THE GREEN MILE – The camera loves to watch Tom Hanks think and his character often puzzles things out by listening to the radio, having a glass of wine or thinking in bed.
DEAD MAN’S CHEST – Jack Sparrow has a moment in a longboat where he studies his compass and has to decide whether to head for land or help his friends.
MASTER AND COMMANDER – Reflection scenes abound but the one that stands out for me is the doctor’s lonely violin as the captain contemplates whether to pursue his nemesis or dry land where the doctor has a better chance of survival.
Many reflection scenes are added during the production process and don’t even appear in the shooting script. I don’t know if this is because writers are reluctant to write reflection scenes or because the need isn’t identified until production is underway. Maybe writers do include reflection scenes but the scenes are often cut because on paper, they appear to slow the read down.
Take for example:
THE FUGITIVE - Gerard often puffs on his cigar and ponders out a window or studies a crime scene while going over the facts in his head. These scenes appear often in the film but nowhere in the script. They must have been added after the script was written (or I don't have a final version of the script).
What I have noticed about reflection scenes:
1. The best ones are brief - A long walk along a beach or in the mountains is less effective than a woman looking at her wedding band and shoving it down the garbage disposal.Aside from giving us the aforementioned time to digest and add up, reflection scenes might also give us a glimpse into character or function as a transition.
2. Self dialogue rarely works – Talking to a bloody handprint on a volleyball is better than a character talking to himself but I like NO dialogue the best.
If you have an awkward spot in your screenplay or outline, maybe it’s time for your protagonist or villain to take a breather.
Reflection scenes aren’t to be written in as an afterthought since they imply an emotional state. But if you have an emotional state already taking place and need a transition, it’s certainly worth taking a look. It might be the bridge you need for that certain gap.