A Theme of Faithfulness in Wayne Wang’s Film "Smoke"

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In the film “Smoke”, directed by Wayne Wang we follow the lives of three characters in Brooklyn mostly by seeing how they become connected and through the stories they tell. We learn of an author named Paul Benjamin who routinely buys cigars from a local tobacco shop owner named Auggie Wren. We learn Auggie takes photos every morning of his own street corner as a hobby of his which Paul finds interest in after he realizes he doesn’t really know Auggie as well as he thought he did. One day as Paul is leaving Auggie’s shop he almost gets hit by a bus and is saved by a young man later becoming known as Thomas. Paul feels that he must repay Thomas for saving his life and so Paul helps him in his search to reconnect with his father after running away from his aunt’s home. So more simply put, we follow the life of Paul who is a writer who recently lost his wife in a murder, we follow Auggie a tobacco shop owner and photographer who recently finds out about possibly having a daughter, and we simultaneously follow Thomas on his attempt to reconnect with his father Cyrus, all along with seeing how their lives crossover and connect with each other’s. Wayne Wang may have taken Paul Auster’s original short story and expanded on it very much to build a larger story with many new characters, but he still remained faithful to the original story by continuing to use the same theme of the importance of slowing down. Wang’s film with the added scenes where Paul finds out Auggie taking photos, the scene where Cyrus and Thomas stop talking while working and the scene between Thomas and Paul at the Bookstore, all these demonstrate faithfulness to the original short story thematically.

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So, firstly there is one scene in the original short story that Wang found this theme of slowing down and expanded the film from. The obvious scene that is in both the film and text is the scene at the beginning of the film where Paul looks through Auggie’s photo project. Auggie has been working on this most his life, where he takes a photo of his street corner every day at the same exact time in the exact same spot. As Paul is flipping through the photos very quickly Auggie notices and says the famous words, in both the film and story, “You’ll never get it if you don’t slow down my friend.” This sets the theme up of how important it is to slow down to look closer at things, not to assume at first glance that you know something. And so just before this scene in the film going back to Auggie’s smoke shop in an added scene where Paul first discovers and learns about Auggie’s “life’s work”, we find a faithful addition to the theme of slowing down. Paul’s dialogue here with a sort of sarcastic surprised tone reads “So, you’re not just some guy who pushes coins across the counter” along with Auggie’s reply of “Well, that’s what people see, but that ain’t necessarily what I am”. This simple dialogue kicks off the theme just before the scene that is both in the film in text. It clearly shows Paul was wrong to assume he knew what kind of a person Auggie was without actually knowing anything about him at all. And so, when he takes the time to “slow down” he finds something out about Auggie that they share an interest in.

A second additional scene demonstrating this theme, looking to the film chronologically, would be the scene where Thomas goes to find his father Cyrus and ends up taking a job to clean out the old Mechanic shop for him. In this scene it is clearly evident that Thomas is working way to fast and running up and down the stairs while carrying things and Cyrus eventually stops working and tells him to relax. They both then sit in the back of the pick-up truck to take a break and drink a soda. The biggest part of this scene is when Cyrus tells Thomas about a car accident he was in that killed his wife, who was also Thomas’s mother, that also cost him his arm. This time that Cyrus and Thomas take to “slow down” allows them to reconnect and support each other. Cyrus starts the scene by handing Thomas a soda and patting Thomas on the shoulder but yet after his story, which is basically a story about the consequences of not slowing down, the roles switch, and Thomas is seen supporting Cyrus by helping him as he struggles to grab and open a soda. With this added scene with new characters, Wang continues the theme of the importance of slowing down in life.

Lastly, another additional scene in the film that is faithful thematically is the scene between Paul and Thomas who go to the bookstore together and have a conversation with the cashier. Thomas is trying to convince the cashier to come out to his birthday dinner with him and Paul. Eventually, jokingly Thomas says that he is Paul’s father even though at first glance people could correctly assume that is not true because of the racial and age difference between the two. Paul jumps in though to go along with what Thomas has just told the woman at the cash register. Paul’s dialogue reads assuringly, “Most people assume I’m his father, it’s a logical assumption seeing as how I am older than he is, but the reverse is actually true, he is my father and I am his son”. Again, here the story reiterates to us about slowing down and not jumping to conclusions too quickly. Now the viewers know this isn’t true because we know the background between the two characters, but this was just another clever way Wang stayed faithful to the original short story through the use of themes.

Even though the story itself was very much expanded on with plot and characters Wang remained faithful to the original text. In the end Wayne Wang created a faithful rendition of “Auggie Wren’s Christmas story” through the use of theme in his additional scenes. Wang committed to the theme of the importance of slowing down in life, with scenes like Paul finding out about Auggie’s photos, Cyrus and Thomas stop working to reconnect, and the scene between Paul and Thomas explaining how you shouldn’t make assumptions from what you see.

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