Today’s favorite: The expository revelation speech

This “today’s favorite” challenge is a tough one.

It’s one of my pet peeves at the movies: At the end of most whodunits, the villain corners the hero and proceeds to boastfully *explain* exactly what he did and why he did it. Stupid, stupid villains… always pausing for excessive exposition before dealing out the death blow. They always give the hero just enough time to devise some escape, or the cavalry time to ride to the rescue.

Exposition is a difficult thing for any filmmaker, any storyteller.

What’s an example of a film in which audiences are “filled in” with history or information about offscreen happenings that are essential to an understanding of the larger story?

The first thing that springs to mind for me: Donald Sutherland’s monologue on the park bench in JFK. It’s riveting. It’s one of my favorite scenes in that film. But why? It’s just a character filling in all kinds of details we could never have come across otherwise.

The beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring deals with exposition by giving us a lengthy “trailer for the past,” so to speak… an action-packed sequence setting the stage for the trilogy, a highlight reel of important historical events. That’s easier to do in a movie, tough to do in a book.

As I write the third strand of The Auralia Thread, I’m looking for ways to tease the reader with understanding about the many mysteries yet to be solved before the series is over. I don’t want my characters to suddenly start making speeches that are obviously intended to fill in the gaps.

What films have cleverly addressed the challenge of exposition?

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.

  • mrmando

    What about the high-speed montage? Tom Tykwer and Julie Taymor both appear to be fond of it.

    I doubt there’s a literary equivalent, however.

  • elrambo

    Of course, one can do things in movies that are pretty hard to pull off on the page–I’m thinking of the opening of Serenity in which the Universal logo–planet Earth–becomes “Earth-that-was” in a voiceover that becomes young River’s history teacher and then her memory and the action slams into gear.

  • gaith

    The Harry Potter series’ livable memories are pretty nifty. I also like the sequence towards the end of The Matrix Reloaded, where Morpheus gives a speech, describes a plan and we see it go into effect all at once.

    Oliver Stone’s Nixon has a great expository newsreel sequence.

  • Joseph Demme

    The Incredibles. :)