Snowflakes of light from a disco ball blow across the wall in The Girl’s basement apartment. On that same wall are posters of The Bee Gees among others. The Girl, standing facing her record player, looks otherworldly, but not because she is a vampire. She is getting lost in the song that spins on the turntable, lost in knowing there’s a man in her room and she isn’t sure what she wants to do with him.
That man, Arash, doesn’t enter the frame for almost thirty seconds. When he does, the lyrics of “Death” by Whites Lies interject: “But fear’s got a hold on me.” It appears that Arash, wearing a Dracula cape, is no longer under the influence of the “X” pill he took earlier as he slowly moves toward The Girl. His eyes are alert, his gaze an arrow right to The Girl’s head. The Girl closes her eyes, her mouth slightly open.
After some seeming slow seconds, Arash is standing at The Girl’s back, breathing her in. The Girl slowly turns clockwise, letting her eyes meet with Arash’s. Neither one has spoken this entire time, the light show continuing on The Girl’s wall. “Death” is the only sound. The Girl raises her hand to Arash’s brow, moving his head back and exposing his neck. The Girl’s eyes then focus on that neck. She could easily bite him without resistance, but she decides not to. Instead, she nuzzles her head against his chest, letting Arash’s head come back down, his chin resting on the top of her head.
This scene in Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night lasts three minutes and sixteen seconds, though it seems much longer, but not in a bad way. Arash (Arash Marandi) and The Girl (Sheila Vand) have just met in this scene and are already engaged in one of the most enduring cinema stews: a boy, a girl, and music. Perhaps the most famous contemporary example of this is Lloyd Dobler, Diane Court, and Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” This is not a surefire combination for stirring the emotions of an audience though: the actors could lack chemistry, the song chosen for the scene might be a square peg in a round hole, or the entire scene itself might not make sense in relation to the plot of the film. Amirpour avoids all these pitfalls and creates, I think, the most beautiful, and engaging scene of a boy, a girl, and music in a film I’ve ever seen.
The way the scene is shot has a lot to do with its majesty, including the fact that it’s in black and white, which evokes an almost Golden Age of Hollywood feeling. The special, unique quality of this scene though is that there’s a nice interplay of danger: the intentions of The Girl toward Arash are unclear (mortal danger) and there are Arash’s intentions toward The Girl (emotional vulnerability). Often in these types of scenes, the danger is a one-way street: the hopes of the boy are on the line; he is pining and has probably screwed up earlier in the film to bring him to the point of holding up a boombox, making a mixtape, etc. None of those prerequisites occur here.
The Girl first meets Arash not even 24 hours before, high and wandering through Bad City. He needs to be pushed on a skateboard to reach The Girl’s apartment because he can’t stand up. It would be logical to think that The Girl chooses to take Arash back to her apartment to kill him out of the sight of others. Once The Girl puts the record on though, there’s a shift in mood. Yes, there’s still a palpable sense of danger, but there’s also a can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it feeling. A feeling of mystery and warmth.
More directors who like to make the boy, girl, music dish could take a cue from Amirpour. With a film culture currently wrapped up in nostalgia, remakes, and sequels, small steps like this—changing the components of a certain type of scene that can be seen across genres of film—can inject some real life into something otherwise bland. Thank you, Ana Lily Amirpour for giving me one of the best cinematic experiences of my life (soundtrack included).
Nate Logan was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN. His work can be found in glitterMOB, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and Stirring among others. With Laura Theobald, he edits Spooky Girlfriend Press.