Thursday, October 9, 2008

Throwing Up in Film

What is it about throwing up that inspires? Could it be the sheer ridiculousness of purging a load of half-digested food and stomach acid through the mouth? How about that smell? Maybe it's the way vomiting often induces vomiting in a witness. Or maybe it's the helplessness of the victim, immobilized by his own digestive system, face grotesquely contorting as the body contracts and relaxes--an agonizing heave, then relief, heave, relief. I don't know for sure, but I do know that vomiting is tough to depict in film. In honor of my favorite bodily function, I present here two scenes from moviedom that have made a great impression on me.

Here's one from my youth:

This scene from Stand by Me is memorable for its obvious sensationalism. Fountain-like and blue, this over-the-top take on vomit nonetheless taps one universal truth: vomiting begets vomiting. That small seed of authenticity lends an air of credulity to an otherwise fanciful tale, and lets us forget that the vomit is clearly propelled mechanically from behind the actors' mouths. Director Rob Reiner doesn't bother with realism, and he makes the right choice; the moviegoer is meant to enjoy the scene's absurdity. I like to think that the long, forceful and abundant stream of vomit inspired Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, where blood sprays endlessly from severed limbs.

Here's another more recent depiction:

Obviously, the victim from Team America is a puppet, which oddly enough works to the advantage of the filmmakers, who are freed from the limitations of a human actor's body. Quite often, throwing up in film is a disappointment. Either the vomiting is done off screen and is signified by that unmistakable "throwing-up sound," or the actor simply dribbles a load of fake vomit from his mouth. Clearly the second option is preferable, even though it is usually over too quickly, and one rarely gets a good look at what the character might have eaten that day. In Team America the puke is realistic in color, consistency and, for a little while, quantity. I've never thrown up drunk in a back alley before, but when the vomiting commences in this scene, a definite sense of pathos develops. Suddenly, I'm there in the gutter with our hero. He's a puppet, yes, but I feel what he feels. The genius of the scene, of course, is when the flow of vomit doesn't stop. The music swells to a crescendo. Realism is displaced by the absurd. Tragedy launches into high comedy, and our pity is supplanted by laughter. At last the drunk collapses into a veritable pool of vomit. Pathetic? Yes, but funny too, and hence the viewer is torn between emotions. That's powerful.

What we can deduce from this is that vomiting is easier to portray as comedy. Personally, I'd like to see a director rise to the occasion by offering a realistic depiction of this fascinating bodily function in a drama. Hey, puking is a serious matter, and in the age of CGI, this should be well within our capabilities. Or perhaps this task would call upon an actor to actually throw up. I say: if that's what it takes. Aficionados like me would appreciate it.



Kid Shay said...

Don't forget the memorable reddish vomit in The 40 Year Old Virgin. That vomit tells you exactly what that drunk woman was drinking.

That scene in Team America had me in tears from laughing so hard.

Nate and Jeff Bowler, Co-Captains said...

Steve Carell also has a great vomit scene in Get Smart. Very orange, as I recall. And of course Anne Hathaway's legs are pretty good too.