Based on Anne Tyler’s novel, THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST (1988) stars William Hurt as travel writer Macon Leary, whose marriage to Kathleen Turner is shattered after the accidental shooting death of his teenage son. He lives his life in limbo until his relationship with an eccentric dog trainer (Geena Dvais) and her son breaks him out of his shell.
Hurt portrays Macon with such (pardon the pun) hurt, with little outward emotion, that his pain is palpable. Davis’s kooky, loveable performance deservedly won the Oscar, while Lawrence Kazdan’s smooth direction and literate script capture Tyler’s characters perfectly.
This film holds a special place in my heart. Though I initially found it slow going back in 1988, on subsequent viewings it burrowed under my skin and I found myself coming back to the film again and again. And in 1999 when it came time to get a dog, it was the memories of this film and the goofy face of Macon’s dog, Edward, that led me to my own Cardigan Welsh Corgi…Watson.
The seeds of John Williams’s entire score can be found in the main titles. A slow four-note motif followed by a French horn countermelody with repeated notes precede a six-note motif in the piano that subtly combines the two previous motifs. This combination is used over and over again throughout the film.
As befitting Macon’s benumbed character, the score stays at a fairly subdued level throughout most of the film. Though there are rare moments of forward motion, the score revolves upon itself, displaying the hints of sadness inherent in the story. The score is a constant circle of motifs struggling to escape the steady tempos and quiet dynamics.
But Williams can’t break free until Macon does. In the final scene as Macon leaves his former life behind for good to go back to Muriel (Davis), the motifs weave in and out, reflecting the conflicting emotions within Macon. The strings build and build utnil the Macon’s taxi grinds to a halt in front of a beckoning Muriel. As the glinting sunlight fades from the windshield, the rapturous joy on Muriel’s face is echoed in the orchestra’s final major chord.
THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST is a quiet film full of humor, love and pain, peopled by Tyler’s memorable characters. Though many carp about the monothematic nature of the nature, the score is one of Williams’s subtler efforts and it pays off.