Today’s favorite: Reunion Scenes

I once experienced a reunion that left me absolutely speechless. I was working in a video store when I got to know an interesting young couple. Regularly, they’d visit the store and ask, “So, Jeff, what should we watch tonight?” I’d recommend something, and off they’d go without bothering to do any more browsing.

Years later, I saw the fellow at a bus stop. He looked world-weary and a little lost. I asked him how he and his girlfriend were doing. His bus pulled up. He turned and looked at me and said, “She died in a fire at her apartment.” Then he stood up, got on the bus, and I’ve never seen him since.

I had nightmares about that fire for years, thinking about that beautiful girl running back into her fiery apartment to try and save someone or something and never emerging from the inferno.

Several years later, I was on the phone with a friend and mentioned how I was still haunted by that tragedy. He said, “What are you talking about? I had dinner with her in San Francisco just a few weeks ago.”

It was one of the happiest moments of my life. If you know me, you know I’m rarely speechless. It took me a few moments to find my voice. A few weeks later, she happened to walk through a coffee shop where I was chatting with a friend, and it’s a good thing she recognized me, because I ran up and embraced her and cried a little.

Turned out her ex-boyfriend had become rather messed up and mean. And when I started to explain, I could tell that this was only the latest in a series of personal crimes he’d committed against her.

That was the best unexpected reunion of my life.

I’m writing a reunion scene this week, and it’s got me thinking back through my favorite reunion scenes in films and literature. One stands out.

In Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, there’s a long, one-take scene in a diner where a mother and daughter see each other for the first time in decades. For the mother, it is a huge and disorienting surprise. The scene plays out in ways that are funny, complicated, and painful. It’s a testament to two extraordinary actors who gave a deeply intuitive and convincing scene.

Can you think of any great reunion scenes? Planned or unplanned. Happy or horrifying. Heartbreaking or awkward. Please share!

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  • Are you kidding me?!? NOBODY’s mentioned Ilsa and Rick in Casablanca???? What kind of film fans are y’all?

  • Colleen

    Going waaay back, there are plentiful reunions in Ben-hur after Judah returns from the galleys and Rome: With Masala, with his old servant and Esther, and three different reunions with his mother and sister (first, secretly seeing them, grieving at their leprosy; then when he brings them out of the cave, and finally at the end when he sees them whole and healed again.) Whew! Oh, and of course, when Judah finally recognises Christ on the cross as the man who gave him water when he was a slave dying of thirst. Everything in that movie is on such a grand scale.

  • 1.) Beatrix Kiddo and her daughter in “Kill Bill Vol. 2″…the lionness is with her cub and all is right in the jungle. As a bonus, Beatrix Kiddo’s reunion with Bill…oh, and her reunion with…well, that movie is just a series of great reunions.

    2.) Someone mentioned Before Sunset…that was what originally popped into my mind with this entry. The first scene where he glimpses her in the bookstore is pure magic.

    3.) Indiana Jones seeing Marion again in IJKOCS…say what you will about that movie, but the look on Indy’s face when he sees Marion is one of the liveliest in the series.

    4.) Baxter jumping into the bear pit just as Ron Burgundy needed him in. (I don’t care who’s looking! I’m going to lick you!)

  • Carrie

    I keep thinking about this question! I have also come up with:

    The Princess Bride — Buttercup and Wesley’s funny and awkward tumble down the gorge, and of course Inigo M. and the six-fingered man.

    In literature — the end of Black Beauty, the reunion of Jean Valjean and Javert in Les Miserables, Lucy’s various reunions with Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia.

    In a broader way, Ebenezer Scrooge has a “reunion” with his younger self that is sad and wistful.

    Viggo M’s return to his family at the end of A History of Violence where there is a long look and then they just set the table

  • shack

    Last year, I read The Outsiders to my 7th grade English students. When we finished, we watched the director’s edition of the movie. It had been years since I’d read or seen either, and was a little horrified at the acting by nearly everybody in the movie at times, but the reunion scene of Ponyboy with his brothers Sodapop and Darry in the hospital, choked me up during the reading AND the movie. (You do NOT want to get caught tearing up at anything as a male teacher to 7th graders…)

    I’m pretty sure that most wouldn’t immediately think of this guy as a “great” actor, but Tom Cruise’s character facing his father in Magnolia was incredible and moving if not actually joyous.

    Dianne Court’s reunion with her father in prison in Say Anything… seems gritty and real. Francis McDormand’s and Zoey Deschanel’s (sp?) mom and daughter reunion in Almost Famous was awkward and funny and awesome.

    Most haunting (seriously: no pun intended. The implications of this haunted my thoughts for days) would be the reunion at the end of The Orphanage.

    Most jacked up reunion would have to go Tom Hanks’ and Helen Hunt’s characters in Castaway. Just thinking about how awful and impossible that situation would be can ruin me for a long while.

  • Since we were just talking about it, I can’t believe I forgot “Ladyhawke” (a personal favorite). The end is one of the all-time great reunion scenes..

  • You all pretty much nailed my faves. Great call on “The Color Purple,” Nathan. I haven’t seen that for years, but that ending always destroys me. I also second what Dane says about “Before Sunset.” That’s my absolute favorite film reunion scene. It’s amazing, like you mentioned, since the whole film builds to that reunion crescendo as the emotions are boiling just beneath the surface — until the climax in the van near the end.

    I’ll add a few more:

    – “The Natural” — the sixteen-years-later reunion between Roy and Iris in the cafe
    – “Sense and Sensibility” — between Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant at the end
    – “Paris, Texas” — between Kinski and her son
    – “Dogfight” — a nice little ending between Lili Taylor and River Phoenix after he returns from Viet Nam

    By the way, that’s an interesting story about your friends, Jeffrey. I’ve kept thinking about it since I read it last night. What an unfortunately vivid example of the power of just a few careless words. Who knows, the guy in the story may have been especially bitter that day, and thought nothing of relating his spiteful throwaway lie about his girlfriend’s death. He probably got on the bus and promptly forgot about it while going on with his already miserable day — but those few words haunted you for years. The tongue definitely does have the power of life and death.

  • Dan

    When Gandalf comes back as Gandalf the White! And a *bunch* of other great reunions in LoTR…

  • Carrie

    Romeo and Juliet certainly had a memorable reunion.

  • Steve Menshenfriend

    There’s a movie that came out a year or two ago about a Mexican woman living in LA working as a domestic and her son who lived in a small Mexican village. The son wants to see his mother so he takes off on his own … trying to get to LA. It was a sappy movie that got mediocre reviews … but I loved it. The reunion scene at the end was great. It was a reunion movie. Sorry I can’t think of the name of the movie. I bet you know it.

  • Carrie

    Pieces of April builds toward April’s reunion with her mother and I love it. It is so imperfect and great.

  • Joel

    There Will Be Blood, when H.W. comes back from the deaf school and starts smacking Daniel.

  • Jesse and Celine’s reunion that makes up the entirety of Before Sunset. That entire experience (largely captured by the length of the movie) fascinates and moves me.

  • The end of “Hotel Rwanda” when Don Cheadle’s character finds his niece and nephew in the refugee camp. Anyone who doesn’t get a little misty over that one needs help.

  • Right on, Firestone. The writers on LOST have kept that relationship one of the most dynamic of the show, and that singular phone call was one incredible pay off to a two-year-old set up.

  • Firestone

    “The Constant” episode from season 4 of Lost. Overall, it’s one of my favorite episodes of the entire series, but the phone “reunion” between Penny and Desmond at the end is one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever seen.

  • I’ll try and come up with something a little less predictable later on, but someone has to start out with it — Red meeting back up with Andy at the end of SHAWSHANK.

  • The end scene in Homeward Bound always gets me.

  • Rick

    I love the reunion of the brothers in The Straight Story. Very subtle.
    Technically a reunion: the long, magical opening scene of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

  • 1. Celie and Nettie’s reunion in The Color Purple usually gets me somewhat teary.
    2. The reunions in Return of the King, both book and film.
    3. Djimon Hounsou’s reunion with his son at the slave camp in Blood Diamond.