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This Week's Reader Submission Contest Winner #2: Dave's Pick

posted by Dave on 7/07/01

Finally we've got Dave's pick, and overall winner for best reader submission of the week, "Tom Cruise and Incredulous Process©" by Justin Desmond.

Remember, you can't play if you don't pay. Send any and all samples/Earthly goods to to be eligible.

Here's Justin's discovery, something we couldn't have possible put into words ourself. Enjoy.

Tom Cruise and Incredulous Process©

Anybody who’s seen their share of French film knows two things: One, French people pathologically confuse swarthy with sexy, (see male protagonist in Girl on the Bridge, naked and stringy-haired Gerard Depardieu in Any French Movie Ever Made, Ever). And two, they know how to use dramatic silence. In America, we thankfully don’t have a problem with swarthiness/sexiness confusion, preferring our cinematic swarthiness kitschy (Austin Powers) over-stylized (Tyler Durden) or decorously understated (Alec Baldwin). But we do have a problem conveying meaningful silence. Our movies generally fail in that respect because we think of silence as a tool to augment the meaningfulness of whatever preceded it, instead allowing it as the natural consequence of an occurrence of actual meaning. In American cinema, silence is used as a big neon sign that says "Hey dicknuts—something think-y going on here!"

You can ride my tail anytime.

King Shit of didactic "meaningful silence" in American cinema is Tom Cruise, who puts an excruciating new spin on it with his, what I like to call, "incredulous process." Incredulous Process© (also used extensively by Helen Hunt) is employed in an attempt to convey the heaviness of receiving a revelation that is so out there, so unexpected, so goddamned mind-blowing that it simply can’t all be taken in at once. What was all set to fail as meaningful silence is interrupted by his Incredulous© sputtering and reiteration, causing failure in new and exciting ways. Cruise, more than any other actor, regularly mauls these types of scenes by dragging out the revelation that was to precede the silence and digesting it for us in a series of steps.

He just can't believe it, folks.

Step One: "Wha?" This breathy exclamation is used to indicate the protagonist’s hope that he may be wrong. Cruise usually squints and cocks his head, sometimes freezing in position with his trademark "foreboding grin" for one moment as he stares at the bearer of the news. Did he really just hear what he thought he did? The dropping of the last consonant means "I am so shocked by what I have just heard. As a matter of fact, I am so shocked I am unable to complete a single-syllable word." Now that’s pretty shocked. Other variations include the silent mouthing of the entire question "What?" with attendant squinting and/or head shaking. Rarely used is the silent mouthing of the truncated form of the word, because that’s just too much acting all at once, really.

Step One and a Half: "What do you mean?" This may be used as the character draws himself to full height in order to meet head on the affirmation the other character has just provided. Cruise does it in a harried "I don’t have time for your obtuseness" manner intended to indicate his character’s false bravado. The hoped-for-against-hope response is "Aww, I wuz just fuckin’ wit’ you, dawg!" but that never happens. His teeth are usually still bared at this point, an energy economizing step in case the "foreboding grin" is to be utilized as a regular or relieved grin.

Step Two: Repeat in question form. This is in an attempt to clarify the revelation, just in case one has heard wrong. It is important because of Step Three. When one repeats, "Francisco’s moved the operation?" one may very well get back the response, "No, I said ‘Ban Sisqo’s nude sheep masturbation.’ What? Don’t tell me you approve of that sort of thing!" More transparent than the other steps, this one is intended to show the character’s stubborn unwillingness to accept the revelation. The audience is moved to shake their heads for him, as they have already completed the acceptance process.

You’re gay, Tom. Your mother and I have always known.

Step Three: Commit to belief. In this step the most important aspect is the far-off look. Cruise’s method is to tell himself "I knew it," (not out loud, but with his "inside voice") or "I can’t believe it," or "It figures" as the full weight of the revelation settles. Cruise may throw up his hands, raise his eyebrows and add a little shrug here, as well. Like a good actor, he is showing us "wow," without actually saying "wow."

Step Four: Stutter. The foreboding grin now becomes a self-protective grin as Cruise tries to rephrase the revelation and flesh out the whys and wherefores. "You mean—" he abortively spurts. "I thought—" or "(insert other character’s name here, spoken Incredulously©)—". Now, he is reaching out for assurance or understanding somewhere, somehow.

3... 2... 1...

Step Five: Sudden outburst/odd calm. It’s all over. The revelation has come and FUCK! SHIT! (Feel free to flip over table here.) "I’m ok. I’m ok." FUCK! SHIT! WHAT THE WHORE!!?? (Slam fist down on something or kick a trashcan, then stop. Run fingers through hair. Look up at ceiling. Repeat as necessary.)

And that’s all there is to Incredulous Process©. In just five easy steps you too can be on your way to quadrillions of dollars, a worldwide fan base of oblivious guys who think you’re macho and oblivious girls who think you’re straight, achieve Level III Operating Thetan class, defeat alien galactic ruler Xenu, take a ride down the razzleberry waterfall, and dance with the merry leprechauns forever and ever.

(To experience uninterrupted meaningful silence, see those Frenchies in A Pure Formality, the final Bjork scenes in Dancer in the Dark, or the Blade Runner director’s cut. Or you could try shutting up for two seconds, you know.)

Justin Desmond




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