So we know every good screenplay needs subtext and probably, the most important kind of subtext is subtext in the dialogue that your characters speak. Don’t get me wrong… Subtext in other forms should be practiced as well but clearly, the subtext that most readers are going to get right away is the subtext within the dialogue.

One of the most easiest forms of subtext to recognize is when one of your characters says one thing but means something else completely. My favorite screenplay to illustrate that is BODY HEAT:

EXT. THE BEACHFRONT WALKWAY – NIGHT

The Woman, MATTY, has walked to the rail. She stands there now lighting a cigarette. She presents her face to the ocean, hoping for a breeze. We move in on her, with Racine.

Racine lights a new cigarette and smiles at her. She looks at him and, for an instant, her eyes race over his body, then she looks back at the ocean.

RACINE

You can stand here with me if you want, but you’ll have to agree not to talk about the heat.

She looks at him, and there is something startling about the directness of her gaze. When she speaks, she is cool without being hostile.

MATTY

I’m a married woman.

RACINE

Meaning what?

MATTY

Meaning I’m not looking for company.

She turns back toward the ocean.

RACINE

Then you should have said -- ‘I’m a happily married woman.’

MATTY

That’s my business.

RACINE

What?

MATTY

How happy I am.

RACINE

And how, happy is that?

She looks at him curiously. She begins walking slowly along the rail. He walks too.

MATTY

You’re not too smart, are you?

Racine shakes his head “no.”

MATTY

I like that in a man.

RACINE

What else you like -- Ugly? Lazy? Horny? I got ‘em all.

MATTY

You don’t look lazy.

Racine smiles.

MATTY

Tell me, does chat like that work with most women?

RACINE

Some. If they haven’t been around much.

MATTY

I wondered. Thought maybe I was out of touch.

She stops again at the rail as a small breeze blows in from the ocean. She turns her back to it and, with her cigarette dangling from her lips, she uses both hands to lift her hair up off her nape. She closes her eyes as the air hits her. Racine watches very closely.

RACINE

How ’bout I buy you a drink?

MATTY

I told you. I’ve got a husband.

RACINE

I’ll buy him one too.

MATTY

He’s out of town.

RACINE

My favorite kind. We’ll drink to him.

MATTY

He only comes up on the weekends.

Matty lets her hair fall and again begins moving down walkway. She drops her cigarette and steps on it.

RACINE

I’m liking him better all the time. You better take me up on this quick. In another forty-five minutes I’m going to give up and walk away.

MATTY

You want to buy me something? I’ll take one of these.

They have come upon a Vendor selling snow cones.

RACINE

What kind?

MATTY

Cherry.

RACINE

(to Vendor)

Make it two.

The Vendor scoops and pours as Racine lays some change on the cart.

RACINE

(to Matty)

You’re not staying in Miranda Beach.

(she shakes her head “no”)

I would have noticed you.

MATTY

Is this town that small?

Racine hands her a snow cone. They walk over to the rail. Racine watches her eat the snow cone with enormous interest.

RACINE

Pinehaven. You’re staying up in Pinehaven, on the waterway.

(she gives him a look, surprised)

You have a house.

MATTY

How’d you know?

RACINE

You look like Pinehaven.

MATTY

How does Pinehaven look?

RACINE

Well tended.

She looks out at the ocean.

MATTY

Yes, I’m well tended, all right. Well tended. What about you?

RACINE

Me? I need tending. I need someone to take care of me. Rub my tired muscles. Smooth out my sheets.

MATTY

Get married.

RACINE

I just need it for tonight.

For the first time, Matty laughs. A moment later, she spills the snow cone over the front of her dress. It makes a bright red stain against the white. The thin material clings to the line of her breast.

MATTY

Good. Nice move, Matty.

RACINE

Matty. I like it. Right over your heart.

MATTY

At least it’s cool. I’m burning up.

RACINE

I asked you not to talk about the heat.

MATTY

Would you get me a paper towel or something? Dip it in some cold water. Racine starts toward the restroom nearby.

RACINE

Right away. I’ll even wipe it off for you.

MATTY

You don’t want to lick it?

This causes a momentary hitch in Racine’s retreat, but then he hurries off.

That’s the scene and of course, there’s more than one kind of subtext going on here… Matty’s character mixes what she means with what she doesn’t mean. Let’s go through it.

MATTY

I’m a married woman.

RACINE

Meaning what?

MATTY

Meaning I’m not looking for company.

Oh really? If you haven’t seen the movie, definitely watch it and read the script because it truly is one of the best screenplays you can read to learn about different kinds of subtext.

See how Matty tells him right off that she’s married? Now if I hadn’t seen the movie about a hundred times, I’d think that Matty was simply informing Racine that she is in fact married and IF they proceed further, he needs to be aware of that. Not exactly subtext but more outright text. However, if you’ve seen the movie, you understand that Matty is about a million miles ahead of Racine and that she’s PICKED HIM way ahead of time to be the fall guy for her plan to kill her husband and inherit his money.

She turns back toward the ocean.

RACINE

Then you should have said -- ‘I’m a happily married woman.’

MATTY

That’s my business.

RACINE

What?

MATTY

How happy I am.

RACINE

And how, happy is that?

She looks at him curiously. She begins walking slowly along the rail. He walks too.

MATTY

You’re not too smart, are you?

Racine shakes his head “no.”

MATTY

I like that in a man.

Again, subtext mixed with text… Matty isn’t happy and Racine easily picks up on that. She doesn’t say she IS and she doesn’t say she isn’t but that being happy is “her business” but clearly, he wants to know and if you’ve seen the movie, he’s not even close to giving up here. He obviously figures since they are in fact carrying on this conversation and its topic, that he “might” have a chance with her. There’s sort of a double-entendre going on here i.e., the words coming out of Matty’s mouth say one thing but their meaning also goes deeper. Without ever having seen the film, we might think she’s somewhat interested but in reality, she’s setting the hook in Racine. She’s done her homework on him. She knows he’s a womanizer… She knows he’s the kind of attorney who doesn’t mind working in the gray area and she NEEDS an attorney like that to help her with her plan but she also needs an attorney that thinks with his other head hence, “I like that in a man.” Outright text — she’s speaking the truth about him here and both of them know it.

RACINE

What else you like -- Ugly? Lazy? Horny? I got ‘em all.

MATTY

You don’t look lazy.

Racine smiles.

This is easy subtext… Racine mentions other characteristics he’s hoping she also likes because, hey… He’s got’em all. Her reply is, “You don’t look lazy.” — implying that she agrees with him that he’s definitely got ugly and horny. Of course, she’s also being witty but again, after having seen the film, I always thought she would have even gone after an ugly attorney as long as he fulfilled her other requirements. The fact that Racine isn’t ugly just makes this a little easier for Matty to get the job done but at the same time, I feel it’s also her way of saying she’s in charge here and you’re only going to get lucky if I let you get lucky.

RACINE

How ’bout I buy you a drink?

MATTY

I told you. I’ve got a husband.

RACINE

I’ll buy him one too.

MATTY

He’s out of town.

RACINE

My favorite kind. We’ll drink to him.

MATTY

He only comes up on the weekends.

Matty lets her hair fall and again begins moving down walkway. She drops her cigarette and steps on it.

RACINE

I’m liking him better all the time. You better take me up on this quick. In another forty-five minutes I’m going to give up and walk away.

I think by now, Racine figures he’s got a shot with Matty and if you’ve never seen the movie, you are probably thinking the same thing. However, if you’ve seen the film, again, this is part of Matty’s plot to get Racine to do her dirty work for her. This is more of her “setting the hook” in Racine.

Racine mixes outright text with subtext… He says, “I’ll buy him one too.” Clearly, he’s more than willing to risk having sex with this woman he’s literally just met. What else does that tell you about Racine? Do you understand what all is going on here within these simple lines of dialogue? She’s of course, moving along with her plan. He wants to get laid and he’s making sure she knows he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen TONIGHT. She’s letting him know that IF they decide to take this relationship further, it’s probably going to be on hold during the weekends since that’s when her husband is home.

RACINE

(to Matty)

You’re not staying in Miranda Beach.

(she shakes her head “no”)

I would have noticed you.

MATTY

Is this town that small?

Racine hands her a snow cone. They walk over to the rail. Racine watches her eat the snow cone with enormous interest.

RACINE

Pinehaven. You’re staying up in Pinehaven, on the waterway.

(she gives him a look, surprised)

You have a house.

MATTY

How’d you know?

RACINE

You look like Pinehaven.

MATTY

How does Pinehaven look?

RACINE

Well tended.

She looks out at the ocean.

MATTY

Yes, I’m well tended, all right. Well tended. What about you?

RACINE

Me? I need tending. I need someone to take care of me. Rub my tired muscles. Smooth out my sheets.

MATTY

Get married.

RACINE

I just need it for tonight.

We get a slightly better glimpse of Racine here… He’s definitely not stupid and good at sizing people up and the ability of being able to size people up goes hand in hand with supporting the fact that he’s not stupid. This is interesting because even though he’s not stupid, he lets the fact that he wants to have sex with this woman he’s just met dictate his actions. In other words, common sense flies right out the window because he wants to get laid. We all know people like that, right? Finally, Racine lays it out for Matty. In reality, he’s a simple man with simple needs. He needs tending — someone to take care of him.

She’s going to take care of him alright…

For the first time, Matty laughs. A moment later, she spills the snow cone over the front of her dress. It makes a bright red stain against the white. The thin material clings to the line of her breast.

MATTY

Good. Nice move, Matty.

RACINE

Matty. I like it. Right over your heart.

MATTY

At least it’s cool. I’m burning up.

RACINE

I asked you not to talk about the heat.

MATTY

Would you get me a paper towel or something? Dip it in some cold water. Racine starts toward the restroom nearby.

RACINE

Right away. I’ll even wipe it off for you.

MATTY

You don’t want to lick it?

This causes a momentary hitch in Racine’s retreat, but then he hurries off.

Of course NOW Racine THINKS he’s IN. She’s given him just enough information — SUBTEXT — to know that if he just hangs in there, he’s gonna get laid. Of course, if you’ve seen the film, you know he has to work for it a little more i.e., in a later scene, he throws a wooden rocking chair through the window to finally get what he wants.

But read through this scene a few times… Read the entire script and make note of how the subtext works because the subtext in this screenplay is definitely a work of art. A complete mixture of truth and untruth — outright text and subtext. Games. Sexual tension. No real on the nose dialogue here and for the outright text that is here, it works in combination with the subtext so well that it helps make BODY HEAT the kind of movie you have to see more than once to fully understand how great of a movie it really is.

More to follow…

Unk

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