Tuesday March 24, 2009
My Most Quoted Movie Lines (No. 5)
Read the introduction here and feel free to post your own most-quoted movie lines below.
5. “I never lie, Lois.”
— Superman in “Superman: The Movie” (1978)
Screenplay by Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton and Tom Mankiewicz
I know. It’s a misquote. But with a purpose.
It’s in the scene where Lois Lane interviews Superman on the veranda of her apartment the night after the night he saves her from the helicopter crash, and, in the process of getting her scoop, her professional demeanor keeps slipping. Superman tells her he likes pink, the color of her underwear (they got down to it quickly in the ‘70s), and she says, dreamily, “Why are you?” before amending it to the more professional “Why are you here?” “I’m here to fight for truth and justice and the American way,” he responds, to which she, a good, cynical reporter, declares, “You’re going to wind up fighting every elected official in this country!” Their back-and-forth is esentially a battle between ‘50s and ‘70s sensibilities. Supes is the square, the boy-scoutish butt of the joke for us cynical hipsters in the audience.
Superman: Surely you don’t mean that, Lois.
Lois: I don’t believe this.
Superman: I never lie.
It’s almost a non sequitur, isn’t it? Christopher Reeve, bless him, delivers the line with such conviction, such uprightness and stalwartness, that he makes the square hip. He makes our cynicism irrelevant, almost tawdry, and gives us, and Lois, something to believe in.
This is when I say the line. I’m talking to a woman — generally Patricia — and for whatever reason (cynicism, stubbornness, common sense) she doubts what I’m saying. Here’s the important part: I am in fact telling the truth. Our positions, in other words, are the same as Superman’s and Lois’ in the film, and, after several back-and-forths, and out of boredom I suppose, I pretend to be not only a stalwart man but the stalwart man. Something like:
Me: Did you hear (Lehman Bros. collapsed, Obama got elected president, it's supposed to snow tonight)?
Me: It’s true.
She: I can’t believe it.
She: Are you sure?
Me: I never lie, Lois.
Putting “Lois” at the end acts as a kind of punchline, a way of defusing the impossibility of the first half of the line (“I never lie”). It also tends to break us free from our impasse. Maybe because, by now, she knows I’d never associate myself with the Man of Steel if I wasn’t telling the truth.
Mostly it’s just fun to say.
Look, I’ll never be 6’4” and blue-eyed and square-jawed, let alone the other stuff. But every now and again I can tell the truth. It’s the one area where any man can be Superman.