So the other day I was looking for lunch and ended up ordering shawarma at a falafel joint. As such there is a picture of me taking a Thor-sized bite out of it on Twitter. To those curious, it tastes more like a doner kebab than a gyro, just different toppings and stuff. And more Middle-Easty.
But why shawarma? I was hungry, but why’d I pick some middle-eastern delicacy over barbecue, burgers or brisket? It wasn’t cheaper and I wasn’t even sure if I liked it (but I like meat, pita bread, and food, so there’s that).
If you stayed to the end of the credits of The Avengers — and by the end I mean the end after every last name has rolled past the screen — you’ll have seen this wonderful little scene. It’s the titular heroes sitting in a restaurant and eating shawarma. There’s no dialogue; it’s just them eating after the battle.
It’s a quiet scene, and a bit of a joke too since there’s no big epic stinger as was the case for the other Marvel movies.
But it’s important, because it’s about them. The shawarma scene shows that after saving New York City and the world, they need a break. Again, it’s about them, taking time together at a point where there’s nothing left to say.
I’m not going to lie: these sorts of scenes are my favorites. I love character relations in my media (see: Firefly, Community, Super 8…) as much as I love adventure.
So what are some other great examples of quiet character moments?
Avatar: The Last Airbender is rife with them. The episode ‘The Runaway’ focuses on the personality clash between Toph and Katara. We’ve got shenanigans aplenty in town and bits of excitement strewn all over. But the best part?
Toph and Sokka sit down and talk about Katara and how they all work together. It’s just talking, but it accentuates who they are.
Better still is a moment during the finale. Team Avatar is getting ready for Aang to confront the Fire Lord and save the day. Everyone knows there’s a massive epic battle coming up. One of the ‘members’ of Team Avatar, Zuko, spent most prior episodes as an antagonist. He’s helping them now, but he feels like an outsider.
There’s a group hug for reassurance before they set out, and Katara sees that Zuko chose to stand it out. Now, Katara was the one who distrusted him most, the one who just about hated him. But now she turns to him and tells him that “being part of the group also means being part of group hugs”. That’s it, no big spiel about forgiveness or redemption, just acceptance.
Later on the finale Zuko is reunited with the uncle he betrayed. He feels undeserving of even speaking to him and quietly waits at his bedside for him to wake up. When Iroh wakes and sees his nephew, he doesn’t even let Zuko get a word out before capturing him in an embrace. We’ve followed these characters for three seasons, we feel the same relief as the prodigal nephew and the same joy as the loving uncle.
Besides Avatar, I begun watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer this summer. The premiere episode for season two, ‘When She Was Bad’, has Buffy acting remorselessly towards everyone else, friend and foe alike. She alienates and manipulates one of her best friends and later viciously tortures a vampire for information. In the aftermath she’s scared and feels terribly alone.
The next morning she goes to school, unsure of where she stands. The way she sees it she doesn’t deserve to be forgiven or even treated with a shred of warmth by her friends.
But they’ve saved her a seat, they make plans for the day, joke about teachers and the events of the night before. The camera pulls away and their conversation fades out. Without outright saying it, we know they still love her and still accept her as one of them. It’s simple, quiet, and wonderful.
Character moments are special, since that’s our most basic way of relating to them. Like them, we have relationships, we have friends who see us at our best and worst and put up with our crap. We have that sense of familiarity when we see it happen on screen, whether it’s an impromptu game of what might be basketball in Serenity’s cargo hold or a group of superheroes sitting together silently.
In any case, I liked my shawarma.