(An American Pastoral)by James Douglas Morrison
THE SCREEN IS BLACK. We hear a young man's voice in
casual conversation with friends.
No, this guy told me you can go
down across the border and buy a
girl and bring her back and that's
what I'm goin' to do, I'm gonna go
down there and buy one of them and
bring her back and marry her. I am.
An older woman's voice
Billy, are you completely crazy?
We hear the good-natured laughter of the woman, a man
and another friend as Billy's insistent voice rises through
No, it's true. Really. This guy told
me. It's true. I'm really gonna do it.
The film changes to COLOR. A couple sit at a small table in
a simulated border town nightclub. It is a CLOSE shot,
reminding us possibly of Picasso's "Absinthe Drinkers." The
atmosphere is suggested by peripheral sounds such as bois-
terous young voices, curses in a foreign language, the tin-
kling of glasses and music from a small rock band. Perhaps a
dancer is visible in the background. Perhaps topless. An
anonymous waitress could enter the frame and leave, serving
The HERO is drunk and he's trying to persuade an attractive
Mexican girl, a waitress in the bar, a whore, to cross the
border and marry him. The girl tolerates him. She is work-
ing, hustling drinks, and has to listen but also she likes him.
In some way, he interests her.
I bet only reason you won't come
with me is because I ain't got any
money. Well, listen. I'm tellin' you.
I'm gonna go back up there and get
me some money, lots of it, maybe
even ten thousand. And then I'm
comin' back for you. I'm comin'
He weaves offscreen, determined, drunk, camera hold on
girl, smiling wistfully and ironically after him. Then she
grabs another young American and pulls him down beside
Hey, man, you want to buy me a
(An American Pastoral)
Film changes to BLACK and WHITE. It is dawn on the
American desert; it's cold, and he stands hunched in his
jacket, by the side of the highway. The sun is rising. We
hold on him as a few cars go by at long intervals. We hear
the car coming, watch his eyes watching, he sticks his thumb
out. CUT TO profile shot, as a car swishes by. The third
car stops and he runs, not too energetically and get inside.
INTERIOR car. Middle-aged man in a business suit. He asks
the hitchhiker where he is going.
He is obviously reluctant to do any talking.
I can take you as far as Amarillo and
then you'll have to go on from there.
(No reply. No recognition.)
What are you going to do when you
get to L.A.? Have you got a job lined
(No answer. He is beginning to nod.)
The man drives on. We see glimses of the American land-
scape out the window of the car. The man glances sideways
occasionally at Billy who is sleeping.
CLOSE UP of the man's right hand moving snake-like to-
wards the hiker's left leg. He hesitates and then touches it
above the knee. Immediately, a .38 revolver appears from
Billy jacket and points at the driver.
Profile of car, left side, extremely long shot. We hear a shot.
The hitchhiker comes around the rear of the car, opens the
door, and pulls the driver toward camera, his corpse that is,
to the gully, and, after stripping his wallet of all the cash,
gets into the car and drives away.
The kid is standing beside the car with his thumb out. The
hood is raised. The engine has failed. A State Patrolman (we
learn this from his uniform, western hat, and badge) stops in
his own unmarked car. Billy gets in the car. The sheriff is
friendly. He talks a lot. He tells Billy that he's just getting
back home after delivering two lunatics from his local jail to
the state asylum.
I had to put them both in straight-
jackets and throw them in the back
of the wagon. I had to. They were
totally uninhibited. I mean, if I let
'em loose, they just start jerking off
and playing with each other, so I had
to keep them tied up.
The killer is trying to stay awake. He's strung out on ben-
nies, and also just plain exhausted, and he's fighting to fol-
low the man's conversation. The sheriff rambles on. Billy is
in that weird state between what's being said in reality and what
he hears in his dream. The sheriff asks a question. He an-
swers and then jerks up suddenly to realize that he's been
inventing his own dialogue inside his head. Finally, he can
take it no longer. He pulls the gun out and orders the sheriff
to pull over to the side of the road. Then he forces him to
unlock the trunk, orders him inside and slams the lid.
INTERIOR of car. The hitchhiker is driving on.
As the car slows down for an upgrade, the trunk flies open
and the sheriff tumbles out into the dust. Billy sees it in the
rearview mirror. He slams on the brakes, jumps out of the
car and runs back to the spot. From off in the desert, we see
the sheriff racing insanely toward the camera. He suddenly
leaps and throws himself flat on the ground behind a sand
dune, next to the camera. From this point of view, the sheriff
crouched and breathing in heavy gasps, we watch the kid
stand on the side of the road, stare out into the desert and
finally get back into the car and drive away.
Billy is hitchhiking again. Obviously, he has ditched the
sheriff's car somewhere along the way. A car pulls over.
There is a young man driving and in the back seat are his
wife and two small children, a boy and a girl. The driver is
friendly, tells him he used to hitchhike a lot himself and
volunteers the information that he has just returned home
from two years in Viet Nam, where he was a pilot. Billy
pulls out the gun and lets them know immediately that he
wants them to take him anywhere he wants to go. Other-
wise, he'll kill them.
It is NIGHT. They pull into a gas station. Billy is hungry,
so are the kids. So he goes with the ex-aviator into a small
country store that's part of the station. He warns the family
to keep quiet or he'll kill everyone.
INSIDE the country store. A seedy old man behind the
counter. They ask him for a bunch of ham sandwiches. In
close-up, we watch him slice the meat, the knife hesitating
minutely, deciding on the thickness of each slice. The two
men stand there watching him. Suddenly, the husband
wheels around and gets a grip on the hitchhiker from behind.
They whirl madly around the store, the father screaming for
the proprietor to call the police.
Stop him! He's got a gun!! He's
gonna kill us!!! Help me!!!!
Billy somehow manages to get his gun out and forces the
man to the car. The store owner stares after him, mouth
agape, then picks up the receiver to call the police.
MORNING. A young boy finds the car, pulled off on a side
road, splattered with blood. He opens the door and sees the
little girl's baby doll, the naked, flesh-colored rubber kind,
and in close-up, we see blood on it.
The EXTERIOR of a run-down shack in the country. We
hear the sounds from inside. INTERIOR of shack. Televi-
sion and radio and newspaper reporters, including an attrac-
tive woman with a notebook, are interviewing the killer's
father. He's a very old man, an alcoholic, who is slightly
pleased to be thrust suddenly into the spotlight, but who
treats the situation with a grave sense of public image and
He was always a pretty strange boy,
specially after his mother passed
away. Then he got real quiet. He
didn't have many friends. Just his
brothers and sisters.
Mr. Cooke, is there anything you'd
like to tell your son?
Yes, there is. Billy, if you can hear
me, son, please turn yourself in.
Cause what you're doin', it just ain't
right. You're not doin' right, son.
And you know it.
During this appeal, the camera has moved slowly into a
CLOSE-UP of the old man's face.
INTERIOR. Car. Night. Rain. A car radio. The light glows
yellow in the dark car. The radio is playing a country gospel
hour. A revival meeting. The preacher and his flock. As Billy
listens, we flash back into his past, over the rain and wind-
shield wipers. We see an old man and a young boy in the
woods. The man is Billy's father and the boy is Billy himself
at about age seven or eight. The father teaches his son how
to shoot a gun. He tell him to aim at a rabbit.
Don't be afraid, son. Don't be afraid.
Just squeeze one off.
We see a rabbit pinioned in a rifle's telescopic sight.
A small town high school, 3:30, bell rings, school is out. The
kids gush from the building and flow like a human stream to
the favorite drive-in restaurant.
INTERIOR of car. Billy is eating a cheeseburger and Coke.
Through his windows he watches the movements of one of
the carhops. She is wearing slacks and with him we watch
her ass and thighs. When she comes to collect, he asks her to
come for a ride with him. We hear him say this but the
ensuing dialogue is shown in pantomime. The actual voices
are drowned out by the sounds of radios, kids talking.
They are driving up a mountain road. The Rolling Stones'
"I Can't Get No Satisfaction" comes on the radio. Billy sings
along with the record with wild abandon and squirms in his
seat like a toad.
The car is parked on a rocky view overlooking the ocean.
He gets out of the car and dances around it, acting crazy, and
howling like an Indian. He ducks up and down, appearing
and reappearing in different windows. She laughs at his
The couple are in the back seat, vaguely we see their move-
ments, hear them whispering, laughing, talking. CUT TO
outside of car. They get out of the back of the car, hair and
clothes disarranged and move side by side into a rough ter-
rain behind some rocks. Camera holds on the rocks. A pri-
meval rock formation. At a rhythm that is peculiarly
excruciating, we hear three gunshots.
A rest room in an LA service station. EXTERIOR. Billy
enters rest room.
INTERIOR rest room. Billy shaves with soap in rest room
mirror, runs his wet hands through his hair.
EXTERIOR, downtown LA. Camera follows him from a
car, as he wanders through the downtown crowds of Broad-
way and Main Street. Many times he is lost to our view. We
see him in an arcade, where he plays a pinball machine.
CLOSE-UP of pinball game in progress.
Billy in photo booth. Flash of the lights.
CLOSE-UP of four automatic photos: flash flash flash flash.
Four faces of Billy.
Billy in downtown hamburger stand. He is eating, seen from
behind, Gun enters frame left. He turns and sees it, stares
CUT TO EXTERIOR, street. In hand-held confused close-
up sequence, we see him dragged and shoved into the back
seat of a car (police car). He is kicked and beaten. During the
struggle, we hear many men's voices, gloating righteous ex-
So you're the little bastard that
killed all those people! (Kick) You
had a good time, didn't you? (Kick)
You really killed 'em, didn't you?
Hands cuffed behind his back, he looks up with a confused
expression and says:
But I'm a good boy.
The men laugh.
Film switches to COLOR. A montage of extant photo-
graphs representing death. The body of Che Guevara, a
northern Renaissance Dutch crucifixion, bullfight, slaugh-
terhouse, mandalas and into abstraction. A nature film of a
mongoose killing a cobra, a black dog runs free on the beach.
FADE INTO BLACKNESS.
EXTERIOR night. On the steps of City Hall of Justice we
see the hitchhiker descend dreamlike in slow motion, move
languorously across a deserted city square toward the camera
until he covers the lens and seems to pass through it.
Seen now from behind, as he moves away from lens, he
enters a desert outskirt region where he finds an automobile
graveyard. He is wandering in Eternity. In the junkyard,
three people squat around a small fire. They're cooking po-
tatoes in the coals, an older man named DOC pokes the fire
with a stick. There is an older woman, funky, glamorous,
and the third person is a young boy, a mute, of indeterminate
age. He is slightly made up with white makeup. They are
hoboes in Eternity and are not surprised to see him. He nears
Well, how ya doin', kid? I see you
did it again. Ya hungry? There's
some food here if ya want it.
Billy doesn't speak. He stares at the moon. The woman has
kept her head down, her hair covering her face.
Billy's back. Blue Lady, didja hear
me? I said Billy's back.
She looks up for the first time.
Hello, Blue Lady.
He looks at the boy.
Hiya, Clown Boy.
CLOWN BOY claps his hands and nods, his face contorted
grotesquely in greeting. They sit for a while like this, and
stare at the fire. They eat the potatoes. Then Doc rises and
The sun's gonna be up in a while. I
guess we'd better move on.
Slowly, one by one, the other two rise. Doc puts out the fire
with dirt and says:
Ya comin' with us, Billy?
I don't know, Doc, I just don't know.
Well, we'll see ya later, kid. The rest
of the gang will be real glad to see
ya. They sure will. Well...
Doc, Clown Boy and the Blue Lady start moving toward
the rising sun into the mountain desert. Every now and then
they turn and wave, Clown Boy leaping up and down madly
and waving good-bye.
As they slowly disappear, camera changes focus to Billy, the
hitchhiker, the kid, the killer, hunkered over the dead smol-