I’ve just pissed in my pants…

“I’ve just pissed in my pants and nobody can do anything about it.”

I love that scene and that line.  No truer statement has ever been spoken.  Major Fambrough says it like a simple statement of fact as he presents the crotch of his pants for viewing.  It’s a pivotal moment and he seemingly comes to a realization. 

There is something childlike about him.  Right before that line, Lieutenant Dunbar tells him that he wants to see the frontier.   The Major is pleased with such a request and sees himself as sending the Lieutenant on a knight’s errand.  As the Lieutenant is walking away, the Major knocks on the window to get his attention and he is almost gleeful in his toasting to their respective journeys.

“Long live the King.”

The reason I love this scene is because I can relate. I’ve dealt with depression and have hit rockbottom a time or two.

When in the deepest states of hopelessness, basic facts take on profound meaning. We normally don’t take seriously the simple details of our existence. But occasionally something forces us to see the world without preconceptions and the world becomes a stark reality.

Despite the humor of it, Major Fambrough’s statement is an existential insight of great import. The truth he states is so blatantly obvious when you think about it: “…nobody can do anything about it.” It’s almost a declaration of freedom. In that moment, he is no longer hiding his shame.

Just imagine the sense of relief you would have if you realized you no longer had to put on a facade for anyone else again, that you could just be yourself completely, no more trying to impress anyone or live up to external expectations. Just imagine what it would feel like to realize the pettiness of all your fears and self-judgments, and just letting them all go. Just imagine being fully honest with yourself for the first time in your entire life.

Before Major Fambrough’s last words, he has a last interaction with one of the men in the office.  He tells the other man that he wants his crown now.  He gets irritated and starts yelling.  The other guy tries to soothe him, and the Major realizes he is in control even if only in the simplest of ways.  He says ‘no’ and closes the door while a smile comes to his face.  He is almost delighted in that moment.  He can say ‘no’ to it all.  It’s the last bit of control he has left.  He says it three times with increasing conviction.

“No… no… no…”

5 thoughts on “I’ve just pissed in my pants…

  1. Hi Ben,

    Nice scene analysis. I appreciate it even more because I recently discovered I’ve lost my appreciation for the film, which is a little disconcerting. Dances with Wolves was one of those film I would watch if I came across it while channel surfing and still find myself enjoying. I came across it not too long ago, attempted to watched it and soon found myself disinterested. I haven’t quite figured out why that was the case.

    I find myself often enjoying under-appreciated scenes like the one you described, not so much for it’s role in the plot, i.e. Chekov’s gun, how it helps build the characters nor how it progresses the narrative toward denouement. I enjoy them mostly because they’re irrelevant to the story but quintessential to the human condition, not to mention an opportunity for a great character actor to do what he/she does best.

    Few directors seem to appreciate the use of scenes like the one with Major Fambrough in their mandate to hurry along the film in an attempt to not exceed the standard two hours. There are a few such as Kubrick, Polanski and Aronofsky. I think they’re great filmmakers because they try to include scenes like the one you wrote described in Dances with Wolves.

    I was trying to think of some of my favorite “unhinged” scenes. HAL is definitely one of them. Ichimonji in Kurosawa’s Ran in another. Ichimonji’s scene in Ran after he’s attacked, all his attendants are killed, fails his suicide and staggers down the stairs of the palace is one of the greatest breathtaking moments in film. To me that is a prime example of the “non-scary” horror you talk about in some of your other blog entries.

    • I hadn’t thought about this as an example within the category of “unhinged” scenes. That is one way to think of it. Certainly, it’s an odd scene and it stands out.

      Watching it again, I still love it. It makes laugh. It’s both dark and mirthful. Major Fambrough’s response is awesome. To all of our journeys!

      Another way of thinking about this scene is as a transition. The hero is being sent out of the king’s realm. The normal and known world ends there and a boundary is crossed. It’s typical hero’s journey stuff.

      There always needs to be someone to send the hero off onto his journey, maybe all the more important when the hero doesn’t know he is on a journey.

      In general, maybe “unhinged” scenes usually serve the purpose of transition of some sort. They are demarcation points in a story, what follows being different from what came before. And typically there is no undoing what has been done, no turning back.

      The Major’s shot to the head ensures the finality of this scene. It’s a permanent transition. Onward the hero goes, to be carried forward by events he can’t foresee.

      • Now that I think about it, “unhinged”, even in quotes, might not have been the best choice of words. I hate to make those scenes sound too psychological when they’re really more allegorical. Those scenes being more transitions in the hero’s journey is more apropos. Without these interstitial scenes, there is no opportunity/event to move things forward. The journey would stop. And like the real world where meaningful opportunity is selfishly horded by those unwilling to demarcate themselves and pass along the torch to those seeking to disembark on their journey, the protagonist is stuck in the muck spinning his/her wheels going nowhere fast.

        This is why I don’t like Dances with Wolves anymore. I can’t relate to it anymore. Once upon a time in America, a person could head out West to go on his walkabout to discover and write his story. In today’s America, Major Fambrough would deny Dunbar his walkabout and send him back to the front lines of the Civil War to be cannon fodder for the status quo.

        • The hero goes off to see the frontier before it’s gone. We the viewers are in the sad position of knowing the frontier is already gone. That is unless you wish to seek out space, the final frontier. But the final frontier requires more than a wagon and a ‘peasant’ who knows the way.

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