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The Fast and the Furious: Excellent Subtext

When I was teaching a screenwriting course a few years ago, some instructors made fun of me for suggesting we use Hollywood blockbusters to teach good screenwriting. Fortunately, it was my call and to prove a point, I had my class watch a scene from The Fast and the Furious (2001).
We're listening.

NOTE: I prefaced the scene in my class with a disclaimer and short discussion on rough/offensive language.

In this scene, Brian eats a tuna sandwich as a shop operated by Mia. Vince and crew arrive Brian leaves.

Vince pursues Brian out of the restaurant and says, "Yo! Try Fatburger from now on. Get yourself a cheeseburger and fries for two ninety-nine."

"I like the tuna here," Brian quips back.

"Bullshit, f****. Nobody likes the tuna here."

"Yeah, well, I do."

Boom. Fight scene-- which is broken up by Dom in a bad ass character introduction.

Here's where we pause and I ask my students: Were these characters fighting over sandwiches? No, of course not. Every student picks up on the real conflict: both Vince and Brian like Mia.

But how? Nobody says anything about liking anybody. We picked up on the looks/acting, the framing, the context, and prior knowledge-- such as establishing the literal tuna sandwich isn't very popular and Brian's been at the lunch spot every day for a week.

This scene established a few conflict triangles, introduced some characters, and it did it without anybody saying how they feel. Excellent work.

This is supposed to be a "dumb" movie-- which ripped off another "dumb" movie (Point Break) -- and yet it still has subtext in the dialogue. Audiences are required to infer meaning. It's engaging. It's interesting.

So what excuse do my students have?

The movie is also a metaphor for cars.
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