In her book, Advanced Screenwriting, Linda Seger explains that the confrontation scene is one which uncorks the pressure that has been building up in the story between characters.
It is typically about one character’ s anger or dissatisfaction directed at the wrongs, real or imagined, perpetrated by another against him or her. The time for hints and innuendos has passed. This scene allows a buried truth to be uncovered. Here the subtext finally explodes to the surface. In the words of Seger, this is the scene where a character ‘tells it like it is.’
In the film American Beauty Lester confronts the lies in his life. He desperately needs more from his job, his sexuality. And he needs something deeper from his wife who elevates her job and the couch above the meaningful things in life. Here is Lester’s confrontation with her about the gulf between them stemming from her shallowness and confused values.
LESTER: Carolyn, when did you become so joyless?…This isn’t life. It’s just stuff. And it’s become more important to you than living. Well, honey, that’s just nuts.
Lester’s words are not overly angry or numerous, but their import is devastating.
“The confrontation scene is where the subtext explodes to the surface.”
Sometimes the confrontation scene is anticipated, which builds tension. At other times it is unexpected although the reader or audience has sensed that it is coming.
In the film Tootsie, Michael confronts his agent for not informing him about an audition for a play. The agent suggests that Michael’s problems have made him essentially unemployable. The scene exposes Michael as being in need of therapy.
The confrontation scene is typically one where the subtext bursts to the surface, where one character confronts another about a wrong perpetrated against him, whether real or imagined.