April Showers: The Best Uses of Rain in Film According to the TFS Staff
Jurassic Park (1993)
It's every kid's dream—a theme park with live dinosaurs. As a kid, I was obsessed with the creatures and practically dragged my parents to the theater to see Jurassic Park on opening weekend. Happily, this is a film that has held up over the years and that's in no small part due to the use of practical effects. Steven Spielberg's blockbuster is loaded with inventive Stan Winston creations but none are as awe inspiring or downright terrifying as the massive Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The T-Rex sequence is now the thing of legend; two electric tour cars stop in front of the Tyrannosaur paddock due to a power outage and a massive tropical storm ensues. The rain is oppressive, blocking the view between the vehicles and adding to a sense of paranoia as the audience waits for the other shoe to drop. And drop it does, or rather, a goat's leg drops, right onto the roof of an SUV, eliciting screams from both Lex and Tim, as well as the audience.
What follows is one of best action set pieces in the history of blockbuster cinema. A technical marvel on almost every level, the T-Rex attack was a nightmare to achieve as well. The script called for rain, so Spielberg made it rain—too bad the T-Rex's skin was composed of foam rubber that absorbed everything, causing the already heavy creation to weigh even more, causing the animatronics to shudder and grind to a halt. Luckily, Spielberg and his crew were able to work around this near-calamity and make movie history in the process.
- Matt Curione
Clint Eastwood’s elegiac revisionist western is directed with his no-frills style and is possibly his finest hour. It feels a little rough, a little cold, a tad rugged, and dangerous. William (Clint Eastwood) and Ned (Morgan Freeman) look like their past their prime, and those wild, killing days are a thing of the past, and in the fashion of dramatic structure, this is their last outing. What could go wrong?
Two things happen at Unforgiven's finale, Clint’s William Munny takes that revitalizing swig of whiskey (on that subject, how is this not instructional in alcoholism?) and his direction takes on elemental symbolism. Eastwood knows his way around a camera, and how to augment dramatic emphasis. The final bloodletting could have been engulfed in flames or caked in snow, but the first is too baroque, the later too pretty. After all Unforgiven’s most tender moment occurs on a snowy plain when Munny compliments the scarred whore they’re avenging. It had to end in the rain, and not just any rain but a cold one, that nasty kind that could only be tolerated when you have half a bottle of whiskey in your gut, and residual adrenaline from a shootout. Anyone can show you rain, but Clint makes you feel it, Eastwood rode into the genre a magnificent hero, in Unforgiven he rides out a malevolent murderer, or just a lapsed drunk who’s “always been lucky when it comes to killin’ folks.”
- Alex Miller
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Drag Me To Hell is a loud, dirty rollercoaster ride of a movie. Sam Raimi directs it in a way so that every action hits extra hard. That style carries from the scares to the performances to the music, all the the way to the little details, such as the rain in the film's climactic exhumation scene.
Late in the movie, Christine (Alison Lohman) finds out that she can end her curse by returning the cursed button given to her by the elderly Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver). There's only one problem, Mrs. Ganush has died. Desperately, in the middle of the night, Christine digs up her grave in the pouring rain to return the button to the corpse. As the lightning strikes louder and the rain hits harder, Christine gets more and more covered in muddy filth. Christine eventually breaks through, opens the casket, shoves the button into the departed Romani woman's mouth (after delivering a satisfying one-liner, of course) and watches as the water levels rise and cover the body. It's a hell of a climax, an absurd scene to help end an absurd movie, and the rain only makes is better.
- Marcus Irving
Se7en is a dank, dark, depressing, dreary film, as any film revolving around a sin-themed serial killer should be. This tone is only furthered by the constant, oppressive rain that soaks the unnamed city Detectives Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman) operate in. The dirt and grime of this metropolis, rather than being wiped away by the rain, seems to turn to mud, staining the buildings and roads and becoming part of the city's core. The rain reads as a metaphor as well, representing the evil that touches every person living in the city. People dash around, spending as little time as they possibly can out in the rain; ultimately, though, it's impossible to avoid all of it, and people are bound to get wet. The evil in the city is the same way. It touches everyone, eventually corrupting Detective Mills, a supposed bastion of the law. No one in Se7en can escape the rain, it's a core part of the city, just like the grim and evil. On the other hand, the rain could be God's tears crying about the seven deadly-sin-related crimes happening in the city. Whatever the case, rain is a massive part of the cinematic textures of Se7en.
- Harrison Brockwell
Take Shelter (2011)
At the start of Jeff Nichols’ 2011 masterpiece Take Shelter, Curtis (played brilliantly by the immensely talented Michael Shannon) toys with a viscous, oily drop of precipitation on his index finger that’s fallen from an ominous storm cloud. It’s at once surreal and entirely, urgently real. Though this episode culminates in the realization that it was all a figment of his tortured nightmare, the subversion of something so profoundly natural – rain – in combining it with something typically associated with humankind’s tampering with the natural order – oil, (especially in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon incident the year prior to the film’s release) creates a sort of hypnotic, supernatural tension that clots the atmosphere of the film. Herein lies the real brilliance of Nichols’ use of rain.
In so many films, rain is symbolic of life: it carves its way down Roy Batty’s chiseled jaw as he ruminates on the meaning of life, it acts as the catalyst for murder and violence in Chinatown, it acts as a mirror upon which Frank sees his life in Michael Mann’s Thief. In Take Shelter, however, rain is a symbol for that which threatens life. It haunts Curtis’s visions and nightmares. It acts as a harbinger of doom.
- Aaron Hendrix
Christopher Nolan’s enter-the-dreamscape thriller has a number of amazing action set pieces—from the now iconic hallway fight scene to the snow fortress battle in the film’s final act. It felt like Nolan was finally making his James Bond movie, by constructing his own puzzle of a film in which the action can be built on. Once the plot gets going, Dom’s dream team dives into the headspace of Yusuf, the chemist. It’s the first level of dreams that the team needs to go through in order to manipulate their target, Fischer’s mind.
These levels are controlled by those of who’s dream you’re in, and Yusuf admits he needed to go to the bathroom before entering the dream, so of course it’s pouring rain out on the city streets. Nameless agents begin to attack Dom and his crew, and to top it all off Dom’s subconscious comes crashing through by way of train. Yes, a train plows through city traffic. It’s a convergence of ideas within a sequence—the rain precipitated by something so innocuous, a gun fight with disposable thugs, and a train plowing through the action representative of the troubled mind of our lead. Cinematographer Wally Pfister’s Oscar- winning work is on full display here—the rain only heightens the scattered nature of the action, and it’s as gorgeous as any other rain-soaked action scene in film.
- Marcelo Pico
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Neo: "It ends tonight."
Agent Smith: "I know it does, I've seen it. That's why the rest of me is just going to enjoy the show, because we already know that I'm the one that beats you!"
Neo starts to run full speed towards Agent Smith, his mortal enemy for three whole films, in a stunning one-on-one fight to close out the rather ambitious trilogy.
This final fight was a great visual treat, pure Wachowskis magic-making, with the excellent use of a common cinema tool—the rain machine. Here the directors used what was called "chubby rain", rains drops that were way thicker than normal because on screen it looked like the green Matrix code spilling down the monitors seen all throughout the saga. This was quite rough on Hugo Weaving, Keanu Reeves, and the stunt crew because they could barely get a line out before their mouths filled with water. Despite the fact it was a tough shoot, the final result is an epic showdown with trademark Matrix motifs, like martial arts and well-placed, even if somewhat dated, visual FX. Neo and Smith fly up in a helix forming a DNA strand in the rain, they punch each other so hard that shockwaves form huge orbs, sending rain splattering across the digital city they are destroying. They are literally wrecking the code and it is a beautiful thing to behold. John Wick fans, keep an eye out for director Chad Stahelski as he doubles for Keanu taking the hard slams into and through walls. Everything simply looks gorgeous in this final action sequence and it is solidified by that thick rain, a code-like rain that makes for unforgettable imagery in a wild cyperpunk tale.
- Rockie Juarez
Streets of Fire (1984)
The reuniting of troubled young lovers in Streets of Fire comes after a painful buildup. Ex-soldier Cody and rock band siren Ellen have been separated for a number of years, Cody drifting and feeling disillusioned and Ellen finding a new man. At the start of the film, Ellen has been kidnapped by a biker gang and a friend hires Cody to save her. Violence, drama, motorcycle riding, and neon lighting ensue. She's hurting, he's stubborn, and we can't be sure that they will find their way to each other. Near the end of the film, angry Cody heads on his way but Ellen chases through a rainstorm after him. In the midst of yelling at him he grabs her and kisses her...finally. As it often does in romantic movie moments, rain adds a weight of melodrama and melancholy. However, here there is no relief—although it's a passionate moment, the grit and dirt of the oppressive city can't be washed away. The pair embrace in the sad gray street, and the downpour makes the moment feel desperate. They are wrapping up their story rather than continuing it, the rain washing the past away without hope for a bright, clean tomorrow.
- Sydney Wegner
Seven Samurai (1954)
Akira Kurosawa has always used weather as a means of heightening the moods of his work, and among the most notable is how it comes into play within arguably his most famous film: Seven Samurai. The film, about a poor village whose only aid against thieves are a group of samurai. In a runtime that goes only a little over three hours, the film’s portrait of the relationships between the samurai and the villagers together places it amongst the best dramas of all time, but another one of its most notable factors is how within this epic scale, it frames a battle sequence.
Seven Samurai’s third act is dedicated to the showdown between the samurai and the bandits, and this is where rain comes into play. What makes this film’s own use of rain stand out amongst all the rest is how it creates an environment where each character, strong or weak, share a mutual drowning. As samurai defend the weak and some villagers even manage to come even to help the noble warriors, it rains. In order to capture the intensity of such quick flashes of the battle, the rain helps the sequence as we recognize the pain as it drowns away, washing all the bloodshed clean and only signifying the heroic sacrifice coming to play.