… Speed: the part where she turns the corner.
Speed is an action movie; it doesn’t have a whole lot of character development – which is fine, really, since I always feel that allows us just to see the characters as a more generalized “humanity”, and to bond with those characters for humanity’s sake. It also helps the viewer put him/herself into the movie – it’s a lot easier to imagine myself as the hero or heroine if there’s more of a blank template there.
And once you’ve imagined yourself as the hero or heroine, why, suddenly everything that happens in the movie enters the realm of your own possibilities (however remote). Suddenly I could save a dozen people from an elevator-bomb; suddenly I could come up with the bold and daring solutions to life-threatening (and horribly unlikely) problems; suddenly I’m Keanu Reeves’ girlfriend … but I digress.
Annie – the heroine – is faced with driving a bus, which she has never done, and doing so under very stressful conditions. All the passengers on the bus – people she has known for a while – are depending on her ability to keep her cool and to keep the bus on the road. And then … the road meets a T-intersection, and she’s going to have to drive a city bus at a minimum of 50 miles per hour around this really sharp corner. Everyone moves to one side of the bus, but as she moves into the turn, the bus comes up on two wheels and almost tips over. Everyone’s terrified for a really long minute … and then the bus is through the turn, and back on four wheels, and it’s all okay.
Sure, the situation becomes even more harrowing later, more than once. The bus is required to go through some fairly impossible scenarios that are entertaining to watch, and the typical action-movie fan would probably be satisfied. But the sharp turn is something that’s actually possible; it’s accessible to the viewer because the viewer could actually do that, and actually save those people.
All the passengers do their part by keeping calm and doing what they need to do. Annie stays calm and does what she needs to do. The bus follows the normal laws of physics. Basically, the scene feels like real people in a real bus doing real stuff that solves an actual problem. And when they’re done, they’re happy in a very normal, visible way, and they’re grateful, and they’ve bonded.
And all the viewers who want to imagine themselves as the hero can feel like this is something they could actually do, that they – with the skills they already possess, in the world they already live in – could do awesome things that save people. They can imagine that, even if they’re just passengers on a bus, they can be what they need to be and do what they need to do to save the day.
And that, I think, is all any of us really wants.