The Film – Short Cuts, dir. Robert Altman
The Set-Up – As Ralph (Mathew Modine) and Marion (Julianne Moore) get ready for company to arrive, long-simmering resentments finally erupt to the surface.
Altman was always a master of setting up a scene that tells a huge story in only a few minutes, and this is a class “A” example. Earlier in the film we’ve gotten hints about Ralph’s opinion of the “lousy” artist that he suspects Marion cheating with, and here he finally forces it out into the open. What’s striking here is the level of cruelty that these two inflict on each other. Watch Modine’s little smirk when Marion spills the drink on herself – he ENJOYS seeing her distressed. But then, she turns the tables on him – Does she ever. Having Moore perform this scene nude from the waist down might seem gratuitous and unnecessary at first glance, but consider the dynamic at work here. Ralph is already uncomfortable with his wifes’ nudity, and when she stands in front of him and finally relates the details of her infidelity, she’s really rubbing his nose in it. She knows how uncomfortable he is at that moment. Ralph’s repeating of the line “Have a go at it?” is marvelous. He chooses to see the other man as an insignificant poseur, and his repeating of the man’s crude come-on is really his way of saying, “You cheated with a loser!” Then, there’s the wry little ending to the scene – With all the bile now out in the open, they turn their attention back to getting ready for their guests.