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Terms of Endearment (1983)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Terms of Endearment (1983)

In writer/director James L. Brooks' Best Picture-winning comedy/drama classic (his first directorial effort) - an entertaining film (with five Oscar wins), but also a manipulative, soap-operatic melodramatic tearjerker, with an ending similar to Dark Victory (1939) and Love Story (1970) - its tagline was: "Have you come to Terms yet?" The feel-good, box-office hit was based on the novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry:

  • the memorable theme song
  • the sit-com style film was about the thirty-year mother-daughter relationship between two women: stubborn brunette Emma Greenway (Debra Winger) and her devoted, possessive, blonde, Texas widowed mother Aurora Greenway (Oscar-winning Shirley MacLaine); they endured Emma's marriage, separation, and illness
  • as a young adult, Emma rebelled against Aurora's attentions, and against her advice married literature student Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels); as the independent-minded, individualistic Emma was getting in the car with her family to move from Houston, TX to Des Moines, IA
  • the young couple suffered from unpaid bills, young mother Emma also discovered that her feckless husband, a college literature professor, was unfaithful and sleeping with one of his graduate students; she retaliated with her own brief affair with a timid Iowa bank officer Sam Burns (John Lithgow)
  • meanwhile back in Texas, raunchy, boozy, beer-bellied, over-the-hill, ex-astronaut Garrett Breedlove (Oscar-winning Jack Nicholson) persistently womanized his next-door neighbor - Texas widow Aurora Greenway; she quipped back at him: "Imagine you having a date with someone where it wasn't a felony"
  • they experienced a nervous December-December love affair - on their first, much-delayed luncheon date, he realized she was very uptight: ("I, uhm, think we're going to have to get drunk....You got me into this, and you're just gonna have to trust me about this one thing. You need a lot of drinks....To kill the bug that you have up your ass"); subsequently, she ordered Wild Turkey bourbon
  • In an unforgettable scene after lunch, they experienced a wild car beach drive into the ocean in his silver Corvette (he steered with his feet on the open roof while she accelerated), while he was yelling out: "Wind in the hair! Lead in the pencil! Feet controlling the universe! Breedlove at the helm! Just keep pumping that throttle! Keep giving it that gas! I see the Gulf of Mexico below me!...Give it a chance....Fly me to the moon!" - when she applied the brakes, he was propelled into the Gulf of Mexico water; when she tromped over to him, he characteristically joked: "If you wanted to get me on my back, you just had to ask me" and then when they kissed and he reached for her breast, she complained: "Get it out of there!...Get it out!...We were having such a good time and you had to go do this!"
  • when they returned to her home and she invited him inside, he replied: "I'd rather stick needles in my eyes!"; she responded: "Everything would have been just fine, you know, if you hadn't gotten drunk. I just didn't want you to think I was like one of your other girls"; he told her: "Not much danger in that unless you curtsy on my face real soon" - and then admitted: "I don't know what it is about you, but you do bring out the devil in me"
  • later one evening, she phoned him up and invited him to her bedroom to look at a Renoir painting as a pretext for sex (after fifteen years of celibacy): "I'm inviting you to come over and look at my Renoir." He quickly interpreted her meaning: "You're inviting me to bed"; the scene was a stand-off until Aurora won by demanding that the lights be turned off
  • when Aurora learned about her daughter Emma's pregnancy -- she screeched: "Why should I be happy about BEING A GRANDMOTHER?"
  • in the heartbreaking, unexpected, tragic, cathartic and touching finale, Aurora's 30 year-old daughter Emma was diagnosed with terminal cancer and then hospitalized. She was slowly reconciled with her mother during her illness; during an emotional hospital scene, Aurora went beserk, panicked and shrieked as she demanded that the nurses give her dying daughter her overdue shot of morphine: ("I don't see why she has to have this pain....It's time for her shot, do you understand? Do something...My daughter is in pain! Give her the shot, do you understand me? GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!!")

  • before her death in her Lincoln General Hospital room, Emma had one last hospital goodbye scene with her children; after she had makeup applied to her face to cover her pale pallor, she spoke to them, but was unable to break through to her distant, bratty, over-critical oldest son Tommy (Troy Bishop), after her youngest son Teddy (Huckleberry Fox) told off Tommy: ("Why don't you shut up, shut up!")
  • she explained to them that she wouldn't be around for her family in the future, that reluctant Tommy should "be sweet" and how he would eventually admit that he loved her after she was gone: ("And stop trying to pretend that you hate me. I mean, it's silly...I know you like me. I know it. For the last year or two, you've been pretending like you hate me. I love you very much. I love you as much as I love anybody, as much as I love myself. And in a few years when I haven't been around to be on your tail about something or irritating you, you're gonna remember... that time that I bought you the baseball glove when you thought we were too broke. You know? Or when I read you those stories? Or when I let you goof off instead of mowing the lawn? Lots of things like that. And you're gonna realize that you love me. And maybe you're gonna feel badly, because you never told me. But don't - I know that you love me. So don't ever do that to yourself, all right?")
  • after a hug from Teddy and a reluctant kiss from Tommy, she asked Teddy as he left the room: "I was so scared. And I think it went pretty well, don't you?"
Emma's Goodbye Scene With Her Two Sons
  • soon after, Emma expired with one final glance at Aurora as Flap slept unawares; Emma's husband Flap was awakened by a nurse's words: ("She's gone"); Aurora blamed herself and piteously sobbed to Flap: ("I'm so stupid, so stupid. Somehow, I thought, somehow I thought when she finally went that - that it would be a relief. Oh, my sweet little darling. Oh dear, there's nothing harder! THERE'S NOTHING HARDER!")
  • during the final end credits scene set at Aurora's house after the funeral, Garrett proved his decent, sensitive and fatherly nature when he provided needed support and paid special attention to Emma's long-neglected older boy Tommy: ("Good-lookin' suit there") and won over the reluctant boy; meanwhile, Aurora spent time with young Melanie (Megan Morris)

Breedlove's Lunch Date with Aurora

Aurora's and Breedlove's Wild Car Beach Drive

After the Date, Breedlove to Aurora: "You do bring out the devil in me"

Emma Looking Over at Husband Flap and Her Mother Just Before Dying - Almost Asking Permission to Die

Nurse to Flap: "She's gone"

Aurora's Grief: "There's nothing harder!"


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