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Pay It Forward

September 11, 2015

PIFThis is a secular version of “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” —Matthew 7:12 and “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’.” —Galatians 5:14

Trevor McKinney, troubled by his mother’s alcoholism and fears of his abusive but absent father, is caught up by an intriguing assignment from his new social studies teacher, Mr. Simonet. The assignment: think of something to change the world and put it into action. Trevor conjures the notion of paying a favor not back, but forward–repaying good deeds not with payback, but with new good deeds done to three new people. Trevor’s efforts to make good on his idea bring a revolution not only in the lives of himself, his mother and his physically and emotionally scarred teacher, but in those of an ever-widening circle of people completely unknown to him.

The director, Mimi Leder:.”The film encourages people to be brave, to think about people other than themselves for a change. It takes as much work to be selfish and miserable as it takes to be selfless…The country is in such a state with so much violence and guns and drugs. The country is in trouble. I thought this would be a good way to help it a little…. It’s a great philosophy to live by. I think the world would be a better place if people did live by it….If Trevor’s idea sounds like mere “random acts of kindness,” only as demanding as placing a quarter in an expired parking meter, think again: The first act of “paying it forward” in this film involves a man giving away his expensive sports car to a perfect stranger. A lot of people talk about humanity and don’t do a thing about it…..It’s not so easy to do this, but it’s not so hard to do it either. It takes some effort, it takes some thought, and it takes a strong belief in humanity.”

Everyone can make a difference, light a candle in the dark.

Trevor McKenney: I think some people are too scared, or something. I guess it’s hard for people who are so used to things the way they are – even if they’re bad – to change. ‘Cause they kind of give up. And when they do, everybody kind of loses.

Chris: Is that what you want for your birthday? Everybody it forward?

Trevor: I can’t ask for that.

Chris: Sure you can. Why not?

Trevor: It wouldn’t work.

Chris: Why?

Trevor: [Long pause] I already blew out my candles.

Eugene: I know what I’m talking about, Arlene! My father got down on his knees and begged my mother. And my mother,s he always took him back. I never understood it. she’d cover up the bruises and the cuts and she’d take him back. Because he begged and he cried. And now you ask me, you ask me what happened after he came back.

Arley: I…

Eugene: No! Go on! You said you wanted to know what happened to me, now ask me!

Arley: I don’t like this…

Eugene: Did he hurt you, Eugene? Ask me!

Arley: Did he hurt you?

Eugene: [shakes his head] Not for long. By 13 I was gone. i ran away. But I missed her so… I had to go back and see her. So one night I did. Now, ask me what happened. What happened that night you came back, Eugene?

Arley: What happened?

Eugene: He was there. Drunk. As usual. Only this time I wasn’t the same. I was 16 years old and I was no longer afraid of him. And when I looked him in the eyes and told him if he ever touched her again I would kill him, he knew. He knew that he would never exist for me again. And I’m standing in front of the house. I’m yelling, screaming for her to come out. I’m telling her she doesn’t have to take it anymore. She really doesn’t. She can come with me now. I don’t even see it. He hits me in the side of the head with a two-by-four and I’m bleeding from my ear. And then he’s dragging me. He’s dragging me behind the house into the garage. And then he’s gone. A minute… five minutes… I don’t know. And then he’s back. And he’s wetting me down. He’s wetting me down and I don’t understand. I don’t understand why water… should smell so bad. I don’t understand. And then I see it. I see… this… this gas can. This red gas can from his truck.


Eugene: And he looks at me one last time… and he lights a match. And the last thing I remember, I’ll never forget it, were his eyes. His eyes because they were filled with this immense… satisfaction.

Arley: [Crying] I’m so sorry…

Eugene: Don’t! Don’t! Don’t tell me how sorry you are for me! Tell me how you’re going to stop that happening to Trevor!

Arley: Ricky would never do that!

Eugene: Oh, Jesus, Arlene! He doesn’t have to. All he has to do is not love him.

[Turns around and walks into his house with his grocery bags]

Trevor: Were you just being nice?

Eugene: About what?

Trevor: About my idea. Do you think it’s good, or were you just being teachery?

Eugene: “Teachery”?

Trevor: Bullshitting.

Eugene: Do I strike you as someone falsely nice?

Trevor: No. You’re not even really all that nice.

Trevor McKenney: [to Mr. Simonet] What did you ever do to change the world?

Jerry: [tearfully] Do me a favor… save my life.

Jerry: You ever been on the street?

Arley: My mom took us pretty close.

Jerry: Well, you can’t know. Not until you look at a dumpster. But when you climb into that thing for the first time and you pull those newspapers over you, that’s when you know you’ve messed your life up. Somebody comes along like your son, and gives me a leg up, I’ll take it. Even from a kid, I’ll take it.

Thorsen: I thanked him and there were some very specific orifices in which I was told to shove my thanks. He told me, “Just pay it forward.” Three big favors for three other people. That’s it.

Chris: So it’s like a pass-it-on thing, then. Wait a minute. You and this lowlife are in this chain of do-gooders, some kind of Mother Theresa conga line? That’s a little New-Agey for you, isn’t it? Sort of Tibetan? What, are you in a cult?

Thorsen: If you mention my name, you’ll be selling your kidneys to pay for your lawsuit. Cult.

Chris: Hey, the guy. What was the guy’s name?

Thorsen: [as he’s walking away] Sorry, I’m late for my mass wedding.

[Thorsen gives Chris the keys to his car]

Chris: You want me to drive home in your car?

Thorsen: No, I want you to take my car. Had a lot of luck lately. I don’t need it.

Chris: You’re giving me a brand-new Jaguar, and you don’t want anything?

Thorsen: I can prove it. Give me your card.

[Chris gives Thorsen a business card]

Thorsen: I’ll be in touch.

Chris: Whoa, what is this? What, you want me to kill your wife or something?

Thorsen: No. Tempting, but no. Call it generosity between two strangers.

Sidney: The world is a shithole, pardon my French an’ shit.

Trevor McKenney: Is the world just shit?

Arley: Sit down, I want to talk to you.

Trevor McKenney: You want to lie to me.

[Arlene, and then Eugene, feeling very emotional, have left the room in which Trevor was being interviewed by Chris for television. Trevor admits that he thinks “pay it forward” will not work, because people are too afraid]

Eugene: Arlene, I don’t want to be one of those people he’s talking about. And I’ve become one. I don’t want to spend another second of wasted air. Please, don’t make me stay trapped in here forever.

Trevor McKenney: Are you saying you’ll flunk us if we don’t change the world?

Eugene: Well, no. But you might just scrape by with a C.

Arley: [Storming into the room] Mr. Simonet?

Eugene: Yes, I’m Eugene…

[looks up from his desk to see Arlene]

Eugene: …Simonet.

Arley: [Taken aback by Eugene’s scars] Hello.

Eugene: Hello.

Arley: What is this assignment?

Eugene: Excuse me?

Arley: What did you tell my son to make him bring a homeless man into my house?

Eugene: Uh, I have two problems. One: I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. And two: I don’t know who you are.

Arley: Arlene McKinney. My boy is in your social studies class… Trevor.

Eugene: Trevor. Yes, he’s very attentive. He’s very exigent, which I like.

[Noticing some confusion on Arlene’s face]

Eugene: Exigent, it’s challenging, testing…

Arley: I know what it means! Would you like to tell me why my kid brought a bum into my house?

Eugene: I have no idea…

Arley: Bullshit!

Eugene: Mrs. McKinney, I don’t know how your son interpreted the assignment.

Arley: How do you think he interpreted it?

Eugene: Well, I don’t know. My suggestion is, if you want to know, why don’t you go home and talk to your son?

Arley: Hey! I talked to him!

Eugene: Really? Then why did you come all the way down here to ask me what the assignment is?

[Points to the blackboard]

Eugene: It’s not a state secret.

Boy in class: So I’m going to make this website in Chinese, telling all the people in China to jump up and down.

Eugene: Basically you want to move the earth off its axis.

Boy in class: Yep, pretty much.

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From → Film

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