MEMENTO

 

(1) Natalie says to Lenny, “Even if you get revenge, you’re not going to remember it.” Lenny replies, “It doesn’t make any difference whether I know about it. Just because there are things I don’t remember that doesn’t make my actions meaningless.” Is Lenny right?

 

(2) Teddy says to Lenny, “You can’t trust a man’s life to your little notes and pictures. Your notes could be unreliable.” How reliable are Lenny’s notes, and is memory any more or less reliable than they are?

 

(3) If you were a judge and knew everything that Lenny did, would you convict him of murder?

 

(4) Lenny states, “Conditioning didn’t work for Sammy, so he became helpless. But it works for me. Habit and routine make my life possible.” Is he right about habit and routing working for him?

 

(5) What should Sammy’s wife have done when Lenny suspected that his problem was psychological?

 

(6) Teddy says to Lenny, “You don’t even know who you are.” Lenny responds, “Yes I do, I don’t have amnesia. I remember everything right up until the incident. I’m Leonard Shelby, I’m from San Francisco.” Teddy interrupts, “That’s who you were. You do not know who you are, what you’ve become since the incident.”

 

 

 

WINTER’S BONE (2010)

 

ISSUES: social justice, limits of liberty

 

CHARACTERS: Ree (17 year old girl), Sonny (Ree’s 12 year old brother), Ashlee (Ree’s 6 year old sister), Jessup (Ree’s missing father), Teardrop (Jessup’s brother, Ree’s Uncle), Thump Milton (local crime boss), Little Arthur (former drug partner with Jessup.

 

SUMMARY: Her family home in danger of being repossessed after her meth-cooking dad skips bail and disappears, Ozark teen Ree Dolly  breaks the local code of conduct by confronting her kin about their conspiracy of silence. Should she fail to track her father down, Ree Dolly, her younger siblings, and their disabled mother will soon be rendered homeless. (Summary by Jason Buchanan, Rovi Corporation.)

 

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR DEBRA GRANIK: Down to the Bone (2005)

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

 

1. The movie explores how meth is destroying families in rural areas where local meth labs are common. It also a window into impoverished, rural, redneck life. What are some of the things in the film that typify that lifestyle?

 

2. The backyard trampoline is a recurring theme in the film. What’s the message?

 

3. Carhartt is a top quality brand of work clothes for farm and construction, and several characters wear their products. Ree herself has on a large, beat up Carhartt work coat that cost over $100 new. Is there any significance to this choice of apparel in the film?

 

4. In film making, “diegetic” music is the music that the characters themselves can hear, such as someone playing the radio or strumming a guitar. What are the various styles of diegetic music that can be heard throughout the movie, and what kind of statement does it make?

 

5. The film is directed by a woman, and there are a lot of female characters throughout the film. The men are often in the background. What types of male-female relationships do the characters display, and are any of them healthy ones?

 

6. What sort of survival skills does Ree teach her brother and sister, and did she do a decent job as a substitute mother?

 

7. Ree’s neighbors help her and her family out with food. Other characters in the film offer her money and drugs. What’s the message?

 

8. Favorite lines in the movie: Teardrop says to his wife “I said shut up once already with my mouth.” Teardrop’s wife says to Ree “Here’s a doobie for your walk”; Thump’s wife says to Ree “Ain’t you got no men who could do this?” When teaching her little brother and sister how to shoot a rifle, Ree says, “kneel down line you’re praying; you see that cross? That’s called the crosshairs”

 

9. The director, Debra Granik, stated the following in an interview: “I think that the subject of meth for everybody involved – for local people and the crew – it was extremely upsetting. There is not one aspect of looking at meth that is mellow or benign: what it does to a human being’s body, their faces, their teeth. Everything about it is so vicious, and so dramatic and so relentless. There is basically not one bit of solace in that whole depiction of actual reality of it.” Does this message constitute a definitive argument against the legalization of meth and similarly addictive hard drugs?

 

10. Ree doesn’t know if she should sell off the trees on her property, and asks her mom for advice saying “Please help me this one time.” Her mom is unresponsive. What does this say about Ree and the kind of responsibility she has had?

 

11. Ree persisted in making inquiries to Thump Milton about the whereabouts of her father, which resulted in her being beaten up. What alternative did she have, either legally or illegally?

 

12. Ree said that she was embarrassed that her father was a snitch. Teardrop replied that there were a lot of years when he wasn’t, but then one day he was. Both are making moral assessments about Ree’s father. What is that assessment?

 

13. What’s the significance of the banjo at the end of the movie?

 

14. Besides Ree, who else in the movie would you classify as a good person and why?

 

15. How did the government let Ree down?

 

16. A PBS documentary titled “The Meth Epidemic” places the blame for the meth problem squarely on the shoulders of the manufacturers of pseudoephedrine, the principal ingredient in meth. They have resisted efforts to restrict its availability and make it prescription only. Their stated justification is that the drug helps countless people who have congestion problems. If banning pseudoephedrine completely would kill the meth problem, would the health tradeoff be worth it?

 

17. Is there any significance to the fact that the movie is set in winter, and was does the title “Winter’s Bone” mean?

 

 

 

8 1/2 (1963)

 

ISSUES: aesthetic creativity, personal identity

 

CHARACTERS: Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni, movie director and main character), Luisa Anselmi (Guido’s wife), Carla (Guido’s mistress), Claudia (lead actress in Guido’s film), Mezzabotta (Guido’s friend) Gloria (Mezzabotta’s young mistress), Rossella (Luisa’s best friend).

 

SUMMARY: The film is set in a spa near Rome and on a film set of a science fiction epic in which the director, Guido Anselmi has lost interest. The film moves back and forth between Guido’s reality as he struggles to proceed with his film, and his surreal dreams. He is chased and pestered by fans, the press, actors, his producers, and his mistress.  The scenes in the film are only loosely connected together, and each expresses an element of his internal struggle. As the movie continues, the line between Guido’s reality and dreams becomes blurrier.  8 1/2 won the 1963 Academy Award for best foreign-language film. (For a PDF file of an English translation of the screen play see www.mediafire.com/?c9b0ucu9bo6vuqn).

 

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR FREDERICO FELLINI: La Strada (1956), Nights of Cabiria (1957), La Dolce Vita (1960), and Amarcord (1974), Fellini Satyricon (1969)

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

 

1. The film opens with a dream sequence in which Guido is being asphyxiated in his car during a traffic jam while other motorists look on. What is the significance?

 

2. Film reviewer Roger Ebert discusses a criticism of 8 1/2 by fellow reviewer. Ebert writes, “The critic Alan Stone, writing in the Boston Review, deplores Fellini's ‘stylistic tendency to emphasize images over ideas.’ I celebrate it. A filmmaker who prefers ideas to images will never advance above the second rank because he is fighting the nature of his art. The printed word is ideal for ideas; film is made for images, and images are best when they are free to evoke many associations and are not linked to narrowly defined purposes.” Who is right, Stone or Ebert?

 

3. Gloria, the young fiancé of Guido’s friend Mezzabotta, is working on a degree in philosophy. The subject of her thesis, as she describes it, is “The solitude of man as portrayed in contemporary theater.” This is essentially the theme of 8 1/2. What scenes in the film best illustrate this?

 

4. Amidst the confusion in his life, Guido is distracted by attractive young women as they appear in one scene after another. What’s the point here?

 

5. A French actress, who will appear in only five scenes of his film, complains that she needs to know in advance the details of the character that she’s playing. She says to him,  “I have to feel her flesh on me, her ideas. Without that, I just can’t.” Guido responds that he hasn’t any information for her: “You mustn’t know anything”. There are many layers of meaning to that scene. What are they?

 

6. A magician named Maurice walks around a party attempting to read people’s minds with the help of a female telepath. He tries to read Gloria’s mind and says to her “Do you think you’re able to hide your thoughts?” She screams in protest and says “This man is crucifying me!” Maurice apologizes “Please excuse me. Thoughts are sacred.” What’s the issue with Gloria about the privacy of thoughts?

 

7. Maurice reads Guido’s thoughts and the result is the phrase “Asa Nisi Masa”. In a flashback, it is revealed that this phrase was from Guido’s childhood, and children would chant these magic words in their beds at night, which would then make the eyes on a painting move. The director’s commentary to the film DVD suggests that the phrase came from a game in Fellini’s childhood in which he would create code words by adding the syllable “sa” to words. In this case, it is the Latin word anima, which refers to a principle of animation within the soul. What’s the significance here?

 

8. The French actress forces Guido to talk to her. She says “Why do you look at me like that? Oh, don’t tell me that I’m beautiful. The way you say it sounds like an insult. I feel as if I’ve made a mess of everything, my life, my work. But tell me, why do you find it so amusing to torture me?” What’s going on here?

 

9. Guido reflects on his limitations as a director, particularly with how he should portray his lead actress, Claudia. Guido says to himself, “A lack of inspiration, that’s it. And suppose it’s not just temporary. Suppose you [i.e. Guido himself] are really finished, you uninspired and untalented fake? But what if I made her the symbol of purity, of sincerity? But what the hell does it mean to really be sincere? You heard what the writer said: ‘Enough of symbolism and these escapist themes of purity and innocence.’ What am I looking for?” He then has an idea “In the village there’s a picture gallery. And you could be the janitor’s daughter. You’ve grown up amidst images of ancient beauty.” He then imagines Claudia reading the script and laughing at it. He then says to himself, “Yes, you’re right to laugh.” This scene encapsulates Guido’s struggle through the entire film. What precisely is this struggle?

 

10. Guido’s producer insisted that he meet with a catholic Cardinal for advice on developing a religious theme in his film pertaining to Catholicism in Italy. There is then a flashback of Guido as a child who pays a local prostitute to perform an erotic dance for him and his classmates. He’s caught by two priests, and his school principal reprimands him saying that what he did was a mortal sin. His punishment is to wear a dunce cap and a sign on his back saying “shame”. He then hallucinates a meeting with the Cardinal in which the Cardinal states “Why should you be happy? That is not your task. Who told you that we come into the world in order to be happy?” Quoting Origin, a theologian of the early church, the Cardinal says “Outside the Church there is no salvation. He who is not in the city of God is in the city of the devil.” What is the Catholic issue that Guido is struggling with?

 

11. Of all the characters in the film Guido seems to most enjoy the companionship with his wife Luisa, yet he is pathologically unfaithful to her. Luisa knows about the affair, and is unhappy with Guido. As Rousella (Luisa’s best friend) explains it to Guido “I think the only thing she wants is for you to be different from what you are.” Luisa herself says to Guido, “never letting people know what’s true and what’s false: is it possible that for you it’s all the same, everything? Is there a larger critique here about Guido which goes beyond the particulars of his infidelity?

 

13. In one scene, Guido imagines a situation in which all the women in his life live together harmoniously, and those who get too old are sent to live upstairs where they can be forgotten. The women upstairs rebel, and Guido controls them by cracking a whip. Luisa finally understands her place within the household of women. What’s going on here?

 

14. In one scene he is giving screen tests for the roles of the various women throughout his life. Why does he do this?

 

15. Guido explains the movie script to Claudia, and she responds: “Listen, a man like that, the way you describe him, who doesn’t love anybody, no one is going to feel very sorry for him, you know. Basically, it’s his fault.” Why should we as viewers care about the petty anxieties of a film director who brought on his own troubles through his egotism and womanizing?

 

16. Near the end of the film, there is a scene in which Guido abandons his project and the film set is torn down. Is that party of Guido’s reality or his imagination?

 

17. In the final scene, all the important people from Guido’s past, including his deceased mother, meet together in a circus carnival performance. Carla says to him, “Now I’ve got it. You can’t do without us.” What’s her point?

 

 

 

CONTACT (1997)

 

ISSUES: philosophy of science, science and religion

 

CHARACTERS: Ellie Arroway (Jodi Foster), Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), David Drumlin (Chief of National Science Foundation), Michael Kitz (James Woods, politician), S.R. Hadden (John Hurt, millionaire)

 

SUMMARY: Ellie Arroway is a scientist who lost her faith in God after her parents died when she was a child. However, Ellie has learned to develop a different sort of faith in the seemingly unknowable: working with a group that monitors radio waves from space, Ellie hopes that some day she will receive a coherent message from another world that will prove that there is a world beyond our own. Ellie's hard work is rewarded when her team picks up a signal that does not appear to be of earthly origin. Ellie decodes the message, which turns out to be plans for a space craft, which she takes as an invitation for a meeting with the aliens. Ellie and her fellow researchers soon run into interference from a White House scientific advisor, David Drumlin, who cuts off their funding and tries to take credit for their achievements. However, Ellie receives moral support from Palmer Joss, a spiritual teacher who advises President Clinton and tries to persuade her to accept the existence of a higher power, and financial backing from S.R. Hadden, a multi-millionaire willing to fund her attempts to contact the source of the message. Contact was based on a novel by Carl Sagan, who advised director Robert Zemeckis during the film's production until his death in 1996. (Summary by Mark Deming, Rovi Corporation)

 

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR ROBERT ZEMECKIS: Romancing the Stone (1984), Back to the Future (1985), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Forrest Gump (1994), Cast Away (2000), The Polar Express (2004)

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

 

1. The opening scene is an extended camera shot that starts on earth, goes through outer space, past galaxies, and ends at the edges of the universe. How does that make you feel: insignificant or special?

 

2. In the original screenplay, there is a scene in which Ellie’s father dies in a car crash when she’s still a child. “The truck driver looks up, sees the Ford coming at him, Ted still looking over his shoulder at FAWN who suddenly looks up at the O.S. sound of a HORRIBLE CRASH”. What’s better for the plot: dying of a heart attack or dying in a car accident?

 

3. Palmer states the following to Drumlin: “I’m not against technology, Doctor. I’m against men who attempt to deify it at the expense of human truth.” What is he talking about?

 

4. After the death of Ellie’s father a priest says to her “Ellie, I know it's hard to understand this now, but we aren't always meant to know the reasons why things happen the way they do. Sometimes we just have to accept it as God's will.” Ellie essentially ignores his advice, and the priest walks away in disappointment. In a journal article titled “Religious Faith and Science in Contact” theologian Brian S. Stone writes in response to this comment “It has now gotten to the point in popular film that if you see a man with a clerical collar you can go ahead and count on his being morally reprobate, inflexibly ruthless, or, in this case, sincere but intellectually helpless.” Stone is probably right. Why is this so?

 

5. Drumlin tells Ellie that there are only two possibilities about alien life: “One, there is intelligent life out there but it's so far away you'll never contact it in your lifetime, and two, there's nothing out there but noble gases and carbon compounds, and you're wasting your time.” Is this a sufficient reason to stop government funding of the SETI project?

 

6. Ellie goes to a corporation to request funding for her project. They respond “We must confess that your proposal seems less like science and more like science fiction.” Is that an accurate depiction of the SETI project?

 

7. On the Larry King show, Palmer the following: “Is the world fundamentally a better place because of science and technology? We shop at home, we surf the Web, at the same time, we feel emptier, lonelier and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history.” Is Palmer right?

 

8. The alien signal pulsated in sequences of prime numbers. Why was that important?

 

9. President Clinton appears at a press conference and says the following: “It speaks of the possibility of life. If this discovery is confirmed it will surely be one of the most stunning insights into our universe that science has ever uncovered. Its implications are as far-reaching and awe-inspiring as can be imagined. Even as it promises answers to some of our oldest questions it poses still others even more fundamental. We will continue to listen closely to what it has to say, as we continue the search for answers and for knowledge that is as old as the humanity itself but essential to our people's future.” This was actually from a speech he gave for a NASA “Search for Life on Mars Conference” and he was talking specifically about a rock discovered in Antarctica that originated from Mars. Is Clinton right about the importance of such discoveries, either about Mars or the Vegan star system, and, if so, why?

 

10. After public announcement of the signal, Geraldo Rivera states on TV “Attendance at religious services has risen a dramatic 39% in recent days.” A swarm of people gathered outside the satellite telescope site, and one sign in the crowd advertised “Alien Abduction Insurance,” another states that “Jesus was an Alien.” Would these be realistic responses to such an announcement if one ever did take place?

 

11. Palmer asks in his book “What if science proves that God never existed" two which Ellie responded “what if science revealed that he never existed to begin with” she then states Ockham’s razor: “all things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one. . . .  So what's more likely? That an all-powerful, mysterious God created the Universe, and decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or, that He simply doesn't exist at all, and that we created Him, so that we wouldn't have to feel so small and alone?” Is she right that this kind of scientific reasoning undermines the idea of God?

 

12. At a meeting to select the astronaut, one panel member asks Ellie “If you were to meet these Vegans, and were permitted only one question to ask of them, what would it be?” Ellie responds, “Well, I suppose it would be, how did you do it? How did you evolve, how did you survive this technological adolescence without destroying yourself?” Is this a good question for the aliens, and what might be some other good ones?

 

13. Palmer states the following: “Our job was to select someone to speak for everybody. And I just couldn't in good conscience vote for a person who doesn't believe in God. Someone who honestly thinks the other ninety five percent of us suffer from some form of mass delusion.” Is Palmer right that the selected astronaut should have religious convictions?

 

14. While in the Vega star system, Ellie states the following: “It’s so beautiful they should have sent a poet. I had no idea.” In the film, this parallels something like a religious experience. Can the two experiences be compared?

 

15. The Vegan alien in the form of Ellie’s father states the following to Ellie: “You're an interesting species, an interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.” This is a dual message, one about humans, and another about Ellie herself. Is it effective scriptwriting to blend the two like this, or is it clumsy?

 

16. At a Senate hearing, Senator Kitz (James Woods) states the following: “I’d like to propose an alternate hypothesis if I may. . . . Dr., are you familiar with the scientific precept known as Ockham’s razor? . . . . Now, you tell me, what is more likely here? That a message from aliens results in a magical machine that wisps you away to the center of the galaxy to go windsurfing with dear old dad, and then a split second later, returns you home without a single shred of proof? Or, that your experience is the result of being the unwitting star in the farewell performance of one S. R. Hadden? A man with the means, the motive, and the opportunity to play you, and indeed the rest of us, as pawns in the biggest, the most elaborate, the most expensive hoax of all times.” Which is the more likely hypothesis, and which would you believe if you were at that hearing?

 

17. At that hearing, one Senator states the following to Ellie: “You come to us with no evidence, no record, no artifacts, only a story that, to put it mildly, strains credibility. Over half a trillion dollars was spent, dozens of lives were lost, are you really going to sit there and tell us we should just take this all on faith?” An essential component of faith is belief in the absence of evidence. At that point in the movie, would belief in Ellie’s story require an act of faith?

 

18. Ellie replies to the Senator with the following: “I had an experience I can't prove, I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real. I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever; a vision of the Universe that tells us undeniably how tiny, and insignificant, and how rare and precious we all are. A vision that tells us we belong to something that is greater than ourselves. That we are not, that none of us are alone. I wish I could share that.” Suppose that there was no proof of that Ellie actually visited Vega. Would there be any value in sharing this message of hers?

 

19. How much difference does it make to the believability of Ellie’s story that her video camera had recorded 18 minutes of static?

 

20. Why did Senator Katz suppress the information about the 18 minutes of static on Ellie’s video camera?

 

21. At the close of the movie, Palmer states the following about his religious quest and Ellie’s scientific quest: “our goal is one and the same: the pursuit of Truth. I for one believe her.” Is he right that both religion and science have the pursuit of truth in common?

 

 

 

WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998)

PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: life after death, idealism

 

CHARACTERS: Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams), Annie (Chris’s wife), Albert Lewis (Cuba Gooding Jr.), the tracker,

 

SUMMARY: Based on a metaphysical 1978 novel by science fiction and horror author Richard Matheson, this romantic fantasy-drama won an Oscar for its expensive and impressive visual vistas depicting an imaginative afterlife. Robin Williams stars as Chris Nielsen, a doctor who has suffered with his artist wife Annie (Annabella Sciorra) through the devastating loss of their children, Marie and Ian, who were killed in a car accident. Although Annie's all-consuming depression nearly destroyed their marriage, the couple rebuilt their relationship and are now living out a comfortable middle age. Stopping one night to help a motorist in a wreck, Chris is struck by a car and killed. At first confused about where he is, Chris meets Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a spiritual guide who helps him to realize he's passed away and that he must move on to the next world. After trying with only limited success to communicate with the devastated Annie, Chris moves on and discovers an afterlife that can become whatever one envisions, where even his pet dog awaits him. What Chris envisions as paradise are the paintings of his wife, and he happily takes up residence there, awaiting the far-off day when Annie will eventually join him. He also meets his children, although they have chosen different appearances than the ones they had in life. Then tragedy strikes when Annie, inconsolable, commits suicide and goes to Hell. Although it is rarely done, Chris insists on traveling there, risking his eternal soul to save the woman he loves. Accompanied part of the way by Albert and a wizened guide called The Tracker (Max von Sydow), Chris finally reaches Annie in Hell, and must convince her of the truth in order to release her from her dark prison. (Summary by  Karl Williams, Rovi Corporation.)

 

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR VINCENT WARD: Map of the Human Heart (1993), One Night Stand (1997), River Queen (2005)

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

 

1. Shortly after his death, on two occasions Chris tries to communicate with his wife, but he stops when it looks like she is going crazy. If you were in Chris’s position, how many times would you try before giving up?

 

2. Ian (in the body of Albert) functions as something like Chris’s tour guide in the afterlife, and many other movies about heaven have the same thing. Is there something conceptually essential about having a tour guide in the afterlife, or is Ian there mainly for the benefit of the audience, such as to generate dialogue and interaction with Chris?

 

3. Art was an important part of Chris’s life, and when he gets to heaven his world is like a painting. “We all paint our own surroundings, but you’re the first to use real paint. Now you’re creating your own world here, from your imagination, to paintings that you live. ” Is this an essential part of the plot, or just an opportunity to toy with what was then new computer graphics technology?

 

4. Shortly after Chris dies, he has the following conversation with Ian (in the body of Albert) about personal identity:

Chris: Am I really here? Ian: What do you mean by “you” anyway? Are you your arm or your leg? Chris: Partly. Ian: Really? If you lost all your limbs, would you still be you? Chris: I’d still be me. Ian: So what’s the “me?” Chris: My brain, I suppose. Ian: Your brain, your brain is a body part. Like your fingernail or your heart. Why is that the part that’s you? Chris: Because I am sort of a voice in my head. The part of me that thinks, that feels. That is aware that I exist at all. Ian: So if you’re aware you exist, you do. That’s why you’re still here.

There are a lot of strands of philosophy in this dialogue. Are all the philosophical strands assembled in a meaningful way?

 

5. Ian (in the body of Albert) states the following to Chris: “Your brain is meat. It rots and disappears. Did you really think that’s all there was to you?” What is the more normal intuition on this subject: that our minds die with our brains, or our minds continue in an afterlife?

 

6. When Ian (in the body of Albert) transforms Chris’s heaven from a painting to reality, Ian says “Thought is real. Physical is the illusion.” This is the position of idealism, which, in various forms, has been a major ingredient in philosophy since its inception. Most notably, this includes the views of Plato, Plotinus, Berkeley, and Hegel. Is there any uniform conception of idealism that emerges from this film?

 

7. Of all the depictions of hell in the movie, which was the most troubling and why?

 

8. Albert (in the body of the tracker) states the following: “You know why we chose to look so different? The old baggage, old roles of authority, who's the teacher, who's the father, gets in the way of who we really are to each other.” Here on earth, are our roles of authority more important than Albert suggests?

 

9. All science fiction and fantasy stories have rules about how their worlds operate, whether it’s the proper functioning of a magic wand or how to navigate through the afterlife. Without those rules, the storyline appears arbitrary. Does this film have a consistent set of rules?

 

10. Film reviewer Tom McCarthy describes this film as “A heaping serving of metaphysical gobbledygook wrapped in a physically striking package.” Is he right?

 

11. Film reviewer Jeffery Overstreet states the following about this film: “This is what happens when you try to make a philosophical movie about spirituality without making anybody uncomfortable.” That is, a good philosophical film about spirituality will need to make people uncomfortable. Is he right, and can you think of examples of this?

 

 

 

HAPPY ACCIDENTS (2000)

 

PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: time travel, scientific verification,

 

CHARACTERS: Ruby Weaver (Marisa Tomei), Sam Deed (Vincent D’Onofrio), Maggie Ford (therapist), Lillian (Jewish friend)

 

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR BRAD ANDERSON: Session 9 (2001), The Machinist (2004), Transiberian (2008)

 

SUMMARY: Ruby Weaver is weary of her long history of failed relationships with men when she meets Sam Deed in a park. But after the two fall in love, Ruby becomes suspicious of Sam's past, his obsession with a "Chrystie Delancey", and "causal effect." Under pressure from her, he finally explains that he is really from the year 2470 and is what he calls a "back traveler." Ruby initially ignores this story, considering it yet another case of male nerdy weirdness, but after Sam's persistence, apparent conviction, and growing agitation, she begins to wonder. Finally she takes him to see her therapist. Ruby becomes worried as to Sam's sanity when he reveals that everything he has done was a deliberate attempt to change her life. (Summary from Wikipedia.) The film script is available at script-o-rama.com (www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/h/happy-accidents-script-transcript-donofrio.html).

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

 

1. Sam explains his upbringing to Ruby: “I'm a Biological. I'm just like you. Back in 2470 most people are corporate-sponsored Gene Dupes manufactured in the Philippines. My parents were Anachronists, and they believed in doing it the old way. My parents raised my sister and me on a reservation with other Anachronists. The Gene Dupes kept us there. They hated us. We were always fighting for our nostalgia rights. My father was a freedom fighter. He led the battle to have the Ban on Beauty lifted. The Gene Dupes finally got him. Want to know what his crime was? He was teaching us an ancient protest song. Maybe you've heard it before: I'm as free as a bird now, and this bird will never change.” Later he explains that the Gene Dupes banned back-travel because of brain drain: “Apparently, too many Anachronists disappeared into the past. They banned it in except for the terminally ill.” He describes Gene Dupes as follows: “They're gene-warped, so they have smaller fingers and purple irises, no genitalia.” The film contains no scenes from the future, and these statements by Sam are just glimpses at the dystopian environment in the year 2470. How does this compare to other science fiction descriptions of the future?

 

2. Sam experiences “Residual Temporal Drag Syndrome,” which is a side-effect of back-travel that he describes as follows: “The mind is a little slower. It tries to catch up, but then it gets confused and throws itself into reverse. The causality of events flips, and time flows backwards.” Is there any proof that Sam could give Ruby that time is running backwards for him?

 

3. Sam keeps adapting his story in response to Ruby’s questioning. Consider the following famous philosophical parable by Antony Flew in which he describes the notion of falsification. “Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, ‘Some gardener must tend this plot.’ The other disagrees, ‘There is no gardener.’ So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. ‘But perhaps he is an invisible gardener.’ So they set up a barbed-wire fenced. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. . . . No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the believer is not convinced. ‘But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensitive to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves.’ At last the Sceptic despairs, ‘but what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?’” Through his continual qualifications, has Sam’s position become unfalsifiable?

 

4. Sam tells Ruby that religion goes out of favor in 2033 when science discovers the gene that regulates fear. Would manipulating a fear gene reduce (or eliminate) the human need for religion?

 

5. At an art gallery party, one of Ruby’s old boyfriends argues that time travel is impossible: “One merely has to point out the numerous logical absurdities, temporal paradoxes, circular causation, closed time loops. You name it.” One such absurdity is the “Grandfather Paradox” where a man travels back in time and kills his biological grandfather before he meets his grandmother; this would prevent one of his parents from being born, and thus himself from being born. Sam replies that these problems are evaded by Blinovitch's Second Law of Temporal Inertia: "it's impossible to back-travel in your own lifetime. You have to go way back to make any change at all. Even then, they have to be small changes so they dampen out by the time it reaches the present." Does Blinovitch's Second Law evade the Grandfather Paradox?

 

6. Sam himself states that Blinovitch's Second Law does not evade closed time loops, where a time traveler goes to the past, and when history moves forward, he does the same thing again and again. However, he argues, Cheeseman's Emotional Energy Theory can break that chain. He explains, "Cheeseman believed if you can concentrate enough energy in a moment in time then you could alter the past and create a new future." The specific energy, he says, is emotional: "love energy, hate energy." How would Cheesman’s law break closed time loops?

 

7. Ruby’s mom explains the battle for supremacy that she had with her alcoholic husband. When she finally lost her codependency and made him stop drinking, the spark was gone from their relationship. The mom sees this as a parallel with Ruby and Sam’s situation. She says to Ruby, “You give so much. You care so deeply. But you're so busy trying to fix the problem that you forget to enjoy the moments of happiness that you have. We loved our happiness. When we had it, we relished it. And that's what you must do. You must go to him and you must tell him. You tell him how you feel. And you enjoy each other for what you can give to each other now. Believe me, it won't last forever.” Ruby then finds Sam and tells him that she believes him. Does the preservation of the romantic spark justify codependency and enabling?

 

8. At the end of the movie is the evidence compelling enough to reasonably conclude that Sam is telling the truth and is from the future?