Chapter 16: It Can't Rain All The Time

Much like Leon at the end of The Professional, life, as it does every so often, chose to kick me squarely in the teeth recently. The details of the past month or so are not worth bringing up here, however. It's enough to say that if, like Leon, I appear to have died, then it's in much the same way as this week's protagonist that I come back to life, with a vengeance.

First, a bit of context, which will make a disturbing sort of sense in short order. The summer of 1994 was an interesting time for me. I was just finishing up my second-last year of college, working nights at a supermarket to make ends meet, desperately trying to squeeze in role-playing sessions between 10-hour shifts stocking shelves and 10-hour trips to the library to do research for what would ultimately become (in about 12 months) my senior honors thesis on Cyberpunk fiction. Throw in a relationship with a feisty Irish girl that was falling apart at the seams just as it was getting started, alcohol-induced wrist-slashings and drama at the college radio station, sweat-soaked dalliances of questionable morality with mysterious females out of my past, meals of chicken-flavored ramen eaten twice-daily because I couldn't afford anything else, and the dawning realization that in just a few months, I would at last be 21 years old, and ready to venture forth into the "real world," throw all that together and you get... more than you probably wanted to know about me, thank you very much.

What you also get is what I said I was going to give you, which is context. Now, picture this: into the midst of that, dare I say, cyberpunkish ball of drama and energy, throw in two bursts of chaotic cyberpunk energy, like two glowing red eyes staring at you out of the darkness, beckoning you deeper into the gloom. Two bits of film, one a music video, one a movie, that stand out in my consciousness like road signs, showing me the way to where I am today. Again, in context, I present to you two scenes:

"This is that new nine inch nails video, 'Closer.' I videotaped it because I thought it was really groundbreaking and filled with interesting imagery, and they'll probably never show it again because it's not mainstream enough."

"Hey, you want to go see that new movie, 'The Crow'? It's that dark one about the guy who comes back from the dead, and it's creepy because the guy who stars in it, Brandon Lee, he died while they were filming it. Anyway, we'd better see it soon because it probably won't be in theatres for very long. It's not mainstream enough for people to be interested in it."

The person responsible for both of those quotes, spoken in 1994 at some point, was myself. Obviously, I was wrong on both counts, which comes as no surprise to my many detractors. But you have to understand that at the time, even in 1994, "cyberpunk" was still an underground phenomenon to some degree. Time Magazine had only last year (February, 1993) published its cover story about "Cyberpunk," and the word itself had only just been added to the American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd Edition. Cyberpunk was on the lips of many a person, but nobody had any idea how big it was going to get, how much it would influence the media at large, and how cool it was that I had found yet more material for my senior thesis, guaranteeing myself an A-plus.

At any rate, it was in the above setting that I found myself surreptitiously sneaking away with my then (now ex) girlfriend to catch a midnight showing of The Crow on its opening weekend. I would see it twice more in theatres, and numerous times on video and DVD afterwards, but sitting there on that first night, spellbound, I had no idea that of the girlfriend, the theatre and the film itself, only one would still be "standing" a year later. The theatre is gone, the girlfriend is gone... but The Crow has remained one of my top 10 films of all time. And for good reason.

Having thus belaboured the point already, I'm not going to bore you with a mere synopsis or review of the film; you've all seen it (and possibly its two sequels, which were both relatively awful), and it would be a waste of time and effort to regurgitate what you've already swallowed time and again. But I do plan to discuss Eric's relationship with the child Sarah, in light of last episode's exploration of the relationship between Leon and Mathilda. And to start things off, I'll remove Sarah from the picture.

The reason she's being tossed by the wayside is because the "film" I'm going to discuss here is one you've never seen; it's the original David J. Schow screenplay for The Crow, quite a different film from the one you saw. Certainly, it contains the same symbolism, the same dark imagery and wonderful characters taken from the O'Barr comic, but one of the most obvious things it lacks is a character named Sarah. Her name in the screenplay, and hereafter in this review, is Elly, which rhymes with Shelly, a fact which at once explains why she's named Elly in the screenplay and is renamed as Sarah in the final movie. That being, she was always intended to represent a piece of the dead Shelly, part of Eric's hold on life, but even allowing that, the similarity between the names was too much for Hollywood to bear, and the name was changed to protect the innocent, so to speak.

And innocent is, indeed, how we first see the young Elly, casually picking up flowers from the graves of others as she strolls along through the rain and mud in her combat boots. Elly is of the same type as characters like Stephenson's heroine Y.T. in 1992's Snow Crash, and Gibson's young scamp Chevette in 1993's Virtual Light. All are streetwise young girls, old beyond their years, riding skateboards and bicycles through the rainy streets in desperate search of an ever-absent father figure. Elly is decidedly on the "punk" side of the cyberpunk fence:

A dirty-blondish tenement KID of eleven, clad in a blend of cast-
offs and hand-me-downs; her version of street punk chic.  She
totes a skateboard under one arm (itself a berserk Jackson
Pollock chaos of band stickers, silver marker and graffiti, with
day-glo wheels), and transfers her impromptu bouquet so she may
unzip a flap and hike up a ragged hood against the rain.

Elly, as we know from the film, is not only bereft of a father figure, but lacks a mother as well, since hers (as we will see) is in a drug-induced stupor most of the time. Elly is not here at the graveyard to lay flowers on the graves of dead friends; she's laying them at the feet of her "parents." Shelly is dead and gone, Electra-like; the figurative daughter Elly has replaced her now as Eric's wife-by-proxy. But that still leaves Eric, and as our little bird stares Elly down from atop Eric's headstone, we get the sneaking suspicion that he'll be back.

Eric, of course, crawls from his grave in the middle of a rainstorm and begins to follow a crow around the city, gathering the pieces of his life back together (this original script, and indeed, the original film itself, also includes a character named the Skull Cowboy, but in both cases the character is more extraneous than he was in the original comic book, and his omission from the final film is probably a good thing). The main goal of his second coming, of course, is to track down the people who killed Shelly and him a year ago on Halloween, whom we all meet in short order.

As Eric runs around the city getting dressed, we first meet Skank and T-Bird, the first notable for his incessant speed-induced jibber-jabber, the latter for his penchant for incendiary devices. Next we're introduced to Lao (absent from the film, since Hollywood requires only one bad guy leader per film, not two), the leader of the bunch, and Grange, his head crony. Then there's Gideon, the pawn-shop owner who deals with the devils, and Top Dollar (incestuous, eyeball-eating leader in the film, here just another crony, albeit an important one), and Tin-Tin, who likes knives.

They're an interesting bunch, but we all know how they're going to come to an end -- painfully, by Eric's hands, within the next 90 minutes or so. What isn't so clear is Elly's place in all this; when next we see her in the script, she's struggling to find her mother inside a crowded bar.


A grungy sawdust-floored shot-and-beer joint packed tight
with urban BURNOUTS rushing to drink their lives away.  Hammering
MUSIC and rude whorehouse lighting.  Each predator straining to
be badder than the next.

TRACK THROUGH this maze at Elly's eye level until we reach
DARLA, waitressing her heart out, the drug mileage on her

        Mom --?

        I told you you're not supposed
        to come in here.

             (a quick lie)
        I lost my key.

Disgustedly -- goddamn kids -- Darla fishes up a key and slaps
it into Elly's hand.

                FUNBOY (O.S.)
        Hey, Darla -- before we die of old
        age, how about it --?

             (to Elly)
        Out.  Now.  I gotta work.

RACK PAST Darla and MOVE IN CLOSE on a corner table -- where sit
Funboy, Skank, T-Bird and a black, vested muscle gypsy, TIN-TIN.

Ah... now it becomes clearer. Elly's mother, Darla, is pushing Elly aside in favor of the other male figures in the film, obviously poor role-models and poor father figures. They're swallowing bullets and drinking heavily and plotting the destruction of the city, and all poor Elly wants is a daddy. They're fondling Darla in much the same way as, a year ago, they fondled and molested the now-deceased Shelly, and Elly is thrust into the middle of it all. Which means it's up to good old daddy Eric Draven to get rid of the bad guys once and for all... not just for Shelly, and not just for himself, but for Elly.

The first of the bunch to die by his hand is Tin-Tin, the terms used to describe their combat (sweaty, tense, close-up and in-your-face) almost as sexual as Tin-Tin's knives are phallic:

They're face-to-face now, sweaty and tense.  Eric peels off
the Tragedy mask.

        I want you to tell me a story, Tin-Tin.

        I don't know you...

But, as Eric bears down on Tin-Tin, Tin begins to recognize him.
Fear.  Sweat.

For the first time, Tin-Tin starts to loose control.

                TIN-TIN (CONT'D)
        Holy shit... you're dead, man...


        Victims.  Aren't we all.

After Eric disposes of Tin-Tin, he next pays a visit to Gideon's pawn shop, once again trying to track down more of the missing pieces of his past. In this case, he's looking for the engagement ring that he gave to Shelly. As in the film, he finds it, and blows up Gideon's pawn shop in the process, running into Albrecht outside on his way back home. Their discussion in the original screenplay is longer than that in the film, and has Eric actually revealing his powers to the astonished beat cop. Likewise, Eric's next encounter with Elly plays out far differently in the screenplay than it does onscreen; in the film, he grabs her off her skateboard as she rides into traffic, saving her life. Here, she's portrayed as younger, he more fatherlike.


Seated on the looted wheelless car, playing with a small doll.


She doesn't notice someone is watching her yet.


She looks up o.s. at Eric, who is still out of the frame.

        What are you supposed to be?  A clown?


He smiles for what seems to be the first time.  Warm, even past
his crow makeup.


He glances back and logs the location of the Pit for later, not
in a big hurry just now.  Turns back to Elly.


        You look like a rock star without a

        I dabble.  May I?

He indicates the car hood, a "seat" next to Elly from which he
may observe the Pit.

        If you're not some kinda child

Eric looks behind himself.  Who, me?  Genuinely amused.  He
shakes his head no and sits down next to Elly.

After a brief cut to Albrecht digging out Eric's files, Elly and Eric continue their conversation.


Still hanging by the car, a bit more familiar with each other
now.  A low-slung mirror-windowed LIMOUSINE hisses past them and
curbs across the street from the Pit.

        My mom works over there.  I'm
        waiting for her, but she's
        probably with him, right now.


        Mister Funboy.

        Mister Funboy lives there?


        He has a room, upstairs.  I don't
        like him very much.

Elly is not happy about this.  B.G. we see Grange get out of the
car, heading to the Pit, and notice in passing a guy with the
white face talking to the little girl down on the block.

                ELLY (CONT'D)
        Can you play that thing or do you
        just carry it around everywhere?

Elly indicates the guitar strapped to Eric' back.

        I can pick out a tune now
        and again.

        Can you play "Teddy Bears' Picnic?"
             (re: doll)
        It used to be her favorite.

        Does she have a name?

        No name.  You sure ask a lot of

Elly HANDS the doll to Eric and he experiences a wholly
unexpected flash.

FLASH:  Elly and Shelly sitting as Shelly's vanity, goofing with
makeup, test-driving lipstick, the doll visible on the vanity.

                        FLASH ENDS.

Tipped off by Elly as to Funboy's location, Eric heads upstairs via the fire escape to catch them in the act... of shooting up with drugs. Missing in the original script are several great bits (including the "Jesus Christ walks into a hotel..." joke and Darla slashing at Eric with the razor blade), but the gist of it is the same; Eric kills Funboy by injecting him with an overdose of his own drugs, and Darla is scared silly and somehow cured of her heroin addiction. As with the last killing, the terms used to describe the action are once again sexualized, from Funboy's "Look what you did to my sheets" comment to this:

        No, wait, no WAIT, that's too
        much, man, that's like overkill,
        nobody can take that much, you're
        wasting it -- !

        Your pain ends now.

And Eric rams the needle into Funboy's heart, driving home
the full dose.  Funboy begins to convulse.

Eric falls back on the bed, his force spent.

If you're too young to understand what that resembles, go ask your mother.

After disposing of Funboy (and being seen by Gideon), Eric next goes after T-Bird, taking him on a wild car ride, pursued by police, before driving him over to the docks. T-Bird's question, "So what -- you gonna rape me now?", once again hammering home the sexual imagery in an attempt to bring back the horror of Shelly Webster's rape and murder a year earlier.


He drops an incendiary right into T-Bird's lap.  T-Bird squirms.
No go.  Eric reaches in with a bungie cord.

        A little restrictive?  Good.
        You held her down and raped her.
        You were the first.  She burned
        while you were inside of her.

This, obviously NOT in the film, is an interesting line, for it seems to suggest that T-Bird was "the first." This can be read one of ways, one being that T-Bird was merely the first of the gang members to abuse Shelly. The other, more interesting possibility is that T-Bird was also Shelly's "first," which is to imply that she was a virgin. This would seem to contradict an earlier flashback that showed Eric and Shelly making love, but script contradictions aren't unheard of. Even allowing that this is not the case, T-Bird was certainly the first of the gang to take Shelly's innocence, a particularly heinous crime on the night before her wedding on par with the old English law of Jus Primae Noctis. As such, he must be removed so he cannot take the innocence of anyone else.

The screenplay now cuts to the breakfast scene with Darla and her daughter, which plays out MUCH differently than in the film. Here, Darla's role is greatly diminished; gone is the entire discussion about eggs, or any clues as to Darla's maternal renaissance; Eric being more dominantly and obviously a father figure for Elly, Darla's presence is not as important. Eric even shows up in this scene, serenading Elly from across the street:


CLOSE-UP of a frying pan busy burning some pretty firebombed
looking eggs.  Kind gross.



        I never was too good at this
        domestic shit.


staring outside at nothing in particular.  Yet.

        Don't say "shit".
        That's okay.  Corn Flakes are
        okay.  Anything.

She pauses as she hears a lilting, faraway GUITAR STRAIN.
Across the street she can make out the figure of Eric on his
roof playing the guitar.

More phallic imagery arrives in the guise of the hot dog stand, where we find Elly enjoying breakfast out again (since Mom burned the eggs). While waiting for her meal, the bad guys arrive and try to corrupt our good little streetwise angel by buying her off.

        I'm looking for a good guitar man.


Grange withdraws a $10 bill from his wallet and slides it across
the countertop to Mickey.

                ELLY (CONT'D)
        You buying?
             (cuts him some slack)
        He kinda wanders around.  You'll
        see him if you pay attention.

        I need to find him kind of soon,

Shortly thereafter, Eric shows up at the conference room for the big shootout, which is as bloody as it is in the film, but works differently due to the fact that Lao is present as the top dog, and Top Dollar is relegated to a secondary position. Bullets fly, people die, and Skank goes out the window, and Top Dollar also meets his maker, courtesy of "30 hours of pain." Which of course means that the big showdown at the end will involve Lao, not Top Dollar.

Eric, thinking he's killed everyone he needs to kill, is back home burning memories when Elly wanders in for a goodbye chat. It's here that Elly's symbolizing Shelly is most obvious, as Eric gives her Shelly's engagement ring on the very night that he and Shelly were to be married. Elly has become the physical embodiment of Shelly; Eric wasn't doing the killing for a dead person, he was doing it for a living reminder of a dead person.

While Elly is preoccupied with the cat, Eric gives up his last
bit of Shelly to the fire - a portrait photo of her, small and
creased.  He puts it in the fire, watches it burn for a beat,
then turns to Elly.

                ERIC (CONT'D)
        I have something else for you.

BACK FOCUS as Eric lifts off his neck Shelly's ring for Elly's
inspection.  The ring twirls large in f.g.

        Nobody ever gave me something like
        that before.  Ever.

Eric places it around her neck.  Elly BEAMS.

        Shelly would've wanted you to have
        it.  This way, you'll think of her
        every time you see it...

As in the film, Eric's not quite done yet; Elly gets kidnapped in order to draw Eric out where Lao can kill him and take his power (echoes of the second Crow film here, evidently). But Eric is breaking the rules here, and it's his refusal to follow the prescribed method of things that makes it obvious that he's more interested in life than death, the living rather than the dead. The Skull Cowboy reappears to remind him of this.

                SKULL COWBOY
        Do this thing and you will be
        vulnerable.  The blood will not
        No powers.  No reunion.  Nothing.

        Fine with me.

He ADVANCES a step up; the Skull Cowboy Hold fast.

                SKULL COWBOY
        You'll be alone.

        I'm already alone.

The second big gun battle happens pretty much as it does in the film, save for the fact that Lao replaces Top Dollar as the guy with the phallic symbol on the rooftop.

Lao SNAPS Elly's free handcuff to the dimly glowing  lightning
rod and advances, one foot on either side of the peak of the
roof, his blade brandished.

It's during these last few moments that it becomes clear why Albrecht is not capable of being Elly's father figure; he takes three bullets in the neck and falls to his death. After that, it's all over but the goodbyes; Eric and the crow manage to kill Lao, Eric unties Elly and they head back to the graveyard so Eric can crawl back into his grave.

        You're not gonna come back, are you?

Eric's response is halting and uncertain.  But he tries to give
her hope.  He reaches for Shelly's ring around her neck, holds
it up to her.

        I don't know if I can.  But you
        have this... and you know where to come.

        You mean you'll, like' dig your way
        out of the grave?  Euww.

Eric is amused by this in spite of his grievous injuries.

He grasps Elly's face in his hands and bends, painfully, to kiss
her on the forehead.

        For you, I'll try.  Promise.

So what's the point? Well, if you were with us last time, I had discussed a certain type of cyberpunk fiction which involved the pairing of an older, stronger male with a younger, weaker female. In Leon, the pairing is violent and sexualized, a young female without a father (or, indeed, any family) thrust into a situation where she comes to rely on a stronger male to protect her, love her and carry her through the story. The type appears in Snow Crash, in Virtual Light, indeed, in many cyberpunk stories. And it appears here as well, in The Crow.

Certainly, to watch The Crow as it finally appeared on film, one doesn't get a sense that Sarah and Eric have any relationship whatsoever, aside from a passing friendship shared through Shelly Webster. In the original screenplay, we get a much stronger sense that there's something larger involved, that Sarah/Elly represents Shelly made flesh, and what's more, that she represents the younger female in need of a stronger, older male to protect her.

The sexuality is certainly not as Lolita-like as it is in Leon, but it's certainly there, interlaced with the violence. And unlike Leon, Eric does not teach his young friend/lover to kill; rather, he shelters her from the violence and does his best to protect her from it. But then, one has to wonder if Leon would be as apt to teach Mathilda to kill if he were lucky enough to come back from the dead, knowing what he would then know about being dead.

Cyberpunk, by its very definition, is double-faced. Cyber and punk, high-technology and low-life, yin and yang, order and chaos. Our older male and younger female, then, are perhaps nothing more than physical incarnations of cyberpunk itself, the yin and the yang, the technologically advanced and superior older male (Leon, Eric, Hiro) and the streetwise, punkish, younger female (Mathilda, Sarah/Elly, Y.T.). Cyberpunk, at this level, becomes a clear exploration of humanity's battle with itself, of a struggle to maintain a sense of balance and harmony within the universe, a battle not just of man versus nature or nature versus technology, but of man versus himself, struggling to stay alive and afloat in a sea of chaos.

Which is why I mentioned context when we started, because I've been there, and looking at cyberpunk films in this way makes sense to me for that reason. And dare I say, many of you have been there too, and for at least some of you, I hope I've at least intimated that maybe, darn it, it all does mean something after all.

None of this, of course, is to say that there are no strong female characters in cyberpunk; Molly Millions from Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic and Sprawl trilogy, for example, is certainly stronger than the male characters around her. But when the "cyberlolita" pairing does appear, it's interesting to watch it play out in much the same way, over and over again. It even reappears in some of the films that themselves appeared in 1995, the next year on my slate, but I've covered this theme enough already, and so I leave it to you to pick for me.

Next time, based on your votes, we'll discuss one of the following: The Net, Hackers, Johnny Mnemonic, 12 Monkeys, City of Lost Children, Ghost in the Shell or Strange Days. Lemme know what you think.