans up the dishes in the kitchen. Jeannie embraces her dad again. She cries. Randall comes over and puts his hand on Schmidt’s shoulder. Schmidt looks up at him suspiciously. “She was a very special lady,” Randall says. Schmidt looks at him as if looking at a total stranger. “Let’s drink to her,” Randall says. Jeannie and her dad turn to Randall with their glasses filled. From their POV he says, “Here’s to Helen. They broke the mold!” Then he looks up to the ceiling. “Helen! We love you! We miss you!” Schmidt looks around as if he is thinking, “This guy is nuts!”
FIVE: FAMILY MATTERS
- Insert CU of letters and cards. Schmidt looks through the cards people sent him. Randall looks in on him. “How are you doin’?” He tries hard to sympathize with Schmidt. What’s on Randall’s mind? He wants to tell Schmidt about an exciting “investment opportunity, and I want to get you in on the ground floor with me.” Reaction shot of Schmidt—he looks befuddled. Randall: “And it’s not a pyramid scheme!” He thinks they can double or triple their investment. “I’m not going to be selling waterbeds forever. I’ve got plans . . . ” and then he is cut off by the cut—to Schmidt lying in bed (bird’s eye POV)—his eyes wide open. Quiet music plays. He gets up and sits downstairs in the dark.
- Next day at lunch. Schmidt sits at the table, anxious and excited all at once. His daughter Jeannie is feeding him—and he can’t help but explain in great detail exactly what he wants to eat. She waits on him. He pleads with her to stay longer—all of this filmed at long shot—making him small and pathetic in the frame. “Who’s going to take care of me?” That gets a reaction shot from Jeannie. Suddenly the real agenda plays out—he asks her to postpone the wedding, rethink things—in other words, think twice about marrying this guy. He tries the wrong approach—suggesting that her mother had doubts about this relationship. But Jeannie defends her mother’s position, maintaining that she was all for the marriage. “All right! All right!” Schmidt responds. “Have it your own way, you and your mother!” He realizes he has gone too far—so he softens with, “Good sandwich.” Reaction shot of Jeannie. “Why did you get such a cheap casket?” He defends himself—there was a casket less expensive that he expressly refused. “A pine box?” she asks. Then she says, “She waited on you hand and foot.” They argue more about the Winnebago RV the parents bought. He defends himself—but it is unclear whether or not he has his facts straight.
- At the airport. Before they get to the gate, Randall tells Schmidt about the book, Bad Things Happen to Good People. Randall means well. A farewell hug. Randall sneaks a photo. Then from Schmidt’s POV we watch the two leave the gate. The shot lingers—an empty jet way—symbolic of the old man’s broken heart now that Jeannie is gone.
SIX: GRIEF & REVELATION
- Cut to an exterior scene of the airport as Schmidt heads for his car. Voice-over: “Dear Ndugu. I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news.” He recounts the death of Helen, the people who came. As the voice-over continues, we see that his car won’t start, a tow truck comes, and a cab drops him at the house. Inside the house, his voice-over: “Now it’s just me and my thoughts knocking around in this big old house.” Later, we see him seated at the dining room table. He is wearing his bathrobe and eating cereal. His voice-over continues. He tells Ndugu that he was an actuary. He could estimate how long a person would live given certain vital information. He concludes that he will die in 9 years—unless he remarries (then he would live longer). As he explains this information, we see him lying about the house, watching television, and drinking alcohol. Voice-over: “All I know is, I’ve got to make the best of whatever time I have left.” He closes his eyes—nodding off in his chair. Voice-over: “Life is short, and I can’t afford to waste another minute.” Graphic on screen: Two weeks later.
- Opens with same shot last scene ended—close-up of Schmidt asleep in his chair. He opens his eyes. He moves through the house. Voice-over continues—another letter to Ndugu. The house is a mess. He goes out to the RV wearing his coat over his pajamas. We pulls into the grocery store parking lot. He stamps about the store and hurls frozen pizzas and other quick meals into the shopping cart. Then he tosses the bags of food into the RV. Back to the house. The bedroom is a disaster. “It occurred to me that in my last letter, I might have misspoken—.” Cut to Schmidt lying back in the bathtub. He looks like a man who has just committed suicide—his arm over the edge of the tub, his head back, and his tablet held in his left hand. “—used negative language about my late wife. But I was under a lot of pressure following my retirement.” He sits at her makeup mirror and sniffs her perfumes. I’m not going to lie to you, Ndugu—it’s been a rough few weeks”—as he applies her cold cream to his face, like a clown after a performance in the circus. He stares at himself in the mirror—on the verge of tears. He goes into her closet. “I miss her. I miss my Helen. I guess I just didn’t know how lucky I was. Remember that, young man. You’ve got to appreciate what you have—while you still have it. He goes through her clothes, her shoes—and then, after opening a shoebox, he finds a bundle of letters inside. He begins to read the letters—“to my darling Helen.” Low angle shot of him as he reads the letters. They are from his friend Ray.
- Suddenly he goes on a rampage. He pulls her clothes down from the closet rods and tosses them into boxes. He empties the drawers from the dressers, and he sweeps all of her perfumes off her vanity. Cut to an exterior scene. He has pulled his RV up to a Clothing Recycling Center box. He simply tosses everything out onto the street in front of the box. Exterior of a barbershop. Reverse angle of Schmidt staring at the shop from inside a window of his RV. He has a look of death on his face. He watches Ray go to his car—then Schmidt stalks out from his RV and advances on Ray—some of the letters in his hands. “I thought you might want these back!” he flicks them at Ray. “It was 25-30 years ago,” Ray laments. Then Schmidt flails away at his old friend—no closed-fist blows here. Ray runs to the other side of his car. “I’m sorry.” Schmidt drives away. Back at the house he goes upstairs to the bathroom—but just before he sits down on the toilet, he has a revelation! He is going to urinate standing up! He begins to pee, and then he raises his hands to the side and up and begins to spray urine this way and that way—everywhere but in the toilet.
SEVEN: JOURNEY BEGINS
- He can’t sleep. Finally, after thrashing about in the bed, he sits up—wide-awake—and has another revelation. He packs two bags. He goes out to the RV—still in the middle of the night. At dawn he is on the interstate. He has a determined look on his face. At a rest stop near Grand Island, NB, he calls Jeannie. She is at work—and she is shocked—especially when he tells her he is coming to visit her. “Jeannie, I’ve been thinking about things, and about how much you mean to me, how little time you and I have spent together all these years. I realized, ‘What the heck am I doing in Omaha?’ We should be together.” She is dumbstruck. He is coming to visit her! “This is not a good idea,” she says. He tells her he will help her with the wedding. She says, “Stick to the plan! You get here a day or two before the wedding.” His eyes begin to narrow, and his eyebrows begin to arch.” He tells her, “I assume you won’t object to me not sending anymore of those checks”—aha, blackmail. “I do not have time for this!”
- Great cut to a strip of highway—and as the RV cuts across the span, against the flat background of the prairie, we hear Schmidt’s Voice-over: “Dear Ndugu.” As he narrates his letter, we see wide shots of the landscape of Nebraska. In the letter he changes the facts—he tells Ndugu that Jeannie pleaded with him to come out to Denver early and “help with the arrangements. I told her I needed some time for myself.” He tells Ndugu about his nostalgic road trip. “So much has happened in my life that I can’t remember—whole sections of my life that are just . . . gone.” (At that moment a bug goes “splat” on the windshield.) He stops in Holdrege, NB, where he was born and raised. We see a traveling shot, showing his POV from the left side of the RV. He remembers the address— 12 Locust Avenue. There it is—a Tires Plus store. (You can’t go home again.) He goes inside. “I used to live here,” he tells the clerk. “Here in the store?” He outlines where some of the room were—the clerk stands back and listens. Then Schmidt walks to a corner of the store, and we begin to hear sounds from the past—children’s voices—as he looks out the window. “You’re not going to believe this—but we used to have a tire swing right out here.” What irony. Schmidt revisits the old playground. “It was good to be home again—very good, indeed.”
- He enters Kansas. Suddenly he is on the campus of the University of Kansas, his alma mater, in Lawrence. He continues to narrate the letter. He returns to his fraternity. There he is in the dining room—talking to the fraternity guys. They stare at him as if looking at an alien. He wanders into a hallway, where pictures of old fraternity members are displayed. Insert CU of a picture of Schmidt. Reaction shot of him as he smiles—proud of these memories. Exterior of the RV on the road—leaving Kansas. Voice-over: “Well, Ndugu, I highly encourage you to pledge a fraternity when you go to college.” He tells Ndugu he returns to Nebraska, and becomes a tourist for a while. He visits a local museum in Custer County. He meets a “real Indian—or a Native American, as they like to be called these days.” Then he stops at Buffalo Bill Cody’s house in North Platte. “What a remarkable man.” He picks up five Hummel figurines at a craft store. There he is—writing the letter in his RV---his five figurines on the table—his RV parked in a slot at the RV park. “Helen loved Hummels.”
- Suddenly someone knocks on his window—another RV guy. At first, there is an awkward encounter, with the stranger saying, “Ahoy,” and later, “Permission to step aboard, captain.” Finally, Schmidt understands the fellow, John Rusk, Eau Claire, WI, wants to see this bigger model of an RV. “Oh, yeah—Geez. Look at all this room!” The tour begins. When the stranger finds out this is Schmidt’s “first voyage,” he invites him over for dinner—to celebrate.
- Schmidt slowly walks across the park at dusk. He carries a six-pack of beer. He meets bubbly Vickie, John’s wife. Lots of awkward laughter. The men sit down while Vicki finishes dinner. John tells Schmidt he owns a Famous Footwear store. Vicki is an occupational therapist. Schmidt tells them he was “in the insurance game. But I’m retired now.” Suddenly dinner is over—dirty dishes in the sink. Conversation has turned to Vicki sharing pictures from her photo album of people they met on the road and family members. Warren begins to warm up to them—he makes them laugh—and he smirks with pride. Then Schmidt is embarrassed to disclose that he does not have a picture of his daughter in his wallet. But he recovers nicely: “I might have one of George Washington!” They laugh. John goes off for more beer.
- With John gone, and no more photographs to share, Vicki and Schmidt sit next to each other on the sofa—a space between them—and there is an awkward silence. Then Vicki takes a risk. She makes an observation—that despite the upbeat, positive front he expresses, at the core he is “a sad man.” Obviously, he has told them about his recent widowhood. She thinks there is something deeper going on. “My guess is anger, and maybe fear, loneliness?” Reaction shot. “I am kinda lonely.” Her reaction—with her big brown eyes. “I knew it.” He reacts. He gets himself set in his chair and then turns to her. “I’ve only known you for an hour or so, and yet I feel that you understand me better than my wife Helen ever did—even after 42 years of marriage.” She reacts with great empathy. “Maybe if I’d met someone like you earlier—“ then a reaction shot of her, saying, “Oh, you sad man!” He lays his head on her breast. She is a bit nervous, but then she continues to empathize. “Oh, you sad man!” He reaches up and starts to kiss her. She pushes him back. “Get off me! Are you insane?” Reaction shot shows him in terror. “What is wrong with you!” He gets up quickly and throws him his jacket.
EIGHT: DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
- Exterior scene. Music up. Schmidt walks quickly across the lawn of the park and heads for his RV. Then a great transition to piano music—and Schmidt stops at a crossroads in the country. He gets out of the RV. He stands by the edge of the asphalt and faces a gravel road. He bends at the knees—as if in great emotional pain. Suddenly he is in a phone booth in a small town and leaving a voice-mail message for Ray, his old friend. He tells him he has reflected on what happened (the love letters, the affair), and he wants to “talk to him about this”—but suddenly the digital voice interrupts him and he tries to push the button for continue recording—and presses erase the message instead.
- Transition to shots of the RV on the road. Music changes. Suddenly a cattle truck pulls up to him in the next lane. Schmidt looks out at cattle looking through the holes in the side of the truck—cattle being led to slaughter, and they don’t even know it. Then the RV parked along a river. Several shots of him standing or sitting by the shore.
- That night he sits on top of the RV. He has arranged four of the little Hummel figurines and three candles on top of the roof—like a shrine. He sits crosslegged, a blanket around him, in front of the figurines. He looks up at the stars. “Helen? What did you really think of me? Deep in your heart? Was I really the man you wanted to be with? Were you disappointed—too nice to show it? I forgive you for Ray. It was a long time ago. I wasn’t always the King of Kings. I let you down. Do you forgive me?” He sees a shooting star. He crosses himself. The next morning he wakes up—still under the blanket, on top of the RV. He drives away—as if we see close shot of the Hummels still on the roof—and then sliding off the roof as the vehicle moves along. His Voice-over: “And so, Ndugu, I must say it’s been a very rewarding trip.” He tells Ndugu he awoke transformed, “a new man—for the first time in years I feel clear. I know what I want. I know what I’ve got to do. And nothing is ever going to stop me again.” He arrives in Denver.
- He pulls up in a Denver neighborhood, parks the RV on the side of the street, and walks slowly up to the house of his Jeannie’s future mother-in-law, Roberta. The house is surrounded with junk of all sorts.
TEN: NEW FAMILY
- She greets him at the door—and she is effusive in her sympathy. She had met Helen once. She gets him a drink. But when she sits down and begins drinking—she changes. Suddenly she shares all the weight of her stress from the past two weeks, preparing the wedding. She doesn’t forget to mention that they need “that check” from Schmidt, too. Suddenly we hear a man’s voice griping about something in the background. She seems reluctant to get up and help. Schmidt sits and has to listen to them yelling at each in a back room. When she comes back to her wicker rocker, she continues the narrative of her life—this second husband (divorced) she feels sorry for, but he wasn’t as bad as her first husband—“he was a real asshole.” Schmidt seems uncomfortable, but he has nowhere to go. “Now Randall (her son) knows how to treat a woman. Don’t you think he’s something special? When I had my hysterectomy, that boy did not leave my side for one minute.” Poor Schmidt is dumbstruck. But it gets worse. “People used to raise their eyebrows because I breast fed him until he was five—and I say, ‘Well, you just look at the results!”
- She would have gone on—but here come Randall and Jeannie. Randall greets “Dad” with an awkward hug. Jeannie hugs him—and then there is a moment of awkward conversation about the traffic jams around Denver. Roberta breaks this up by having Randall take the packages into the kitchen. Schmidt asks Jeannie to talk to him about something—very important. “I need some time alone with you.” She suggests after dinner.
- The round dining room table with a massive Lazy Susan in the center. At the table is Schmidt, another son of Roberta, Roberta, the new wife of Roberta’s second husband, her second husband, Randall, and Jeannie. A reaction shot of Schmidt sets up a series of POV shots—as he watches Randall and the others eating at the table. No conversation. Another reaction shot of Schmidt shows his bemusement. Who are these people? Schmidt is not eating. He tries to start a conversation. He asks Randall whatever happened to that investment opportunity. Whoops. Wrong question. This leads to an argument—mostly by Randall—that people lost money because they didn’t stay in the scheme long enough. Suddenly second husband rises to make a toast. Poor Larry. “I just want to acknowledge that we are gathered around this table as a family for the first time.” He directs the toast to Warren. Jeannie takes his hand. Schmidt looks as if a board has hit him. Then Roberta cuts him off, and Larry argues with her, and then she says, “Will you just drinking your fucking milk and shut the fuck up!” Cut to the good-byes. Then Schmidt asks Jeannie for a quick talk. They go out on the porch. He pours his heart out: “You’re making a big mistake. Don’t marry this guy. The other night I had a dream. Your mother was there. A bunch of weird creatures came out and tried to take you away. And they all looked like Randall. I’m begging you not to marry him! This guy’s not up to snuff! He’s not in your league! I can’t let this happen! I will not allow it! Look at these people!” Her reaction: “All of a sudden you are taking an interest what I do? You have an opinion about my life now? Listen to me: I’m getting married the day after tomorrow. And you are going to come to my wedding. And you are going to sit there and enjoy it and support me or else you can just turn right around right now and go back to Omaha!” She goes to the car, where Randall is waiting. He yells after her. “I’m talking to you, young lady!”
ELEVEN: LOSING CONTROL
- He brushes his teeth. He looks at medals won by Randall when he was a boy. He sits on the bed and is shocked to discover it is a waterbed. He rolls left and right as he tries to get his balance—all in one shot—as he finally gets himself set and turns off the light.
- The next morning—Schmidt has a stiff neck. Almost an hour and a half later he is still not up. Roberta comes in, and he is lying on his back on the floor. “I’m okay.” Then Jeannie and Randall are in the room with Roberta. She is livid—and suspicious that of all times Schmidt would pick this time to get a stiff neck. He is lying in bed again—and trying to explain that he is not faking it. But she is remorseless. Finally, Randall and she argue about who can pick up the programs. “I can’t do everything, Randall! I cannot do everything!” She breaks down. Poor Schmidt is powerless. “Thanks for everything, Dad!”
- Schmidt lying in bed and reading a children’s book. Roberta brings in some soup. She spoon-feeds him. She is dressed in a lovely pink outfit. She wears her hear in a long ponytail, the ponytail draped over her front shoulder. “These kids are in very good shape. Did you know that their sex life is positively white-hot?” She will not stop talking about sex. Poor Schmidt has to listen—opening his mouth for another spoonful of soup. She says she has always been easily aroused. “Jeannie and I have a lot in common that way!”
- Schmidt putting his tie on. She brings in some medications—left over from her hysterectomy.
- At the church rehearsal. Here comes Schmidt. He looks like he has taken too much medication. Cut to an interior at Tony Romas—the rehearsal dinner. Four tables are lined up to form one long table. Larry is lost in another long toast at one end of the table. The camera pans past a bored Roberta, then some other members of the wedding party, and then stops at Schmidt—sitting at the end of table, and barely conscious. In the car on the way back to Roberta’s, Schmidt can’t stop talking about the “wow!” factor of that medication. She tells him she will fire up the hot tub when they get back.
- Exterior of the house. Schmidt lying in the hot tub on the deck out back. Here she comes—and she drops her robe and for a moment we see her breasts—and then we see her naked from the side as she enters the hot tub. Schmidt is dumbstruck! She begins to launch on a nostalgic narrative of how much time has passed, how the kids are all grown up now, and how after tomorrow “we will all be a big happy family.” But when she reaches out and touches him on the inside of his leg, he is out of the hot tub in a flash and wraps the towel around him. “I’m all tuckered out,” he says. Exterior of the house—as he lumbers across the lawn toward his RV. The music goes up to emphasize the movement.
- Later, he lies in his RV bed and looks up at the ceiling—deep in thought. Music up—cut to the church service the next day—a singer accompanied by musicians. She sings “The Wedding Song.” Schmidt leads the bride down the aisle. He sits in the front. Then the vows and the accessories—most of which are framed around a series of dissolves of shots of Schmidt sitting alone in the front row left—his face a concentration of memories and feelings.
- Insert CU of the roast beef being carved at the wedding reception. A silly friend of Randall’s is the Master of Ceremonies. And he is a perfect example of a slightly drunk, well-meaning, occasionally profound, but mostly rambling and disoriented and pathetic figure. Great reaction shot of Schmidt sitting next to another member of the family. Then the MC invites Schmidt to come forward. He does so. For a moment we see him struggle with this moment as he grips the microphone. He stands in a long shot—suddenly he is talking about his wife Helen. He beats around the bush for a bit—typical midwestern small talk. “But that brings me to what I really want to say!” Now he changes his demeanor. He wets his lips, almost smacks his lips—as if ready to drop the whole load. Instead, he turns to Randall and thanks him for “taking care of my daughter.” Music up. Then he begins to spread one lie after another—praising Roberta, Larry, Sandra, Duncan, “everybody else—terrific people.” He concludes, “I am very pleased.” Applause. He goes off to the bathroom and has a moment alone—THIRTEEN: RETURN HOME
- Meanwhile, the wedding party rocks. Schmidt returns to his seat. Suddenly the sound goes down, camera tracks in on Schmidt, and we cut to an exterior shot of the RV leaving Denver. “Dear Ndugu.” He summarizes the wedding—all went well. He tells Ndugu he made only one stop—at the arch over the interstate at Kearney, NB, to commemorate the pioneers who moved west. Inside the museum, he moves on an escalator up into the arch. “You’ve really got to see it to believe it. It kind of got me thinking—looking at all that history. My trip to Denver is so insignificant compared to the journeys that others have taken, the bravery they have shown, the relationships they endured. Insert close-up of a plaque: “The cowards never started, the weak died on the way, only the strong survive—they were the pioneers.” Schmidt reads to the plaque, and then turns away. “I know we’re all very small in the scheme of things, and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference. But what difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?” He says that he tried to do the right thing when he was in Denver. “Now she’s married to that nincompoop and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Back home, he opens the door against a stack of mail. “I am weak, and I am a failure. There’s just no getting around it.” He goes upstairs. “Relatively soon I will die—maybe in 20 years, maybe tomorrow. It doesn’t matter. Once I am dead and everyone who knew me dies too, it will be as if I never even existed. What difference has my life made, anyway? None that I can think of. None at all.” He grimaces when he revisits the scene of his urination revenge.
- Later, he plops the mail down at his desk table. He spots a thick letter—it’s from Ndugu—it has Tanzanian stamps on it. He opens the letter. Inside is a note. “Dear Mr. Warren Schmidt.” It’s a letter from one of the nuns who cares for Ndugu. She reminds him that Ndugu is six years old and can not read or write. But he likes to paint. He recently got better after suffering an infection. “He is an intelligent boy and very loving. He is an orphan. Recently he needed medical attention for an infection in his eyes. But he is better now. He loves to eat melon, and he loves to paint. He receives all of your letters. He hopes you are healthy in your life and happy. He thinks of you every day, and he wants very much your happiness. Ndugu is only six years old, and he cannot read or write. But he has made for you a painting. He hopes you will like his painting.” Schmidt unfolds the paper—a simple drawing of two people, with the water and the sun in the background. He reacts—beginning to cry. Insert CU of the drawing. POV shot again focuses on the two stick figures. Reaction shot again as he cries hard but begins to smile through his tears. Music up. He looks up and smiles. Screen goes black. Credits up.
Film resource written by Robert Yahnke
Copyright, Robert E. Yahnke, © 2009
Professor, Univ. of Minnesota
Request permission from the author to reprint this resource--for educational use only