Down in the Valley

Institute History

  • 2003 June Screenwriters Lab


Down in the Valley is a crime story set at the edge of the San Fernando Valley, a seedy place where horse ranches, immigrant gangs, and ten-lane freeways converge to create a cultural no-man's land. Lonnie Sommers, an anemic 11-year-old boy, and his sister Tobe, a class-cutting high school senior, are struggling through a grim and hopeless existence. Wandering aimlessly through vacant lots, fast food restaurants, and their own overgrown tract home, Lonnie battles a crippling fear of the dark, while Tobe fights to free herself from their overbearing father, Wade. Both kids drift through their desolate world until Harlan Fairfax Carruthers gallops into their lives with the promise of changing everything.

Harlan looks and acts like he just walked out of an old Western movie. He has the Stetson and the slow drawl, and he even owns a pair of six-shooters. He is a charming anachronism, yet satisfies the fantasies of both Tobe and Lonnie: for her, an untethered and carefree spirit; for him, a strong and fearless hero. Yet Harlan turns out to be more complex than their fantasies. He is a mercurial character who can charm his way out of trouble, and with the squeeze of a trigger, get into more.

Everyone believes the fantasy Harlan has constructed except for Wade, and when he forbids Harlan's and Tobe's love affair, Harlan is pushed over the edge. As his dark side emerges, the hoped-for deliverance turns into chaotic violence. Tobe's and Lonnie's fantasies are dashed, but their reality, in the end, seems more hopeful.


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