Russell and Duenes

Father’s Day: Top 5 Father and Son Movie Scenes

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5. The scene in Catch Me If You Can where Frank Abegnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) is talking to his estranged father in a restaurant. Frank Jr. is now neck-deep in the criminal check forgery racket, but he still has a profound respect for his screwed up father. And the powerful moment comes when Frank Jr. begs his father, “Tell me to stop!” Frank Jr. wants his father to be a real father and hold him accountable, but alas his father does not. And so the whole movie is a tale of how Carl Hanrady (Tom Hanks) becomes a kind of father-replacement for Frank Jr., even as he is trying to arrest him on criminal charges. It’s not the main story line, but it’s what makes the movie.

4. The entire film, Magnolia. It’s a raw, brutal film, but shows the power of the patriarchal relationship as few others I’ve seen. Unfortunately, the power of the fatherly relationship is seen through the wreckage that two morally horrific fathers foist upon their children. The central relationship is between the character played by Jason Robards (father) and his son, played by Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise’s character is so traumatized by his vile father that he has convinced himself that his father is dead. Cruise has gone on to be a disgusting “self-help” guru who basically makes money off seminars designed to teach men how to have sex with any woman they want. He is a filthy, loathesome man, and his father is lying in a bed dying of cancer. Yet his father wants to see him. Seeing the father’s desire to make a final peace with his son, the father’s caretaker (played brilliantly by James Seymour Hoffman) tracks Cruise down before the father dies. Reluctantly, Cruise comes and when he sees his father, the power of the relationship becomes clear. Cruise aims invective after invective at his father, even as he breaks down crying, saying at the end to his father, “Don’t leave!” It was a tough movie to sit through, but powerfully puts the lie to the modern feminist trash that “father’s don’t matter.” They matter more than anyone can imagine. I do well to remember it.

3. The scene in Quiz Show when Charles Van Doren tries to confess to his decorated and famous Columbia professor father, Mark Van Doren, that he’s been cheating on the quiz show called Twenty-One. Charles’ father does not know of the cheating, but knows of the media reports that some contestants were getting the answers ahead of time. Mark tells his son that he should just tell the truth and clear his name, at which point Charles confesses that he is one of the people who has been getting the answers. His father is dumbfounded, and exchanges words with his son. The striking point comes in this little exchange, ”

Mark:   It was a damn quiz show, Charlie!
Charles:   ”An ill-favoured thing, sir.
Mark:   This is not the time to play games.
Charles:   “But mine own.” It was mine.”
Mark:   Your name is mine!

2. The final scene in Field of Dreams when Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is reunited with his father, John Kinsella, when his father is a young baseball player. Earlier in the movie Ray had explained his falling out with his dad and his refusal to play catch with his dad. And before too long, we realize that the whole movie has been moving toward the reconciliation of father and son. In the final scene, Ray recognizes his father, and as they are about to part ways, he says, “Hey dad, wanna have a catch?” To which his father says, “I’d like that.” And they play catch as the final credits role. I can’t remember ever watching that scene without tears in my eyes.

1. The climatic scene in the wonderful film, The Chosen. Danny Saunders is a brilliant young Hasidic Jew to whom his Rabbi father, Reb Saunders,  has not spoken since he was a young boy. Throughout the film, we don’t know why Reb Saunders refuses to speak to his son, but we find out when the Rabbi calls his son and his son’s friend, Reuven Malter, into his office. He speaks to his son, through Reuven, and explains the silence. Here is the script:

Reb Saunders: [greeting the two boys coming into his study] Look at the two of you now. Both of you. You’re men. You’re a man and my Daniel’s a man. It’s a pleasure for a father to see. Sit down. [The two boys sit.] So now you’ll tell me, what are you going to do after your studies.

Reuven: I’m thinking of becoming a Rabbi.

Reb Saunders: So, you’re going to a become a Rabbi, and my Daniel…my Daniel will go his own way. [Daniel & Reuven look at each other.] Reuven, I’m going to tell you something. When my Daniel was four years old, I saw him, he read a book. He didn’t read the book–he swallowed it. He swallowed it like one would swallow food. And then he came to me, and then he told me the story that was in the book. And this story was about a man whose life was filled with suffering and with pain. But, that didn’…it didn’t move Daniel. You know, Daniel was happy. He was happy because he realized, for the first time in his life, what a memory he had. “Master of the Universe,” I cried, “what have you done to me? You give me a mind like this for a son? A heart I need for a son. A soul I need for a son. Compassion and mercy I need for my son. And above all, the strength to carry pain…That I need for my son.” How was I to do this? I mean, that was the question. How was I to…to teach him? How was I going to be able to do this to this son that I love…and not lose the love of my son? When Daniel was young, I used to hold him close. We used to laugh together. We used to play together. We used to whisper secrets to each other. Then as he became older, and he became indifferent to peope less brilliant than he thought he was, I saw what I had to do. I had to teach my Daniel that way: through the wisdom and the pain of silence…as my father did to me. I was forced to push him away from me. He became very frightened, he became bewildered, but gradually, he began to understand that other people are alone in this world, too. Other people are suffering. Other people are carrying pain. And then, in this silence we had between us, gradually his self-pride, his feeling of superiority, his indifference began to…to fade away. And he learned, through the wisdom and the pain of silence, that a mind without a heart is nothing. So, you think that I’ve been cruel? Maybe. Maybe, but…but I don’t think so…because my beloved Daniel has learned. O, let him go, let him become a…psychologist. You see, I know-I know about that. I should know. The books and the universities…the letters. Become a psychologist, already. But you see, now I am not afraid. I have no fear because my Daniel is a tzadik. He’s a righteous man. And the world needs a righteous man. [looking straight at Danny, who has tears in his eyes] Daniel…you heard?

Danny: Yes, Papa.

Reb Saunders: And when you go forth into the world, you will be proud and go forth as a Jew? And you will keep the commandments of a Jew? [Danny nods.] It’s good! It’s good. [Danny begins to sob audibly; Reb Saunders clasps his hands together, then stands and walks to the door, but turns before going out.] I don’t know…maybe you should forgive me…for not being…a wiser father. [Danny turns to him and stands; Reb Saunders reaches out his arms, and Danny runs into his embrace.]

The first time I saw this scene, I burst into tears. I don’t mean tearing up a bit, I mean blubbering. And even right now, as I read again the line, “a mind without a heart is nothing,” I tear up. I’ve never watched a more powerful scene.

Happy Father’s Day.



Written by Michael Duenes

June 20, 2010 at 2:04 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I’m glad you mentioned Field of Dreams. Lots of people criticize this movie, but it’s one of my all-time favorites, mainly for that final scene. I’d give anything for a catch with my father, and I cry each time I watch that scene. Every single time.


    June 20, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    • Hank – Me too, every single time. I wish like anything you could have that catch.



      June 20, 2010 at 7:54 pm

  2. I’ve always known you love “The Chosen.” Thanks for sharing more about why. I’d like to see it again someday.

    Here are a couple movie fathers that come to mind for me:

    The terrible father in “Shine” who wants his son to be a great pianist. It’s a movie about how much damage a father can do, and how that pain gets expressed in art.

    Last night I saw “Love Happens,” and I was moved by Martin Sheen’s portrayal of the father.

    Roberto Benigni in “Life is Beautiful” — that one made me cry.


    June 20, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    • Andy – I’ve never seen “Shine;” now I’ll put it in my queue. I loved “Life is Beautiful” also, and agree that the father’s willingness to hide the harsh realities of life out of love for his child was moving. I’ll have to see “Love Happens” as well.



      June 20, 2010 at 7:53 pm

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