Just found out that the fanciful prologue of Rian Johnson's terrific sophomore effort, The Brothers Bloom, is now on Hulu. Reaction to the film on the fest circuit has been pretty divisive, as is often the case with aggressively stylized work—see also Johnson's equally fine debut, Brick, which people tend to either love or find supremely irritating. These seven minutes, though they take place about 20 years before the main action, should give you a good sense of which camp you're more likely to join. If you don't find them clever and charming, stay away. And stay away from me for good measure, because you're a sour joyless grump who would probably refuse to assist a magician onstage if he tried to pull you out of the audience.
The first time I saw this sequence, it took me a while to realize that it's entirely in verse—neither Ricky Jay as narrator nor the onscreen actors emphasize the meter, treating it in the casual way that e.g. most Shakespearean performers do. Even on second viewing, the rhyme scheme seemed to come and go, when in fact it's been scrupulously worked out (though there is a single line of dialogue near the end—"Pleasure doing business with you"—that isn't part of the poem). I've transcribed the entire thing in quatrain form below, but watch it normally first.
As far as con man stories go,
I think I've heard them all.
Of grifters, ropers, faro fixers,
Tales drawn long and tall.
But if one bears a bookmark
In the confidence man's tome,
T'would be that of Penelope,
And of the brothers Bloom.
At ten and thirteen, Bloom and Stephen,
The younger and the old,
Had been through several foster families—
Thirty-eight, all told.
Mischief moved them on in life
And moving kept them close.
For Bloom had Stephen and Stephen Bloom,
And both had more than most.
Another home, another Main Street.
Stephen looked around,
And summed the burg up thusly: "Bloom,
We've hit a one hat town."
One theater, one car wash,
One cafe, one park, one cat
Which through some mishap had one leg.
"Sweet Jesus, look at that!"
One public school, one tight-knit group
Of local well-off kids.
Their pocket change bought Rocket Pops.
The brothers: "Pixie Stix."
They were the they—all well-loved,
Rooted, happy as you please.
Always there in every town:
Could he simply—? "TALK TO HER!"
Just drop his fears and go?
Leave his brother in the woods
And join the children? No.
So in the root of Stephen's psyche
Something now began.
A seed of grand epiphany.
A hook. A tale. "A plan."
A fiction, both for profit
And to ease his brother's heart.
A simple con in fifteen steps.
"And this is where we start."
And then, as if a curtain
Had been pulled back from the sky,
Some barrier within the younger
Bloom was broken. "Hi."
So Bloom performed his role
In Stephen's story to a T.
And being who he wasn't
Could be as he wished to be.
"So, the tale. You tell them:"
"There's a hermit in the woods!
A one-eyed, steel-toothed vagabond!"
"With blood-red eyes?" "That's good."
"He stopped you coming home from school."
"And told me of a cave!"
"What kind of cave?" "A cave
Of wonders.""Pfft! Ha!" "Shut up, Dave!"
"At noon, every Sunday,
There appears a ball of light.
Which flutters like a butterfly."
"The will-o-wisp?" "That's right!"
"It guides you..." "...if you can keep up..."
"...to where the treasures lay."
"So where's this cave?" "Yeah, where?"
"Aha! The hermit didn't say.
He got this greedy, glinting look,
The filthy red-eyed leech.
And said he'd tell for thirty bucks."
"Well that's just two bucks each!"
And so that Sunday, straight from church,
Into the woods Bloom led.
They stopped. Their hearts leapt. There it was.
"Just like the hermit said."
For just one moment, Bloom
Forgot himself and ran too fast.
He'd catch the light and find the treasure.
But the moment passed.
They didn't catch the will-o-wisp
But didn't really care.
"It seems to me that in the end
The perfect con is where
Each one involved gets just the thing
He wanted." "Yeah, I guess so."
Our fledging thieves were satisfied.
The childrens' parents, less so.
A bitter ending? Maybe.
But there's sweetness in the mix.
The brothers Bloom had found their calling
As shown in number six.
"Cut" meant to negotiate,
"%" percentage deal.
O'Henry's was the town's one
Dry-clean shop. "So, how's it feel?"
In truth, young Bloom won't know
For twenty years just how he felt.
And so we'll skip ahead now
In our story. "Let 'em melt."