It's For Your Own Good

The two texts I made contact with in this screenplay were Tamar Shapiro’s “What Is a Child?” and Bernard Williams’ Persons Character and Morality.

Tamar Shapiro’s paper describes paternalism: when one person takes away the choices of another because they can not make the decisions themselves, typically seen in parent-child relationships. Because children are underdeveloped, they are incapable of making proper judgment calls. Therefore, their parents make decisions on their behalf. In It’s For Your Own Good, although Paul is technically Michelle’s father, Michelle takes the paternalistic role in the relationship since Paul demonstrates underdeveloped, dependent characteristics, both mentally and physically. Tamar Shapiro’s justification for paternalism is that children will eventually become developed once they are older and will then be able to make their own decisions. However, It’s For Your Own Good raises the question of whether paternalism is justified in this case if the agent having their autonomy stripped away, Paul, does not have a future where he becomes developed since he will soon die. Therefore, is it better for a fully-grown man with dementia to be given autonomy? Or allowing a more capable daughter to act as his moral superior? The answer is unclear.

The introduction of Michelle’s son also highlights an assumption in paternalistic thought. Paternalism lies on the foundation that adults do not make improper judgements. However, although they are developed, adults make poor decisions all the time. Smoking is terrible for your health, yet Michelle, the developed adult still does it. Michelle’s adult son recognizes this and chides her to stop smoking, the same way a parent would do to a child, and, the same way Michelle would do to Paul. Michelle is better equipped to make decisions for her elderly father. However, there are still things she struggles with and Sam helps her overcome them, like her smoking addiction. This demonstrates that imprudent decisions are not limited to underdeveloped agents.

Ideas from Bernard Williams’s text can be seen in the library scene. Bernard claims that our special relationships with those that we care about complicates our moral dilemmas. Williams acknowledges the natural tendency we feel to show precedence to our nearest and dearest. In this situation where Michelle has to choose between giving the out-of-reach book to her father or the little boy, she chooses her father, something that Williams would have thought natural for her to do. When she is deciding who to give the book to, Michelle’s care for her father can be seen complicating the decision she needs to make.

I utilized several stylistic choices to express and highlight these philosophical ideas. Michelle says things that parents typically tell their child (“It’s for your own good”, “We’re having a rough day”, etc.). Additionally, she performs many of the duties that a parent would do for their child such as bathing them, cutting their food, doing their hair, and even putting them into the back seat of a car. I utilized camera angles to further highlight this paternalistic contrast by putting Paul out of focus on several occasions, signifying his lower status in the power dynamic between them. The camera angles also highlighted the unnatural nature of the relationship and the dependence that Paul has on his morally superior daughter. In the beginning sequence, Paul himself would be very stagnant and he could only act until the other person in the frame, Michelle, moved or did things for him. I chose to include parallel blocking (someone being active vs stagnant) to further highlight the unusualness of Michelle and Pauls situation. In scenarios where people typically do things for themselves–eating, bathing, brushing their hair–the inactive nature of Paul is unsettling to watch.