Some of the greatest films ever made are of the less straightforward variety, the sorts of movies whose endings are open for interpretation - thus ensuring decades of debate thereafter to keep the film’s legacy alive. But it’s one thing when audiences disagree about plot points, and another thing entirely when it’s the cast and crew who don’t see eye-to-eye on the meaning of a film.
One would think that working together in the creation of cinema tends to build a consensus, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, actors and directors never manage to reach an agreement on what exact message the film they’re collaborating on is trying to send. Sometimes, those disagreements erupt into outright feuds; more often, they become lively debates for years to come.
Mark Hamill Didn’t Like Rian Johnson’s Interpretation Of His Character In 'The Last Jedi'
To say that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi marked a controversial entry in the Star Wars saga would be putting it mildly. Those who disagreed with the direction in which Johnson took the franchise ranged from critics to diehard fans - including Mark Hamill.
As Hamill said before the film’s release:
I at one point had to say to Rian, "I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character." Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you’ve created and do my best to realize your vision.
Hamill claimed to have gotten over the disagreement and even become enthusiastic about Johnson’s directing, but interviews post-Jedi make it clear that he’s still dissatisfied with how Johnson interpreted his character:
Jedis don’t give up. Even if he had a problem, he would maybe take a year to try and regroup, and if he had a mistake he would try and right that wrong, so right there we had a fundamental difference... But, it’s not my story anymore, it’s someone else’s story, and Rian needed me to be a certain way to make the ending effective... I almost had to think of Luke as another character. Maybe he’s Jake Skywalker, he’s not my Luke Skywalker.Worthy argument?
- 2Photo: Warner Bros.
If there’s one definitive director/actor debate in the world of film, it’s the disagreement between Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford about whether Ford’s Blade Runner character, Rick Deckard, is a replicant or not - and the debate remains open to this day.
The film had a notoriously contentious production, resulting in a theatrical cut that nobody was happy with - not Scott, because of a needlessly optimistic “happy ending” mandated by the studio; nor Ford, because of the overwrought narration he had to record to make it all fit. Most controversially of all, however, the new ending led to far greater ambiguity regarding Deckard’s humanity than Scott had intended, and he and Ford have been arguing about it ever since.
Through a handful of other cuts of the film, including 2007’s “Final Cut,” Scott reinserted multiple scenes that strongly hint at Deckard’s replicant status, including a scene in which his eyes exhibit the telltale replicant "shine," and a paper unicorn being left outside his apartment. Ford, on the other hand, insists that he always played Deckard as a human, telling HuffPost in 2017:
I think it’s quite well known that my attitude about the character when I was working with Ridley was that the audience would require or would feel more comfortable if there’s an assurance that at least one person on the screen was of their animal nature. They might be encouraged to have an emotional representative on screen, but I think my question and my confidence in my answer was more important than getting Ridley’s support or acquiescence.
Fortunately, Ford also added that, these days, the debate between actor and director is a friendly one, noting, “When we have the good fortune to spend some time together, we usually end up still talking about it, but not until after the second drink.”Worthy argument?
- 3Photo: Columbia Pictures
1992’s baseball classic A League of Their Own all comes down to one big moment, wherein Kit Keller (Lori Petty) storms home plate and spikes her own sister, Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis), resulting in Dottie dropping the ball and Kit winning the game for her team. It’s a wonderful achievement for Kit, overcoming her more talented older sister... unless, that is, Dottie dropped the ball on purpose just to give her sibling a win.
Petty herself won’t hear of it, telling The Ringer, “I knew you were going to ask me that. [People who believe that are] insane. I kicked her a**!”
Bitty Schram, who played Evelyn Gardner, on the other hand, believes Dottie intended to drop the ball - but with a caveat:
[But did Dottie drop the ball] on purpose at the end of the movie? If I had to pick, I would say subconsciously yes because she knew how much more it meant to Kit, and she was too good of a player. From what I remember subconsciously, yes.
Kelly Candaele, who produced the documentary the film was based on, and whose mother and aunt inspired the characters of Dottie and Kit, has a strong stance on the debate:
My mom would never have dropped the ball, ever. I always tell people that. People say, oh, she did it on purpose, isn’t that nice and sweet, she let her sister win. No one would do that! The betrayal of your own teammates, not to mention the betrayal of your own integrity... you ask yourself, would I betray my teammates like that, in a World Series game, so my bratty sister could win? I mean, it makes no sense. It absolutely makes no sense. Psychologically it makes no sense. Morally it makes no sense. It’s condescending. If you knock someone over and knock the ball out, that’s baseball.
Of course, the most definitive answer would have to come from Davis herself, but don’t expect that anytime soon. As she explains, “I'll say two things about that. No. 1: I know the answer. Because it was me, of course, I know the answer. And No. 2: No, I'm not going to answer that question. I never have, and I never will.”Worthy argument?
- 4Photo: Columbia Pictures
The central theme of Groundhog Day was apparently so contentious, it broke up the Ghostbusters. Director Harold Ramis, a frequent co-star of lead Groundhog Day actor Bill Murray, was always skeptical of the story’s philosophical roots, noting in 1999:
People of every religion and spiritual discipline wrote me, saying, "This movie expresses the philosophy of yoga better than any movie ever," or the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. Jesuits were writing me, rabbis were preaching sermons on the High Holy Days about it, psychoanalysts were saying the movie is about psychoanalysis. So everyone got it, you know?
It’s interesting that everyone tended to think that they got it exclusively. The Buddhists would say, "Well, no one else would understand it, but this is really a Buddhist movie. You must be one of us."
Murray, on the other hand, wanted the film to contemplate the plot’s deeper implications and get away from the straightforward comedy. Despite the friendship between the director and star, this tonal disagreement eventually turned into an outright fight. As Ramis’s daughter wrote after his passing in 2014:
As has been widely documented, Groundhog Day was the film that broke the friendship between my dad and Bill Murray. Bill was going through a difficult time in his personal life, and he and my dad were not seeing eye to eye on the tone of the film. They had a few arguments on set, including one in which my dad uncharacteristically lost his temper, grabbed Bill by the collar, and shoved him up against a wall. Eventually, Bill just completely shut my dad out... for the next twenty-plus years.
The fact that Murray was going through a divorce at the time - and was reportedly growing increasingly frustrated with the credit Ramis generally received for his career success - was believed to be major a factor.
With Ramis on his deathbed, the two finally spoke again and put their differences behind them. Upon Ramis’s passing, Murray wrote:
Harold Ramis and I together did the National Lampoon Show off Broadway, Meatballs, Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day. He earned his keep on this planet. God bless him.Worthy argument?