One of my favorite aspects of Theatre and Film is the monologue. Most know that a monologue is a long, uninterrupted speech delivered by one character. A really good source of monologues (and a special type of monologues known as soliloquies) are the plays of William Shakespeare, but understanding and appreciating his work is a little difficult since it is written in such old language. But I’m not here to analyze Shakespeare as much as I’d like to.
Right now I’m going to take a look at a monologue delivered by Tom Wilkinson from the movie Michael Clayton. A great film by the way, but it is viewer unfriendly. The movie is all about what happens “in the kitchen, not the dining room” as director Tony Gilroy describes it. A movie about lawyers that doesn’t have a single scene take place in a court room.
This is a video of the monologue, which takes place at the very beginning of the movie.
Now that you’ve watched the video I have a transcript of the monologue.
(Make note that this is not from the actual screenplay, the original version is much longer, a lot was cut out for time.)
ARTHUR EDENS (V.O.)
Michael. Dear Michael. Of course it’s you. Who else could they send? Who else could be trusted? I… I know it’s a long way and you’re ready to go to work, but all I’m saying is: wait. Just wait and please just hear me out because this is not an episode, relapse, fuck-up. I’m begging you Michael, I’m begging you. Try to make believe this is not just madness, because this is not just madness. Two weeks ago, I came out of the building, OK? I’m running across 6th Avenue– there’s a car waiting– I’ve got exactly 38 minutes to get to the airport, and I’m dictating. There’s this panicked associate sprinting along beside me, scribbling in a notepad, and suddenly she starts screaming. And I realize we’re standing in the middle of the street, the light’s changed, there’s this wall of traffic– serious traffic– speeding towards us, and I… I freeze, I-I can’t move. And I’m suddenly consumed with the overwhelming sensation that I’m covered in some sort of film. It’s in my hair, my face… it’s like a glaze– a coating– and at first I thought, “My God. I know what this is, this is some sort of amniotic, embryonic fluid. I’m drenched in afterbirth, I’ve breached the chrysalis, I’ve been reborn.” But then the traffic, the stampede, the cars, the trucks, the horns, the screaming associate, and I’m thinking, “No, reset, this is not rebirth. This is some kind of giddy illusion of renewal that happens in the final moments before death.” And then I realize, “No-no-no, this is completely wrong.” Because I look back at the building, and I had the most stunning moment of clarity. I… I… I realized Michael, that I had emerged– not from the doors of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen– not through the portals of our vast and powerful law firm, but from the asshole of an organism who’s sole function is to excrete the-the-the poison, the ammo, the defoliant necessary for other, larger, more powerful organisms to destroy the miracle of humanity. And that I had been coated in this patina of shit for the best part of my life. The stench of it and the stain of it would in all likelihood take the rest of my life to undue. And do you know what I did? I took a deep, cleansing breath and I put that notion aside. I tabled it. I said to myself, “As clear as this may be, as potent a feeling as this is, as true a thing as I believe I witnessed today, it must wait. It must stand the test of time.” And, Michael, the time is now.
The movie had seven nominations at the 80th Academy Awards but only won Best Supporting Actress from Tilda’s Swinton’s performance. Director Tony Gilroy silently illustrates the world of Michael Clayton we enter as a secret, dark, gloomy, world of a law firm that knowingly defends the reputation of a corrupt company. I really have to admire this writing, because the way Arthur Edens uses words you can see the brilliant lawyer in him, but along with Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal you can also see the insanity of a manic depressive.