Susanna Newsom, James Fox, Grace Flynna

Our screenplay draws upon John Locke’s An Essay on Human Understanding and Tamir Schapiro’s Childhood and Personhood to wrestle with the following philosophical questions: What is the relationship between identity and memory? More specifically, do people lose their identity as they lose their memories? Do people have a moral obligation to those who no longer have their memories (and thus perhaps no longer have their identity)? Furthermore, what justifies paternalism? Does a decline in age and memory result in a loss of identity so great that another person is morally justified in making decisions for the senile person? Are there any circumstances in which someone has the right to withhold information from a senile adult and make decisions for them like they might for a child? Our screenplay deliberately does not answer these questions but raises them using stylistic techniques.

First, to prompt questions about identity and memory, Nonny’s POV in the film increasingly distorts with time (unlike Vera’s sustained in-focus POV); this represents Nonny’s declining mental state. The warped nature of Nonny’s audio perception and the increased contortion of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You further convey Nonny’s cognitive lapse. Dialogue also demonstrates Nonny’s loss of cognitive function; for example, Nonny forgets what she asked for in her coffee and cannot remember Kirsten’s name. These elements of the screenplay — POV shots, audio distortion, and dialogue cues — perhaps suggest that Nonny has lost her identity. However, the repetition of imagery throughout the film suggests the opposite — that Nonny, like her surroundings, is the same person. Before and after Nonny’s dementia develops we see: the 1969 Chevrolet truck; the girls drinking coffee and spilling coffee; the dragging of feet (by Mammy and then Chester); Vera’s glasses fogging up; close-ups of Vera’s eyes; the characters grabbing each other’s skirts; fire; the polka-dot sundress; and the characters resting their head on each other’s shoulders. Like the world around her, maybe Nonny remains the same person. Nonny’s continued interest in living in a mansion is additional evidence that she keeps her identity. When Nonny is a child and much later when she is lying in bed with Vera, she says she wants to live in a mansion while Vera writes. Nonny’s continuous ambition is a subtle reference to Bernard Williams’ Persons, Character, and Morality. Under Williams’ framework, Nonny maintains her identity because she maintains aspirations and goals. There is no single conclusion to be drawn, though — conclusions about identity and memory are purposefully not provided.

Questions of paternalism are also raised throughout the screenplay, namely through music and imagery. For example, the song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” signifies a potentially darker side of paternalism. Vera, like the subject in the song, is perhaps “too good to be true.” Rather than being an empathetic caretaker of Nonny, she might be using Nonny for personal gain. The fact that Nonny’s vision sharpens when the line “too good to be true” plays suggests that Vera’s paternalism is, indeed, too good to be true. The repetition of the line “I need you, baby” also suggests a potentially distorted version of paternalism. Specifically, it hints that Vera is actually the one who needs Nonny… she needs Nonny to feel good about herself. In other words, Vera’s intent behind taking care of Nonny is perhaps morally self-indulgent rather than empathetic. Under a deontological framework, this selfish intention could be enough to call Vera’s actions immoral. The shift to a darker color palette further conveys this possible immorality — Nonny should be the agent of her life, and any other reality is conceivably grim. The reference to the frog and scorpion story and the tear drop coming from Vera’s right eye are additional easter eggs that point to an unjustified version of paternalism. In light of these stylistic choices, other techniques are employed to convey that Vera’s paternalism is justified. Nonny is vividly portrayed as a baby, suggesting that Vera’s actions are like that of a moral parent. Nonny “picks at the rug as if an infant,” wets the bed, needs to be helped into clothes, is rocked back and forth in Vera’s lap, and extends her legs in front of the fireplace like a child. This imagery suggests that, like a baby, Nonny cannot make decisions for herself, potentially giving Vera the moral right-of-way to make decisions for her. Nonny’s blurred vision and distorted audio perception perhaps also suggest that Vera’s paternalism is justified; if Nonny doesn’t have a consistent conscience, maybe Vera has to make decisions for her to maintain her health and well-being. At the same time, Nonny does have some moments of mental/perceptual clarity, begging one to question the true extent of her decline. Perhaps Nonny is lucid frequently enough that Vera’s paternalism is not ethical, after all. Similar to questions about memory and identity, it is intentionally unclear whether Vera’s paternalism is morally justified — there is stylistic evidence that points to a variety of conclusions.

The ending of the screenplay emphasizes a pattern of stylistic ambiguity. In an ode to Inception, the camera cuts off before the viewer/reader can tell whether or not Nonny reaches for the paper — whether or not she deems Vera’s actions as wrong and will confront her. Perhaps in one reality, Nonny doesn’t reach for the paper because she benefits from Vera’s help and maybe even likes what she gains from their relationship. In another reality, perhaps Nonny is ultimately disgusted by Vera’s paternalism, grabs the paper, and confronts her friend. Nonny’s perspective about the matter is left unclear, and thus the viewer doesn’t have a first-person framework to aid him/her in making philosophical conclusions.

In summary, our screenplay employs a myriad of stylistic techniques such as camera POV, color palette, and suggestive imagery to build ambiguity and prompt the viewer/reader to ponder philosophical questions related to identity, paternalism, and the moral implications of both. It is important to note, however, that visual and auditory techniques (though the main focus of this exploration) are not the only artistic licenses used to convey philosophical inquiry in our screenplay — narrative structure and plot also do so. For example, the first portion of the screenplay follows a clear, linear narrative, but as Nonny’s condition develops, the narrative sequence likewise gets more confusing; the screenplay begins jumping back and forth from the past to the present through flashback sequences. This increasingly complex narrative structure helps establish philosophical ambiguity and creates a tone of urgency that prompts the reader/viewer to genuinely consider the dilemmas at hand.