The first in an ongoing series, “Exegesis Of A Scene” I’m going to delve into what I believe are the best scenes in movie history. Explain different details I’ve noticed through countless viewings, and maybe draw your eyes to some things you wouldn’t ordinarily notice. I use the term “exegesis” as my old teacher Mr. Kennedy sold me on that beautiful word in high school. It means a ‘critical interpretation of text’ but hell, I’m adapting here! We’re doing it live!
The first film I’m going to tackle is “Glengarry Glen Ross”. This 1992 classic adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer and Tony award-winning 1984 play involves the plight of four real estate salesmen, their attempts to not get fired, as most of them are not doing well. A mystery opens up later about some stolen leads.
However, in most people who have seen the movie it is Alec Baldwin’s character “Blake” which steals the show. Baldwin has a single scene, which is mostly a monologue and then he’s gone to never reappear. Most surprisingly, Baldwin’s scene and character never existed in the original play! It was a scene originally written for Baldwin and the risk pays off, it’s fantastic. I would direct you now to go to the end of my blog, view the scene in the embedded video, then scroll back up here below the dotted line for some exegesis.
Ok, so the first thing we notice is how disheveled the salesmen are. They’re moving in random ways and doing random things, it instantly gives us the impression they’re losers. However, one of them is missing, Roma, and a comment is made. That’s important for my discussion a bit later, so remember it. Notice the body language as Blake begins to speak – one salesmen immediately leaves to get coffee, another sits with his legs spread as if he doesn’t give a crap. Truth is, they don’t, and Blake doesn’t have their attention. Lets look at Blake for a moment, he’s perfect, his hair is perfectly done, not a strand loose. His suit and clothing is impeccable and he moves with ‘violent determination’ as I see it. Quickly Blake unloads an iconic line (of which I even own a T-shirt that references this…Was wearing it today!) “Put that coffee down. Coffee’s for closers.” As the rest of the salesmen begin to write Blake off entirely, and attempt to leave, he starts to emasculate them. Telling them the “good news” is that they’re fired – the bad news is, they get to work to get their jobs back.
Right before that line though when asked why he’s there, Baldwin says “I’m on a mission of mercy” but listen to his tone when he says that. There’s a messiacal bent to it, a vibration in his voice, as if he’s trying to imply he’s a celestial or supernatural authority. The next part of the speech turns Blake into saying “The leads are weak, you’re weak.” When asked next what his name is – Blake doesn’t answer – he says “Fuck you, that’s my name” and proceeds to emasculate one of the salesmen by showing off the wealth his success has brought. “I drove an $80,000 BMW here, that’s my name.” Interesting how he dehumanizes himself like this? Yet, he places himself on this pedestal but it isn’t a human one. Blake is something to be achieved, a goal, quite possibly an unobtainable one yet a concrete, material, goal. In fact, right after that he looks at another salesman, Shelly, and says “Your name is wanting…”
This is the point Blake dives into specifics “ABC…Always Be Closing”. He implores the salespeople to close, or walk. The now line is perhaps the most interesting. He goes over another acronym “AIDA” with “D” being decision and what does he say to illustrate his point? “Have you made your decision for Christ?” Right at that moment a car, the only car to drive by the entire speech, rolls past the window of the sales office and the headlights flash over Blake at that very moment. This is no accident, this was an intentional move by the director.
Why? It’s time to delve into my theory. Blake *IS* a supernatural force in this movie – he represents sales incarnate, as if “sales” became corporeal in human form. He is fueled by the only thing sales is every fueled by: closing. If you don’t close, you don’t have a sale. Period, nothing else matters. In addition, Blake has made and will make multiple references to desirable goods – the fruit of success. His suit and lifestyle first, his BMW second, his golden watch third, and lastly explicitly telling them his salary from the past year. This is also why he doesn’t answer who his name is just a minute ago. He’s not meant to be seen by us or the salespeople as a human figure, he’s an ideal. When he explains his salary he says “I made $970,000 last year…That’s who I am.”
Next, Blake talks about whether he’s “abusing” them or not with his harsh speech. But he explains that that’s what sales is and if you don’t like it, leave. His following statements have to do with the money being “out there” for the taking. As if there’s a simple pile of cash, why don’t you just take it? That actually makes sense – sales is the direct lead to that money. Sell the prospect, get the money. It’s tough; however, it really is that simple. Then comes the real bait: the Glengarry leads. These are high-quality leads for the salespeople but they can’t have them just yet…They need to prove themselves as closers first.
And there you have it…Mostly. One last point is what I mentioned in the beginning: Al Pacino’s character Roma is missing, why? He’s the best salesperson. He doesn’t need to be in this scene locked in with the other underachievers. I would go so far as to say his presence would have ruined the scene as it would have watered down Blake’s ability to tear the office apart. Blake can only exist as a messiah to those that need him. As Jesus said “the healthy don’t need a doctor”. Roma’s challenges lie in a different direction; however, the rest of the office share the same vices: laziness, complacency, a loss of fire and hunger for sales. They have lost the core foundation of what sales IS and Blake serves as a powerful avatar for what sales is for those men.