When it comes to powerful movies, especially from the last 12 months, there might be only a few that can match what ‘Fences’ brought to the table. From the opening minute through the final scene, it was nothing short of magnificent and awe-inspiring in the way that it gripped your attention at every turn. It was just an exquisite masterpiece that holds up well on a second or even third watch. And it still hits you in the same manner.
Rather than just go through the plot and talk about what transpired in the film, I’ve decided to just hone in on four scenes of the film. To me, they were four most important scenes and showcased what the movie was all about. There was raw emotion in each one of them. The cast was outstanding, and that part isn’t shocking in the least since Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are two of the finest in their field. Let’s just get the emotions rolling already.
Perhaps the biggest storyline in the entire movie has to deal with Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) and his son, Cory (Jovan Adepo). There’s a lot of tension on the screen whenever the two are in a scene together and you can absolutely feel it coursing through your body as it happens. This particular scene takes place a little earlier in the film, and it happens because Cory is going places with football and had to quit his job at the A&P supermarket. Troy didn’t like that and wanted Cory to go get his job back, and if he had to quit football then so be it.
Cory turns around and asks Troy what he probably thought was a very simple question, “How come you ain’t never liked me?” Little did Cory know that that’s the type of question that Troy really did not want to be asked. So, Troy then gives him a lesson on the harsh realities of life and the things that come along with it. Not everyone is going to love you or even like you, so why worry yourself about whether or not someone actually does? Why worry about the affections of others?
Troy breaks it down to Cory in a way that Cory will be able to understand, and while he does so in sort of a demeaning way, he makes sure that his son gets the gist of it all. Troy demands respect from everyone, especially his son. And you see that when he says, “N***a, as long as you in my house, you put a ‘sir’ on the end of it when you talk to me.” The most poignant part of the entire scene, though, came at the end right before Troy told Cory to get down to the A&P.
“Now don’t you go through life worrying about whether somebody like you or not! You best be makin’ sure that they’re doin’ right by you!”
It’s the part that sticks out the most, simply because it’s a teachable moment for the son. It’s something that everyone should actually live by for the most part. Worrying about whether or not people do in fact like you is a very worthless endeavor. You cannot please everyone, so don’t stress about trying to get everyone to even like you in the first place. The people that like you are gonna like you, and the people that aren’t going to like you just aren’t going to like you. It really is as simple as that.
At the end of the day, the only person you can trust and rely on in life is yourself, so it shouldn’t really matter to you if anyone else even likes you at all. While some may view Troy’s comments to be harsh in nature, it came across more as a father making sure that his son was not going to be deceived by the outside world and taken advantage of in any form. Troy wanted the best for Cory, even if Troy himself didn’t know what the best actually was. He wanted his son to be better than him.
The scenes between Cory and Troy were very powerful and complex throughout the entire film. I’m sure there are a lot of fathers and sons that have had conversations like this in the past. When Troy asks Cory, “What law is there say I got to like you?”, all Cory could respond with was a very docile, “none.” There is no law, and that’s what made this scene so intense. It made you feel something for both characters. A son just wanting to be liked and loved, and a father just upholding his responsibilities.
It is, without question, the most extraordinary scene in the entire film. Rose (Viola Davis) was just told by Troy that Troy had an extramarital affair with another woman and is going to be a father. Rose storms out of the kitchen and into the backyard. That’s when Troy comes out to try to explain to her how he feels when he’s with the other woman and that he can’t give it up. It’s just how he is now.
When Troy tells Rose that “it’s not easy for me to admit that I’ve been standing in the same place for 18 years,” Rose just has enough and lashes back at him. She tells him that she, whether he can see it or not, has been standing right there with him in that same spot. They’ve fought the same battles, gone through the same trials and tribulations, and that he wasn’t alone even when he thought he was.
“I’ve been right here with you, Troy! I got a life too! I gave 18 years of my life to stand in the same spot as you! Don’t you think I ever wanted other things? Don’t you think I had dreams and hopes? What about my life? What about me?”
It goes without saying that Viola Davis absolutely deserved the Best Supporting Actress award that she received for her role in this film. She was absolutely sensational, and the sheer gravitas that she brought was unparalleled. Her delivery of these lines, combined with the emotion and realness, was arguably the best part of this entire movie. She, in this scene, was Rose.
When Rose rips into Troy for his selfishness and his inability to realize that Rose was right there with him the whole time is something that eats at her very soul. She had to lash back at him and regain herself, her true being, in that moment. And god damn did she ever do it. Rose lays the law down and tells Troy that he wasn’t the only one there, and that she can’t handle the situation that he has put her in.
Perhaps the most moving part of this scene was something I didn’t put in the video up above. It’s when Rose tells Troy, “You take, and don’t even know nobody’s giving!” It implies that he only talks about how he’s the one being wronged and taken advantage of in situations. Whether that’s from his oldest son asking for money or Cory wanting to do his own thing or whatever it is, she let him know he takes from other people, emotionally, without realizing he’s actually doing it.
Rose becomes the focal point of the movie because of this one scene, and she shows that she might actually be the strongest person. She ended up putting up with a whole hell of a lot, and she came out the other side of it still handling herself with the greatest of grace. Rose challenging Troy’s reality in this scene is one of the finest scenes that happened in 2016, and we all need to thank Viola Davis for it.
After receiving a phone call at their house that the baby has been born, Rose wakes up Troy to tell him the news. But there’s also bad news. The other woman has passed away during childbirth, and Rose leaves the room to let Troy handle the news himself. So, Troy handles it the only way that he knows how – he challenges Death.
Troy feels that Death came from nowhere and took an innocent person in this entire ordeal, so he threatens Death that he’s going to build a fence around the yard and that Death must stay on the other side until he’s ready to come get Troy, and only Troy. He doesn’t want anyone else to get caught in the crosshairs. Not the baby, not his other children, not Rose, and not anyone else. If Death is going to come for anyone, it needs to come for Troy.
“You ain’t gonna sneak up on me no more! When you ready for me, when the top of your list say ‘Troy Maxson’ then you come on up and knock on the front door. Ain’t nobody else got nothing to do with this! This between you and me! Man to man! Just stay on the other side of that fence until you’re ready for me! Then you come up and knock on that front door! Anytime you want!”
When you really think about it, Troy had lost a lot. His brother, who we’ll talk about shortly, had a head injury in World War II that ended up leaving him with a mental disability. Troy lost years of his life serving a prison term, not to mention that his own mother left him when he was eight years old. He had a fight with his father when he was 14 years old, and Troy left after that. All Troy has seemed to know is loss, so you can understand where he’s coming from when talking to Death.
Every time Troy feels like he’s on a path to something good, he can feel a spirit coming for someone he cares about. It might not be in the form of Death, but loss is all he knows to some extent. At a time of what should be great joy, he is once again met with harrowing sadness. He ends up doing what he thinks is the only thing to do, which is make a bargain with Death. In it, he tells Death not to come for anyone else – only him. It’s an admirable look at a man who has had enough.
When a man gets to the end of his rope, he sometimes feels that the only recourse he has left in life is to throw down an ultimatum and fight back. That’s exactly what Troy does here with this challenge. And at the end of the challenge, Troy just tells Death, “I’ll be ready for you.” It’s hard to say if anyone is ever truly ready for that, but Troy definitely believed he was. He wasn’t going to let Death take anyone else. Not over Troy’s dead body.
In the final scene of the movie, we get to see Troy’s family there getting ready to go to his funeral. His oldest son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), received a furlough from the penitentiary, where he’s serving a three-year sentence for fraud. Cory, who is on leave from the Marines, is there, as are Rose and Raynell (Saniyya Sidney). Raynell is the daughter of Troy and the mistress. But the scene really takes off thanks to Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), Troy’s younger brother.
Gabriel always carries around a trumpet with him, and he says that he’s awaiting the word from St. Peter so that he can open up the heavens for departed souls. Due to his traumatic war injury, people kind of just think he’s nutty. Yet, in this scene, something profound happens. As Gabriel valiantly attempts to play the trumpet so that Troy can get into heaven, it looks like it’s all for nothing – until he hits the note.
“That’s the way that go!”
Gabriel touches the foreheads of everyone and then attempts to play. Lyons grabs Gabriel, and Gabriel freaks out a little bit before resetting and holding his trumpet to the air and saying, “Troy!” It was as if Gabriel was letting St. Peter know exactly who it was that Gabriel was trying to get to heaven. Then Gabriel goes back to playing.
Nothing comes out of his trumpet at first, but shortly thereafter he raises the trumpet to the heavens and a sharp sound comes out. The cloudy skies above then break just enough so that the sun can come peering through. Raynell walks up and holds Gabriel’s hand, and the rest of the family is clearly moved by the majestic situation. Gabriel then gives out a little chuckle and says, “that’s the way that go!” and hurries off into the house.
It was perhaps the final evidence that Troy actually was a good person just caught in a battle inside himself – a battle between the good and bad. While he had his lows as a person, he certainly had his highs. And perhaps that’s what the end symbolized. Even when a man can be at his worst, he can still always find a way to be saved, whether that’s through others or himself.
The entire scene was just really touching. Troy’s family all together in one place, just celebrating his life, even if it wasn’t a perfect life. His wife, his sons, his daughter, and his brother. All there for him, even if he wasn’t always there for them. A real showing of what family is supposed to be like. Even at the lowest, people can still be there for you. It was truly heartwarming.
When you really examine ‘Fences’ all the way through, you get hit with this sense of feeling that you seldom feel when watching a movie. It was just an extremely powerful film, and something I feel privileged for having watched. I couldn’t even imagine what seeing the play version of this would have felt like, especially with James Earl Jones as the lead.
Out of all the films that came out in 2016 that I happened to actually watch, this one probably hit me the hardest. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried several times throughout the film, and I can thank both Viola Davis and Denzel Washington for that. Their performances were just unbelievable and helped bring to life something that I’m sure impacted a lot of people.
If you haven’t seen ‘Fences’, then you definitely need to do so as quickly as possible. Even knowing the plot or these few scenes won’t change the experience for you. It’s just so, so, so good. The most accurate line in the movie is something that I’ll end this on. It was spoken by Bono (Stephen Henderson), who happened to be Troy’s oldest and closest friend.
“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”
You weren’t lying, Bono. You were not lying.
Troy tried to keep Death out and keep his family in. He tried his best. That’s all he could do.