The Best Scenes From Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Counselor’ Screenplay
Though Ridley Scott faithfully adapts Cormac McCarthy's first feature film screenplay, the director could not possibly include every passage of lyrical prose, crammed into a wordy 175-pages. Here are the best scenes and speeches (some that you won’t see on film) from The Counselor.
1. ‘Auto’ Erotic
If you only know one thing about The Counselor, it's probably that Cameron Diaz's character Malkina has an intimate—very intimate—encounter with a sports car. Only McCarthy could craft such a wildly perverse scenario, but it is worth noting the actual act never appears in his script. A character describes Malkina mounting the Ferrari and doing a split on the windshield. But that’s it. Director Ridley Scott, however, must have found the image of Cameron Diaz astride a gleaming sports car too good not to show.
…we drove out on the golf course and parked and we're sitting there talking and for no particular reason that I could see she lifts herself up and slides off her knickers and hands them to me and gets out of the car. I asked her what she was doing and she says: I'm going to fuck your car. Jesus. She tells me to leave the door open. Turns out she wants the domelight on. So she goes around and climbs up on the hood of the Ferrari and pulls her dress up around her waist and spreads herself across the windshield in front of me with no panties on. And she's had this Brazilian wax job. And she begins to rub herself on the glass Don't even think I'm making this up. I mean she was a dancer right? In Argentina? She danced at the opera thing down there. I've seen the clippings. And she does this full split and starts rubbing herself up and down on the glass and she's lying on the roof of the car and she leans down over the side to see if I'm watching. Like, no, I'm sitting there reading my email. And she gestures at me to crank down the window and she leans in and kisses me. Upside down. And then she tells me she's going to come. And I thought, well, I'm losing my fucking mind. That's what's happening here. It was like one of those catfish things. One of those bottom feeders you see going up the side of the aquarium. Sucking its way up the glass. It was just…Hallucinatory. You see a thing like that, it changes you.
2. A Sex Scene a la McCarthy
While most movies try somewhat to delay gratification, the very first scene of The Counselor is a steamy sex scene between Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz. McCarthy novels rarely examine sex in lurid, intimate detail, but here we get just that: The scene is considerably longer in the script than it is in the movie, running nearly eight pages of pillow talk. For anyone curious about what a Cormac McCarthy sex scene might entail, he manages to use the words "christendom," "finger f--k," and "sopping" all in the same pillow talk session. Most of the more salacious lines were cut, so you'll have to just imagine Fassbender and Cruz saying things like:
COUNSELOR: You have the most luscious pussy in all of Christendom.
LAURA: What do girls say when you say that?
COUNSELOR: There aren't any girls. There's just you.
LAURA: But there have been.
COUNSELOR: A long time ago. I don't remember.
LAURA: Yes you do.
COUNSELOR: Okay. They usually would say one of two things. Either Oh my God or Jesus Christ. But nearly always something religious like that.
3. The Landfill
The Counselor is McCarthy's first screenplay since 1976's The Gardener's Son, which was filmed as an episode of the PBS series anthology television Visions. A novelist at heart, McCarthy’s screenplay often reads like a novel. For example, a two-second establishing shot of a landfill in Juarez is, in the script, written as:
Landfill in the outskirts of Juarez. Bleak desert landscape with raw mountains hazy in the distance. Sound of a bulldozer. The landfill is a rubble of nameless trash. There are fires burning and smoke drifts across the fill. Families in the distance are picking through the garbage. Women and children. They carry woven shipping bags over their shoulders. A few buzzards strut about. An old ten-ton dumptruck labors across the landfill and turns and halts and backs and comes to a stop and the driver pulls a lever and the bed clangs and then he lowers the bed into place and the truck lumbers away. A dusty yellow bulldozer pulls up and begins to grade the trash away into the fill.
4. The Jeweler's Monologue
The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) goes to a jeweler in Amsterdam to buy an engagement ring. The dealer is played by legendary Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, best known for Wings of Desire and Downfall, but here he has only a few minutes of screen time. In the script the dealer has a page-long monologue that wasn’t in the movie. Director Ridley Scott no doubt cut it for time—rare is the film that features a page of uninterrupted monologuing. Scott's film is less contemplative and more grounded than McCarthy's script, with most of the philosophical digressions excised. The dealer's speech—a meditation on heroes, God, and death—is classic Cormac, and could have easily have been lifted from Blood Meridian:
DEALER: There is no culture save Semitic culture. There. The last known culture before that was the Greek and there will be no culture after that…The heart of any culture is to be found in the nature of the hero. Who is that man who is revered? In the classical world it is the warrior. But in the western world it is the man of God. From Moses to Christ. The prophet. The penitent. Such a figure is unknown to the Greeks. Unheard of. Unimaginable. Because you can only have a man of God, not a man of Gods. And this God is the God of the Jewish people. There is no other God. We see him–what is the word? Purloined. Purloined in the West. How do you steal a God? The Jew beholds his tormentor dressed in the vestments of his own ancient culture. Everything bears a strange familiarity. But the fit is always poor and the hands are always dripping blood. That coat. Didn’t that belong to Uncle Chaim? What about the shoes? Enough. I see your look. No more philosophy. And perhaps Schiller is right. When gods were more human men were more divine. The stones themselves have their own view of things. Perhaps they are not so silent as you think. They were piped up out of the earth in a time before any witness was, but here they are. Now who shall their witness? We. We two.
5. The Cheetahs
Among McCarthy's litany of totally weird, inspired flourishes, is a pair of domestic cheetahs. In the script, the cheetahs drift from their owner and roam suburban Mexico unattended. In this scene, which does not appear in the film, the two wander into an unsuspecting family’s backyard, leading to one of the most quietly unsettling moments in the entire screenplay–a pair of African cheetahs stalking around a swimming pool with two small children inside.
Back yard of a suburban middle class home. The two cheetahs are walking along the edge of the swimming pool. One stops to sniff at the water. In the pool are two boys, aged eight and ten. They stand frozen. A man reclining in a poolside canvas chair lowers the paper he is reading to what the silence is about. He freezes, holding the paper at the level of his chest. The cheetahs amble slowly along the edge of the pool and out across the lawn. The man lowers the paper onto his lap. The two boys look at him. The oldest turns to look where the cheetahs have gone and turns to the man again…The man closes his eyes and raises one palm-out. Almost as if in blessing.
6. Dog Food
Bleak though The Counselor is, like much of McCarthy's work, there are moments of dark humor. One of the best such scenes was cut from the film. A character known only as “Young Man”—he's completely silent in the movie—buys dog food at a convenience store. He encounters a character that McCarthy often uses in his work: a bystander cheerfully oblivious to the violence and evil in his or her midst. In this scene, it’s an elderly woman carrying a sack of dog food in line with the Young Man.
WOMAN: Do you have a dog?
YOUNG MAN: Do I have a dog?
WOMAN: (Smiling) Yes.
YOUNG MAN: No mam
YOUNG MAN: These are for me.
WOMAN: For you.
YOUNG MAN: Yes mam. It’s a diet. Well I probably shouldn't even be telling you this. I've tried it a couple times and I got to say it works pretty good. You don't really eat. You get hungry. You just pop a couple of these bad boys. I carry a baggie full around with me. Night, you wake up? You don't go down and raid the refrigerator. You got a dish of these on the table by the bed and you just reach and pop a couple. You got your glass of water there. Last time I lost twenty-seven pounds in thirty days. I'd pretty much recommend it to anybody. These diets you read about? I know this works. Of course like anything else you got to use your head. Time before I woke up in the hospital. You just got to keep your mind on business. Like anything else. But you want to lose weight? This is it. You got everything you need in here. All your vitamins and minerals. I'll tell you what. After a few days you don't even want anything else. I'd absolutely recommend it to anybody.
WOMAN: But you said you woke up in the hospital. What happened? Did you have a systemic reaction or what?
YOUNG MAN: Oh no Mam. It wasn't anything like that. I was sitting in the street licking my balls and a car hit me. You take care now. you hear?
7. The Bolito
No Country for Old Men had the captive bolt pistol, and The Counselor has the bolito. It just wouldn't be a McCarthy story without an iconic method of brutally killing someone. The bolito is one of his most diabolical inventions yet, a motor-powered, self-tightening garrot that can behead a victim in the middle of a crowded city street. The scene in The Counselor featuring this nightmarish device is vivid and disturbing in its own right, but the absolute best way to experience violence is through McCarthy's prose.
…A mechanical device. It has this small electric motor with this incredible compound gear that retrieves a steel cable. Battery driven. The Cable is made out of some unholy alloy, almost impossible to cut it, and it’s on a loop, and you come up behind the guy and drop it over his head and pull the free end of the cable tight and walk away. No one even sees you. Pulling the cable activates the motor and the noose starts to tighten and it continues to tighten until it goes to zero…It cuts the guy’s head off…How long does it take?…Three, four minutes. Five Maybe…Depending on your collar size…The wire cuts through the carotid arteries and sprays blood all over the spectators and everybody goes home…the fingers of one hand caught in the wire now being severed and the wire drawing into his neck. His collar is red with blood. He sits down on the pavement and kicks his feet, as if in annoyance. Almost like a petulant child. Pedestrians have begun to stop although at a distance. The gearmotor of the bolito is grinding. He falls over, kicking. His left carotid artery bursts and bright red blood sprays in a fountain into the air and splashes back on the sidewalk. The spectators draw back.