Friday, September 30, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal #6

The Homeschool Mother's Journal 

In my life this week… I am still struggling to get a handle on my workload ... marital intimacy and consistent sleep are not on the table right now. :-) I got kicked down by a virus and bounced back. Watching leaves starting to turn shades of orange and brown, marking the turn of another year, makes me both happy and sad.

In our homeschool this week… We're still accomplishing little by way of establishing consistent rhythms and routines for our school year. The older kids and I are trudging very slowly through our history curriculum and floundering with math.

On the other hand, exciting things are happening, particularly with the kids' writing. And Eliza and I had a GREAT field trip day ... please see Field Trips & Nature Study at Raw Learning and Other Updates! River and I also started our English, Philosophy and Film Unit, and I'm becoming more and more excited about her writing ... she's nearing page 100 in her novel!

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share…



I recently purchased Learn to Write the Novel Way for my 13-year-old, who is resistant to writing, although when he does buckle down in front of a keyboard, he shows some talent. It seems to be designed as a year-long unit study, culminating in writing a novel. It breaks the process into manageable steps. The first chapter, which we completed this week, is on choosing something to write about, the second chapter delves into developing the story, including creating characters, and so forth.

Each chapter is designed to be done independently, with checkboxes to tick off when each mini-assignment is completed. When the student completes a chapter, he's prompted to share it with his writing coach, and get feedback, before moving to the next stage. However, Seamus and I did a lot of the work together, as he needed a bit of prodding. But with just a little prompting and discussion, he came up with a GREAT idea for a novel ... I'm really excited to see where it goes.

This curriculum is clearly written from a Christian perspective, in case that either encourages or deters you. Since we're a secular homeschooling family, we skipped the prompts with scriptural content, along with anything else we didn't find relevant to the immediate task at hand. :-)

One thing I like about this curriculum is that it seems like it would be a good fit for both traditional homeschoolers and us relaxed eclectic/unschoolish types. And a student learns grammar and writing techniques with a specific purpose in mind.

I am inspired by… My hubby, who keeps a positive attitude when he's overwhelmed and sleep deprived.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing… Tomorrow is soccer day, and River and I will be seeing our dear friend Christine.

My favorite thing this week was… Right now, just hanging out with the family and blogging.

What’s working/not working for us… What's not working right now is trying to balance the needs of 3 kids at very different developmental stages and with vastly different needs and learning styles, plus managing my own work schedule and carving out time for myself. Does anybody know where I can get a time turner?

Questions/thoughts I have… I've been wondering whether I should keep up this blog, since I get so few visitors and commenters. I know that's not supposed to be the point of doing this, but still ...

I’m cooking… Homemade tomato soup and butternut soup with apple and curry.

I’m praying for… A friend who's observing the anniversary of her baby girl's death tomorrow.

A photo, video, link, or quote to share…



Eliza at school with her brand new BFF

Field Trips and Nature Study at Raw Learning and Other Updates (LOTS of Photos)

My seven-year-old Eliza. -- who deserves a medal for surviving with two teenage siblings -- is really loving school these days! She attends a small Sudbury-type democratic school, where I -- along with many other moms -- volunteer to defray some of the tuition costs. When I dropped her off today, she was immediately absorbed by a small group of girls. Within moments they were all darting down the hall, dressed as princesses, shrieking and laughing. My last glimpse of Eliza was of her in a cluster of girls bivouacked in a fort constructed of boxes under the ping pong table.

The school offers classes, of course, but lately Eliza's been choosing to attend those infrequently. Since my main reason for investing in this school is social, this is O.K. with me. Though I AM really bummed that she chose not to take French. :-)

I've been teaching biology at her school -- a deviation from my usual role as English teacher and grammar nerd. We've been exploring earthworms (decomposers), and their role in the food chain, and hatching painted lady butterflies (plant eaters).




This little beauty isn't my kiddo -- H's pic is posted with her mom's permission. :-)


We've played a lot of games and talked about how nature works. The kids particularly seemed to enjoy making worm habitats in juice bottles.

Serendipitously, one of this week's field trips was to the JMU Arboretum to participate in a workshop on monarch butterflies and tag them as part of a migration study with the University of Kansas. I took both my daughters. Eliza loved the fact that she was picked to participate in a role play of the butterfly's life cycle. Time to bundle up in that chrysalis!









I learned several new things, such as how to distinguish between a male and female monarch ...



image from Gardens with Wings

the male has a scent pouch which he uses to woo his prospective mate.



and the fact that this species was named for the gold markings on its chrysalis, which reminded some creative nomenclator of a monarch's crown.

By the way, doing something like this is on my "bucket list." I've always wanted to see the point in Mexcio where all those migrating monarchs converge. I'd better learn some Spanish, si?

The arboretum was lovely, although it was unseasonably hot and humid and we were pretty tired. And I could see and hear signs of fall creeping in -- some leaves were drifting to the ground, and we could hear a fusillade of acorns hitting the ground.



Our field tripping also took us to the skating rink, where Eliza was especially thrilled to see her friend L., who comes to school on Fridays. The two skated together for a long time, using the little walkers for support.





I wish I'd gotten a better picture of L -- she has the most gorgeous smile! Photos posted with her mom's permission.



P.E., who has motor and sensory delays, is gradually becoming more confident in physical activities. She's becoming less fearful of being "in the game" during soccer practice and games. She was definitely more comfortable with the skating. Last year, even using the walker for support, it scared her. And a schoolmate taught her to throw a regulation-sized football this week! Not to mention that she recently climbed the ladder and went down the slide at school for the first time.



O.K. ... these may not be huge accomplishments for a "typical" seven-year-old, but I don't give a rat's patootie for "typical." "Advanced' ... "Delayed' ... my kids have never had much use for normal curves. :-P

Eliza's other big accomplishment of the moment is that she's teaching herself to write. She can read at somewhere around the 5th grade level, but she's just learning to write. There's a breach between fluently recognizing and decoding words and reconstructing those words in her head and putting them on paper.



About a week ago, she had one of the Raw Learning moms help her make herself a journal and she's been writing in it fairly diligently, asking for the spellings of words. In the process, she's been getting a lot of use out of the little "Words I Use When I Write" notebook I bought her. She's also heavily into movies and video games, enjoys books, and "does math" through counting and using money, cooking, games and other day-to-day activities. This week she grasped the concept of multiplication while watching her big brother Seamus and I playing a multiplication game we'd invented.

I've been on the fence over whether to float a math curriculum with her, or if she should just keep learning math through life. I'm thinking I'll probably try out Miquon Math, because it's so hands-on and intuitive; I think she'd enjoy it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lesson 1: Memento & The Philosophy of Personal Identity




When I saw Memento this summer, I was amazed that it took me so long to get around to watching it. Besides being a captivating, unconventional thriller, this movie probes layers of fascinating questions about memory. Is memory, even under the best of circumstances, ever really reliable? To what degree do our memories -- both short and long term -- shape our identity? Are we morally responsible for actions we don't remember? Are we accountable for crimes we commit without the memories that would enable us to make good decisions?

This unit on Personal Identity is one of my favorites. It relates closely to memory, and the many roles it plays in our lives and ways it can be manipulated -- a subject that fascinates me infinitely. It is also connected to coming of age, a timely topic for my teenaged student, on to the ongoing struggle to become the person one wants to be.

I. Other Movies We've Seen That Relate to this Unit:
  • Being John Malkovich -- a quirky film in which a puppeteer discovers a portal into actor John Malkovich's brain. After going through the portal, a vistor can inhabit Malkovich's body for 15 minutes; after that, he's thrown out onto the New Jersey turnpike.
  • The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- This off-beat film is one of my all-time favorites. A doctor offers a valuable service -- for a fee, you can erase the memory of a loved one from your mind and be relieved of your regret and grief. What price does one pay for this freedom from pain?
  • The Living and the Dead -- This odd, experimental indie movie is a tragic coming-of-age movie, in which a severely mentally ill man tries to bolster his own sense of identity and win his parents' respect. It also raises the question of how one's identity is affected by severe mental illness, particularly with psychosis.
  • Buddy Boy -- another odd, experimental indie movie about a young man's coming of age and psychosis.
  • Spider -- another film about psychosis with a brilliant performance by the fabulous Ralph Fiennes. The protagonist tries to make sense of himself by exploring his childhood memories, but his recollections are inpaired by his illness.
II. What We Discussed -- We discussed this information; we later reviewed it with a PowerPoint presentation I'd made.

A. Philosophy of Identity -- What makes me me? How do I know I'm the same person I've always been, since birth? I started the discussion by asking River to answer this question, and I added her answers to a mind map on the white board. They were strikingly similar to the philosophers' answers. I quipped that she's a fully qualified philosopher now. Then we added the following information to the mind map.

1. The Same Soul Theory of Personal Identity -- Philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) said matter and soul are totally independent from one another. If you believe identity is rooted in something intangible and possibly immortal, which we call the soul, you can be open to belief in an afterlife or reincarnation. This is hard to prove -- it may be more a matter of intuition and faith. But we find evidence through anecdotal accounts of people who've had out-of-body experiences during yoga or meditation and those who've experienced near-death experiences.

2. The Physical Continuity Theory ("Same Body Theory") of Personal Identity -- The identity of a human being consists of the biological human organism (your body, DNA, etc.) Sometimes in fiction and films, a person lives in a different body (Being John Malkovich, Freaky Friday, The Host by Stephenie Meyer).





It reminds me of a good episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" -- "The Host" (Season 4) (you can watch it here) These stories play with the idea of whether a person's identity is inexorably tied to her physical self or if it's determined by something else. What constitutes this physical continuity? After all, our bodies are always changing. DNA? But what about an identical twin or a clone?

3. Psychological Theories of Personal Identity

a. Stream of Consciousness --My identity stems from my continuing consciousness and ongoing flow of memories (except during sleep) -- we talked a bit about the use of stream of consciousness techniques in literature and similar devices in film.

(from Wikipedia) According to philosopher John Locke, personal identity depends on consciousness, not on the body or soul. I am the same person to the extent that I am as conscious of my past and future thoughts and actions as I am of my present thoughts and actions. I might claim to be a reincarnation of Plato, having the same soul. However, I would be the same person as Plato only if I had the same consciousness of his thoughts and actions that he did.

Identity is also not found in the body -- the body may change while the person remains the same. If a prince's mind enters the body of a cobbler (shoe maker), he's is still aware of his own thoughts and actions, not the cobbler's. Locke also points out that can only be judged for the acts of your body, as this is what's apparent to all but God;. However you're really only responsible for the acts of which you're conscious.




Some movies feature characters who, for some reason, such as amnesia or insanity, aren't aware of their crimes (Memento, Secret Window, Angel Heart) Are they still morally responsible for their actions? I don't think either of us had a firm opinion on this question.

b. Character: Identity is connected to personality traits, temperament, well-entrenched beliefs, and basic desires, tendencies, and preferences. These character traits change slowly over time and offer a fairly stable sense of personal identity. What if my personality traits and values change over time? Is there still something at the core of me that makes me me? We discussed the fact that while someone can experience radical changes in her personality and values, there are usually some core traits that remain the same.




Fiction and movies often focus on a person who changes dramatically, often becoming a better person. (As Good As It Gets, Ghost Town, The Visitor) It is interesting to look at how the author or screenwriter handles this, making it realistic. For example, do some personality traits change while some stay the same, making the character recognizable as the same person? Do we see an event that causes an epiphany, showing us why the changes happened? (For example, Bertram Pincus changes after he meets a woman he deeply cares for and is finally confronted by his long-suffering business partner.) At the end of the movie, he has changed a great deal, but he still seems somewhat the same -- for example, he still seems socially awkward.

c. Memory -- My memories form my identity. We can't really perceive ourselves directly (per David Hume, to be discussed later), so what gives us our feeling of identity? Our memories. I don't need a direct memory of myself as a baby, of course, to be the same person I was as a baby. But my infant self is accessible through a long chain of memories. And what I am doing right now depends on intentions I formed in the past.
 
Are memories reliable? We talked a bit about the notorious unreliability of eyewitness testimony, alluded to in Memento. We also discussed how our preconceived opinions and expectations shape what we remember. We unconsciously hold on to memories that fit what we "know" and filter out those that don't. As an example, I mentioned a study in which subjects were shown a picture of a white man in a suit holding a knife on a sloppily dressed young black man. Again and again, subjects reported seeing the black dude holding the knife to the guy in the suit. Very telling -- and disturbing.
 
In some movies, a person has two sets of memories, lost memories, or altered memories, but still have the same character traits that establish his identity. Examples: Memento, Cypher, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dark City
 
III. Our Discussion of Memento (Warning: Spoilers!!! If you haven't seen this yet, you should probably put down your computer and put it at the top of your Netflix queue.)
  • Because of his anterograde amnesia, Leonard Shelby remembers his past, but everything that's happened since the accident evaporates about 15 minutes after it happens. He is seeking his wife's killer, unaware that he's already killed the man who raped her and indirectly led to her death. Manipulated by a corrupt cop, he has murdered other people as well, believing each one was his wife's killer. Is he morally responsible for these killings? Again, we didn't come to a firm conclusion on this question.
  • Mary Litch pointed out that because Leonard's experience of the present lacks historical context, it isn't really knowledge. Is this accurate? We talked about this only briefly. We agreed that it's only partly true, because our present perceptions and observations are also useful sources of knowledge
  • Who is Leonard Shelby? He sees himself as the same person who was married and an insurance investigator. However, Litch points out that the original Leonard really doesn't exist anymore. His body is occupied by a series of people, each one lasting only for minutes. Ss disagreed with Litch's point, because she felt that while Leonard was missing many of his memories, he still retained some personality traits from his past. For example, he was a "smart ass" back then -- as we saw in the flashback where he teases his wife for repeatedly re-reading the same book -- and he's still a "smart-ass" now. I highlighted the fact that in her response, SS was choosing the character theory of personal identity over the memory theory.
  • In several scenes, Leonard actually looks down at his body or looks in a mirror to remember who he is and where he is. ("We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I'm no different.") Litch points out that his lack of a cohesive identity is shown most dramatically when he sets a future Leonard up to kill Teddy. "It is as if he is leaving messages not for himself but for some future person, much as one might send a message to members of some future generations in a time capsule. Even though he (Leonard in the present) is able to kill Teddy (after all he has a gun), he is unwilling to kill him., so he sets someone else up to do it (namely, the Leonard of the future). This was an intriguing point. River and I talked about it for a while.
We also discussed some of these discussion questions

IV. Other Points We Discussed

A. According to philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), in his views on skepticism, we have no solid evidence that an unchanging self exists -- all we really know for sure is that we're having fleeting thoughts and perceptions. If a self exists at all, it's just a bundle of thoughts and perceptions.

B. Solipsism of the Present Moment: All that can be known for sure are the moment by moment perceptions and thoughts that pass by. We also talked about several different meanings of the word "solipsism."




C. In some films, mental illness compromises a person's awareness of reality and his memories. (The Living and the Dead, Spider, A Beautiful Mind) We discussed this for a while.







D. In some movies, a character is trying to find his purpose. This is reflected, in a twisted way, in Taxi Driver. Travis Bickle said he thought a man should have a purpose. He sought his through stalking a remarkably phony politician, among other things.




E. Erik Erikson famously laid out developmental stages each person goes through. Identity vs. Role Confusion is the central task of adolescence (around age 12 until age 18 or so -- I'd say age 12 until the mid-twenties -- or later -- would be more accurate. Does anyone else have an opinion on this?

This journey is explored in coming-of-age movies and fiction. "Coming of age" is often characterized by confusion, turmoil, and frequent change. In Juno, Mac tells his pregnant teenaged daughter, "I always thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when." She replies, "I don't really know what kind of girl I am." The protagonist of Thumbsucker seems to be "trying on" various identities to see what "fits" -- slacker, ruthless debater, stoner.

This turmoil and trial and error are not restricted to adolescence, of course. I suspect we all revisit this identity confusion, in one way or another, at various points throughout our lives.

V. Possible Assignments:

1. Varieties of Characters -- Read pp. 66-69 in The Art of Watching Films. Make lists of movie characters that fit each of these categories. If you prefer, you can do this on Listal print out photos of characters on the computer and make collages instead of lists.(She explored static vs. dynamic characters and taught this information to her brother)
  • Stock characters or stereotypes
  • Static characters
  • Dynamic or developing characters
  • Flat characters
  • Three dimensional characters
2. Screenwriting -- We watched the movies Taxi Driver and A Beautiful Mind. In Taxi Driver, we used the interactive feature that lets you look at the script, and we read the script for one scene. We watched an discussion of screenwriting by the author of the screenplay of A Beautiful Mind.(This is done)

3. Reading -- (please read at least 5)

a. Roger Ebert's Review of Memento

b. Review of Memento by James Berardinelli

c. Review of Memento by Christopher Null

d. Review of Being John Malkovich by Roger Ebert

e. Review of Being John Malkovich by James Berardinelli

f. Review of Being John Malkovich by David Rooney

g. "Memento Mori by Jonathan Nolan

h. "Shtetl Days" by Harry Turtledove -- In a world where Nazis have taken power and exterminated all the Jews, shtetls are set up for curious tourists to see how Jewish people once lived. However the actors playing the roles of the Jews begin to confuse their own identities with the roles they're playing.

4. Writing Assignments (Please choose 3 of the 4)

a. Make a list of movies or stories in which characters evolve or change, or use examples from real life. Beside each one, jot down specific ways they changed and what each individual's personality and character were like at the beginning and at the end of the story.

b. Make a list of coming of age books and movies. Beside each one, jot down your thoughts on the struggles this character went through in understanding his own identity and how he grew or changed during the story.

c. Start writing your own screenplay, either alone or collaboratively. It will probably take the whole school year to finish this project. You have The Screenwriter's Bible -- let me know if you need other resources of support.(She worked on this a bit)

d. Write a short story about someone who has either

i. experienced some form of memory loss,
ii. has altered memories
iii. is living in a different body or
iv. has experienced a radical change in personality or values over a short period of time

How does this character keep his or her sense of self (or not?) If you like, we could both do this assignment and compare our stories.

5. Vision Board A vision board is a tool people use in exploring aspects of their identity, such as their dreams and goals. Sometimes a writer will create a vision board about her novel character, to help her get to know him better. With my help, create a vision board about yourself, just for fun. It's basically a big collage -- here's a video.

Sources:

 -- Great Issues in Philosophy and course notes by James Fieser
 -- Philosophical Films and Course Notes by James Fieser, University of TN at Martin
 -- Notes for Philosophy 2800: Contemporary Problems by Andrew Latus, Memorial University
-- Christine Kane: How to Make a Vision Board

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Fascinating Debut: Review of Buddy Boy

Film Review by River

 










 Buddy Boy, Mark Hanlon's debut, is a haunting and potent film about dead end lives that provokes more questions than it answers but remains bizarrely interesting throughout.

The film provides a look into the surrealistic existence of emotionally stunted, stuttering misfit Francis (Aidan Gillen,) who lives with his trollish invalid stepmother (Susan Tyrell) in a squalid apartment.

Suffering from overwhelming guilt concerning his sexuality, his religion, and himself, he goes to confession monthly, admitting every impure thought and indiscretion.

The contrast between faith and the id is revealed in the opening, which presents the viewer with a montage of religious imagery followed by Francis, uh... pleasuring himself to a pair of voluptuous breasts in a magazine.

Like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, this is the high point of his day, which soon descends into woeful monotony. He finds a new pastime in spying on his attractive neighbor Gloria (Emmanuelle Seigner, wife of controversial Polish director Roman Polanski's) through a hole in his apartment.

Then they meet. Gloria is strangely attracted to Francis, which would be unfeasible if she weren't clearly lonely and desperate too. She tells him she is a vegan, a word he doesn't understand, but he catches on.

According to her, she doesn't care what he eats, but then she buys him a "Meat Is Murder" T-shirt, which is a mixed message if I ever saw one. This further accentuates the character's conflicting beliefs and desires.

Gloria is pretty and nice, too nice, and Francis begins believing irrational things about her pastimes, focusing on her eating habits. Meanwhile he becomes increasingly psychotic (?) and has a falling out with God. Is Francis going insane? Or is meat back on the menu?

Buddy Boy is an enigma- although declared a religious allegory by IMDB users, it at times seems to be making a statement against Christianity. In fact Francis spends so much time obsessing about his masturbating, sinning ways that the viewer wishes the poor guy would just snap out of it.

The movie is a triumph of atmosphere -- the bleakness and decay of Francis and Sal's apartment is palpable, while Gloria's big-windowed, pleasingly green abode seems to spell change for the troubled young man.

The problem, it seems, is the vast contrast in acting styles between Aidan Gillen (Francis) and Susan Tyree (Sal, the step mom.) Gillen, from the GLBTQ show Queer as Folk, plays his character sensitively and gently, as a fundamentally benevolent albeit strange outcast damaged by trauma and psychosis.

Susan Tyree plays his abusive stepmom more like a Saturday Night Live skit. Maybe her broad performance is the fault of the material. When an actress' character is scripted to beat a plumber over the head with her artificial leg, one of the stranger scenes in this story, maybe there isn't much room for subtlety.

Buddy Boy
, nevertheless, is an intriguing first feature and a fascinating story. It walks a fine line between being campy and profound, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I like the humanization of Francis, a character who might be written off as a scummy voyeur, or worse, as white trash. It raises interesting questions, contains twists, and transports you, which is something films should accomplish but rarely do.


Review by River with slight revisions by blog editor

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal #5

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week… Still trying to shape our routine for the "school year" and adjust to changes in my work schedule. Experiencing fatigue and mood swings. I'll be getting some medical test results soon. Maybe that will illuminate things. :)

In our homeschool this week… I've been keeping tabs on my kids' learning activities with Homeschool Day Book, which I find super easy, flexible, and unschoolish/eclectic friendly. I'm debating over whether to spend $40 when the trial period ends or switch to the free version of Homeschool Tracker.

Some tidbits from our week:
-- My older daughter and I started discussing the Philosophy of Personal Identity and how it relates to films like Memento, Becoming John Malkovich and Fight Club. We dabbled in questions like "how do you know you're the same person you've always been?" "do we have souls that are independent from our bodies?" and "if your memory is altered or impaired, are you morally responsible for sins you don't know you've committed?"



-- My husband starting doing lessons and experiments from this physics kit with all the kids. The kit came with some cool gee-gaws, including a balance scale and a rubber duck. This inspired a spurt of Monty Python jokes in this house. ("She's a witch! She's a witch!" Remember the scene where they do the "witch test" by seeing if she weighs more than a duck?)

-- We made wormariums, in empty juice containers, in my biology class at my daughter's school. More details forthcoming.


(By the way, the little cutie in this photo isn't mine. She's part of another Raw Learning Family)

-- My two younger kids spontaneously started showing more interest in writing. Seamus has been creating worlds in Minecraft, and he decided to write a letter for adventurers to find there. I'm not sure how he's going to plant the letter so other players can find and read it -- he said he'll contact the game creator. The letter is basically a narration of an adventurer's experiences in his virtual world. Seamus wrote it in a calligraphy-like font that gradually fades as the author's ink was running out. I thought it was very clever, and his spelling and punctuation have improved greatly with little help from me.

Eliza decided to make herself a journal at school today. She was inspired by her big brother who keeps a secret journal. This was a leap, because though she allegedly reads at the 5th grade level (she's 7), she hasn't learned to write and spell yet. But she is determinedly teaching herself. After I asked the kids what they wanted for dinner, I heard her in the back of the car, writing: "Mom ... is ... talking ... about ... dinner."

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share… Advice? Not really. But I have a question. If you have two or more kids, how do you make sure you get one-on-one time with each of them throughout the week?

I am inspired by… My kids, whose stubbornness infuriates the living heck out of me and are determinedly focused on their own passions. :-)

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing… The usual: soccer, Lego League, the democratically-run school my little one attends ... and so on ... I ought to have a chauffeur's license.

My favorite thing this week was… Celebrating my son's 13th birthday. Coming home from two soccer practices -- in different towns -- tonight, PMSing and exhausted, and finding my hubby had made quesadillas. And there was cold Riesling in the fridge. Life is good.

What’s working/not working for us… What's not working: I haven't yet figured out how to alter the time-space continuum so there's enough time to get everything done. I am really challenged by getting enough time with each of the kids, especially my son.

Questions/thoughts I have… I'm pondering taking on a second paying job. I'm already stretched really thin, but this opportunity presented itself and I feel my family needs the money. Will I be able to manage?

Things I’m working on… revamping this blog, adding separate sections for the English, Philosophy & Film Studies curriculum I wrote for my high school aged daughter and for her film reviews.

I’m reading… I haven't had time to read anything longer than a blog post in a while. :)

I’m cooking… Happily, my hubby does most of the cooking. My main talent in the kitchen is burning stuff.

I’m grateful for… Being able to work from home, and having found a job that suits me. I love teaching writing.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Disturbing? It's Rumley: Review of Red, White & Blue

Film Review by River














If you have seen this director's previous U.S.-available effort, The Living & the Dead, you'll know the drill -- everything that can go wrong does, and his films navigate the uncomfortable grey areas of the human psyche. Being a fan of Simon Rumley's The Living & the Dead, I decided to check it out, despite similarly mixed reviews and a nagging feeling in the back of my gut.

Boy, this film is brutal. If Rumley meant to outdo the violence and nihilistic tone of his previous movie, he succeeded. All the main characters make uniformly bad and immoral decisions, and all of them suffer for it. The movie starts out with a sleazy feel, with promiscuous Erica (Amanda Fuller) getting into bed with random strangers at a nightclub.

Then she meets Nate (Noah Taylor), who got a honorable discharge from Iraq. Although he tips her off almost immediately that he has a history of torturing and killing animals, Erica is drawn to him, mostly because he is the first man in a long time who doesn't seem to be after sex.

The film then puts a third character into the mix, Franki (Marc Senter). who is taking care of his sick mother Ellie (Sally Jackson) whose kind and sympathetic character reminds the viewer of Kate Fahy's Nancy in The Living and the Dead. Franki has a rock band going with his various buds and hates his father.

The family is thrilled when Ellie goes into remission, but tragedy lurks just around the corner, and Erica's crime has unexpected repercussions. Gandhi's advice, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind," seems to apply here

Like Todd Field's In the Bedroom, revenge only hurts those who practice it, and no one seems to get much gratification out of it (except for one, who is basically a sociopath.) But even the sociopath is capable of compassion,, which makes the dynamic between the characters all the more puzzling.

I love Rumley's style, with his moral ambiguity, interesting cinematography, and tense situations. But Red, White, & Blue has scenes and gaps in storytelling that make it seem less professional. The music during the torture scenes, for instance, are discordant and not in a good way, like taking bad inspiration from Psycho.

Some scenes open awkwardly in the middle of the action, and end just as uncomfortably. An example is when Erica is almost raped by a co-worker. The beginning shot of the scene takes place in the middle of the attack, and Nate lingers for a moment before hitting the attacker with a hammer off-screen.

The next scene shows Nate approaching and sitting next to a teary Erica. But happened to the would-be rapist? Was he killed and his body disposed of? Arrested? Taken to the hospital? He disappeared without a trace. There are several scenes like that, which leave the viewer rather confused.

Some of the dialogue is rather stiff and drawn out, and several lines sound alien to the way or anyone I know speak. The acting is good, however, whith unknown actors (Amanda Fuller, Marc Senter) turning in capable performances. Noah Taylor, who you may know as the teenage version of the pianist David Helfgott in the biopic Shine, does creepy and brutal nicely. And the last scene of violence goes above and beyond over the top, amounting to one of the most disgusting things I've seen in a long time.

Should you see it? Despite panning reviews, it's not "only an exploitation film." Although it is a bit rough at times. it has a sense of style, and has Rumley's essential humanity, light amongst the darkness. Go see it if you have a strong stomach, and make sure to watch The Living and the Dead too, which has classy Gothic atmosphere and more involving, likable characters.



Review by River with slight revisions by blog editor

Involvement: Review of The Constant Gardener

Review by River



















When does someone's struggle to make a difference go too far? When that person ends up dead, apparently. That's what happens to Tessa (Rachel Wiesz) when she attempts to reveal a cover-up involving a pharmaceutical company unfairly testing a new drug on African natives.

The protagonist of the film is Justin Quayle played by the great Ralph Fiennes. He's an easy-going kind of guy, a British diplomat prone to puttering around in his garden. He meets Tessa, a humanitarian, while giving a speech on diplomacy to a bored audience. She stands up and argues for her ideals, which he takes well.

After a discussion, Tessa apologizes, and they go to her house and have a one-night stand. Justin might not think much of it. He may, considering his most intimate moments involve plants.Whether or not he expects her to come back is not clear, but return she does, and with a surprising proposition. The proposition is a marriage of convenience, so that she can go to Africa with him.

Time passes, and the marriage becomes strained. Justin suspects Tessa of having an affair, and is disconcerted by how much time she spends with fellow philanthropist Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé.) Tessa is disheartened by Justin's consistent uninvolvement, and a sudden tragedy presses down on them. Then she's gone. Reeling, Justin focuses on her final project, the unveiling of a conspiracy that she never got to complete. In doing so, he finds himself on dangerous ground but cannot bring himself to return to his plants.

I honestly cannot find much fault with this movie, a well-developed thriller with terrific acting. The cinematography, story, and character are all well-done. I liked the relationship between the two main characters and how it was not heavily romanticized or glib like many movie romances. Unlike the overrated Academy Award Nominee Blue Valentine, the lead characters are likable and engaging. In this movie, Ralph Fiennes proves why he he one of the best of modern thespians. With each facial expression, he conveys a world of emotion. He never over-emotes or "stage-acts," and he remains believable throughout the movie.

The only complaints I have is that some of the child actors are not up to par with the script, and the black characters (other than Arnold Bluhm) are not terribly well developed.

Lastly, I think that most people can relate to Justin's involvement with his own personal interests. I think there is more of the constant gardener in us then we would care to admit.






Review by River with slight revisions by blog editor

People Can Change: Review of American History X

Review by River














Can people change? The general consensus, if that person is Derek Vinyard, is no. Derek (Edward Norton) was a crazy-mean white supremacist who committed a brutal crime and wound up in prison.

After a traumatic term, he came out a changed man. This change is partly derived from an eye-opening relationship between him and a black prisoner. He comes back to see that although his home has changed, his old gang remains very much the same.

The middle-aged leader and writer of neo-Nazi literature (about as artistic as Mein Kamf) ,Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach) is still teaming up unhappy young men and refusing to do any of the dirty work himself.

Derek's girlfriend Stacy (Fairuza Balk), who was there when the crime was committed, is still a shrill, screeching harpy. But worst of all, Derek's younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong)is getting into "the life," heavily influenced by Cameron and his goons.

Unsure of the ideals he once held in high esteem, Derek attempts to divert Danny, only to rouse the attention of Cameron's gang. American History X, director Tony Kaye's first film, is violent and depressing, yet at times strangely optimistic in its message of progression and change.

Derek behaves so brutally that his only hope for the future seems to be as a Nazi poster child. An interesting (if not original) method is used in that the past scenes are filmed in black and white. This eliminates the need for the overused '_ ___ ago' technique.

Edward Furlong (the guy from The Terminator 2- Judgement Day who isn't former governor of California) and Edward Norton (the guy from Fight Club who isn't Brad Pitt) give good performances. This is the movie that made me like Edward Norton (no thanks to The Incredible Hulk,) and further evidence he's willing to take on daring roles and not rom-com type blockbusters.

One of the problems with the film is the overblown portions of the soundtrack, which leaves no emotions to the imagination. On the up side, the characters have an interesting ambiguity and are pretty well-developed.

Despite the fact the movie is about race, the black characters are not sentimentalized or made into "cute" objects of pity as a plea for tolerance (To Kill A Mockingbird, anyone?)

American History X is an important movie. It is important as a morality tale about race for grown-ups, and as a showcase for superior acting. In a world full of nihilistic revenge movies and one-dimensional melodramas, there is a lot of strength in depicting that people can change, even if it's hard to believe it.


Reivw by River with minor revisions by the blog editor

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Overview: English, Philosophy & Film

Overview: English, Philosophy & Film (Grade 11/12)

In This Course You Will:--Discuss elements of rhetoric (e.g. diction, tone), read essays, and analyze them for these elements as well as content and structure
--Learn to annotate essays
--Practice reading footnotes and other types of citations
--Explore literary conventions, such as mood, theme, and symbolism, through movies
--Refine skills in narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive writing
--Explore elements of filmmaking, such as cinematography, scriptwriting, plot, and character development, in more depth
--Explore and discuss important philosophical and psychological ideas using movies as a springboard.

Resources:--Various films, books, stories and essays
--Great Issues in Philosophy and course notes by James Fieser
--Looking at Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter; Second Edition by Donald Palmer
--The Examined Life: Advanced Philosophy for Kids by David A. White
--Philosophical Films by James Fieser
--Philosophy Through Film by Mary M. Litch
--Movies and the Meaning of Life: Philosophers Take On Hollywood edited by Kimberly A. Blessing & Paul J. Tudico
--The Philosopher at the End of the Universe: Philosophy Explained Through Science Fiction Films by Mark Rowlands (I just loved the title of this book! Nod to Douglas Adams)
--101 Things I Learned in Film School by Neil Landau and Matthew Frederick
--The Art of Watching Films (6th Edition) by Joseph M. Boggs and Dennis W. Petrie

Outline of Philosophical Topics and Related Films:
Personal Identity -- Reflects on where we get our sense of personal identity -- is it from our physical being, our memories or something else? We'll look at films where someone's mind is in another's body or where someone's memories are missing or altered. We'll look at individuals whose consciousness of reality, and therefore their identity, is compromised due to severe mental illness. We'll also discuss coming of age films: the adolescent search for identity.

- Being John Malkovich directed by Spike Jonze, written by Charlie Kaufman -- what if your mind could enter someone else's body?
- Memento directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan -- "Everyone needs mirrors to remember who they are. I'm not different."
- Spider directed by David Cronenberg, written by Patrick McGrath -- coping with schizophrenia: what's real and what isn't?
- The Living and the Dead by Simon Rumley -- altered reality through insanity. This viewer was just as confused as the mentally unstable protaganist.
- A Beautiful Mind - directed by Ron Howard, written by Akiva Goldsman -- very loosely based on the life of brilliant schizophrenic mathematician John Nash, who won a Nobel prize for his ground-breaking ideas on game theory. Many of his memories are based on hallucinations.
- Taxi Driver directed by Marton Scorcese, written by Paul Schrader -- a mentally unstable Vietnam vet drives a taxi in NYC where the depravity he sees all around him feeds his rage. He seeme to be trying to discover who he is and what he should do with his life, reinventing himself as a tough guy -- "You talkin' to me?"

The Meaning of Life -- Explores existentialism, nihilism, religion and related topics

- A Serious Man by Joel and Ethan Coen -- seeking answers through religion
- Fight Club directed by David Fincher, written by Chuck Palahniuk (novelist) & - - Jim Uhls -- the nihistic approach to life
- Leaving Las Vegas directed by Mike Figgis, written by John O'Brien (novelist) & - - Mike Figgis -- meaninglessness and destructive relationships
- American Beauty directed by Sam Mendes, written by Alan Ball -- giving up on the conventional life

Relativism -- Explores philosophical ideas about relativism -- are there any absolute truths? -- with movies which tell stories from multiple perspectives

- Hilary and Jackie directed by Anand Tucker, written by Hilary & Piers du Pré (authors of A Genius in the Family) and Frank Cottrell Boyce --a story of two sisters told from alternating viewpoints
- A Separation (Iranian, probably won't be available to us) -- a couple's heartbreaking conflict over whether to leave Iran to give their daughter a better life or stay behind to care for a sick, aging father; explores each person's point of view.

Skepticism -- Delves into appearance vs. reality; can we really know anything for sure?

- The Matrix by Andy & Lana Wachowski -- Do you want the red pill or the blue pill? ;-)
- Total Recall directed by Paul Verhoeven, written by Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, Jon Povill, Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon & Gary Goldman, inspired by - "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" by Phillip K. Dick -- a remake will be released in 2012 -- enters a world where a person can choose to have false memories implanted.
- The Truman Show directed by Peter Weir, written by Andrew Niccola
- EXistenZ by David Cronenberg

Religion, God and The Problem of Evil

- The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman
-- this existential classic is about a knight who returns from the crusades, loses his faith, and challenges Death to a game of chess
- Antibodies by Christian Alvart -- a policeman on the trail of a sociopath begins to grapple with the darkness in himself and admit that his own son is showing frightening sociopathic tendencies in this dark German thriller.
- No Country for Old Men by Joel and Ethan Coen/Cormac McCarthy -- another film about a sociopath
- Red, White & Blue by Simon Rumley -- This very dark film looks at varying degrees of evil in its troubled characters. (add link)
- Amazing Grace --This biopic of William Wiberforce, who was a leader of the movement to free slaves in England, explores how religious faith can guide one to noble and courageous deeds.

Religion vs. Science -- Are faith and science in conflict? Or are they just two different lenses through which we view the world? In what ways has religion hindered scientific progress? Is it possible to see God in the beauty and order in nature (e.g. Fibonacci patterns)?

- Creation -- directed by Jon Amiel, written by Jon Amiel & John Collee based on Annie's Box by Randal Keynes -- this biopic of Charles Darwin highlights the conflict between the theory of evolution and traditional theism.
- Inherit the Wind directed by Stanley Kramer, written by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith based on the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee -- Christians and Darwinists are in conflict on this adaptation of the classic play about the Scopes Trial.
- Requiem directed by Hans-Christian Schmid, written by Bernd Lange -- a sick, troubled young woman is believed to be possessed by demons.

Free Will & Determinism -- Do we freely make our own choices or is this an illusion?

- A Clockwork Orange directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by Anthony Burgess (novelist) & Stanley Kubrick -- brainwashing
- Gattaca by Andrew Niccola -- In a dystopian world, a character tries to overcome his biological destiny
- American History X -- directed by Tony Kaye, written by David McKenna -- In this chilling movie about racial hatred, we get glimpses of the path that led a young man to become a skinhead and brutally murder two black gangsters. Can he freely choose to change? What does it take to turn him around? -- add link

8. Ethics -- How does one live an ethical life? At one point does one cross the line?

- Minority Report directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Philip K. Dick (short story author), Scott Frank & Jon Cohen -- in a dystopian world, people are arrested and convicted before they commit the crimes. Where's the ACLU when you need them? :-P
- The Constant Gardener directed by Fernando Meirelles, written by Jeffrey Caine based on the John le Carré novel -- This politicized thriller dramatically highlights what happens when human beings are used as a means to an end. -- add link
- Crimes & Misdemeanors by Woody Allen
- Pulp Fiction directed by Quentin Tarantino, written by Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino

Reality vs. Deception: Review of Spider

Review by River














Ralph Fiennes transfixes in this post-Freudian, gothic psychological thriller. In 20th century Britain, Dennis, nicknamed "Spider," is released from an asylum and makes his way to a halfway house. One of the first scenes shows an array of passengers getting off a train.

Spider gets off last, feet shuffling, perpetually astonished by the hustle and bustle of the world as well as the chaos culminating in his own head. Spider speaks primarily in an incomprehensible mumble, so make sure to turn on your subtitles.

Once he arrives at the halfway house, he is coldly greeted by Ms. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave), the nosy matron in charge of the establishment. He also meets Terrence (John Neville), a strange but friendly occupant, whose morbid anecdotes reflect Spider's own fractured mind.

But this film isn't about creating a new future. It's about a man who's stuck in the past and his intricate and often inaccurate thought process. The halfway house is located near Spider's childhood home, and Spider begins to "follow" his younger self around.

Young Spider (Bradley Hall), who is about nine or ten, lives in a poor part of town with his father (Gabriel Byrne), who likes to spend an awful lot of time at the bar, and his mother (Miranda Richardson), who despairs at their relationship.

Spider loves his mum just a little too much, so much so that the name "Oedipus" comes to mind. Spider is just fine having his mum to himself, but Spider's mum wants Dad back in the picture. Then the unthinkable happens, but in Spider's mind everything must be taken at face value, and nothing is certain.

David Cronenberg creates a unique, uninviting atmosphere of British gothic. where bathwater runs brown with rust, smoke from a nearby factory billows into the sky, and something strange is buried in the garden -- or is it? The acting is exceptional, especially from Ralph Fiennes, who portrays a schizophrenic mind so delicately.

This is the movie that made me like him. He's good at anything he does, but Voldemort's Voldemort, you know? The other Potter-less Ralph Fiennes movie I recommend is The Constant Gardener. He handles both dramatic roles with dignity and grace.

Spider is the kind of movie with a twist that lingers right under your nose, but you still don't guess it til the end. Then it seems obvious. I would compare it to films such as Memento, The Butcher Boy, and The Living and the Dead. It is not a mega budget concept movie like Inception, but should be watched for its tremendous acting and psychological undercurrents.


Review by River with minor revisions by the blog editor

Friday, September 16, 2011

I've Been Double-Tagged

I don't usually do memes and stuff like that, but I've been tagged by two fabulous bloggers, Willa at The Quotidian Reader and Tammy at Aut-2B-Home in Carolina, so I'll give it a go. :-) This seems like a good time, as I'm re-entering the Homeschooler Bloggers' Universe.

1. One homeschooling book you have enjoyed - I've gotta pick just one? Really?? I'll go with The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto. I find Gatto an unusually thought-provoking writer. I don't always agree with him, of course, but I can count on coming away looking at education and homeschooling/unschooling in a different light.

2. One resource you wouldn't be without - Oy ... just one, huh? Well, I don't follow rules very well. You guessed that, right? Anyone who digs John Taylor Gatto is bound to be a bit of a punk rebel:
  • The Library (of course) -- But, hey -- I've learned some restraint. It's been many years since I asked for one of those big rolling carts to wheel my selections out to the car or heard the words "Sorry -- you're up to your hundred-item limit."

  • Netflix -- Movies are the heart of SS's education, on may levels. I think they are for her what books were for me.

  • Video Games -- These used to be anathema to me, but I discovered that they foster dynamic problem skills in a unique way.

  • My younger daughter's Sudbury-ish school and the relationships she's forming there.

  • Our magnificent RDI consultant, who has helped teach me to slow down and focus on the journey, not the destination and how to gradually nurture dynamic thinking and perspective taking in my wonderful, funny, brilliant Aspergian kid.

  • Friends online and IRL who "get" natural learning, homeschooling, or raising kids who are off the normal curve -- or better yet -- all three! The ones whose blogs I visit, who have me nodding my head and savoring their writing. The ones I hang out with for coffee -- or something stronger -- who make me laugh like a lunatic.

3. One resource you wish you had never bought - All those "What Your Child Needs to Know When" books by Dr. Hirsch. If I wanted to follow someone else's scope and sequence, I could send my kids to school. But there's a part of me, co-existing with the punk rebel, who can't resist guys who act like they have clear-cut answers for me. :-)

4. One resource you enjoyed last year - The 10 Days In ... games -- P.E. loves maps, and she and I played these games religiously.

5. One resource you will be using next year - I'd like to do more lapbooking with PE, so I finally broke down and bought one of Dinah Zike's famous books. :-)

6. One resource you would like to buy - Pie in the sky? I'd love to have a top-notch video camera so my kids and I could experiment with filming our own movies. Maybe we could start a homeschoolers' independent film-making movement. :-P

7. One resource you wish existed - *Sigh* A great local support group for tweens and teens on the autism spectrum, with some neurotypical kids in the mix to give it balance. Since I'm fantasizing, it would be connected to a drama program and other activities that might attract teens and nurture social skills in a dynamic way. And of course, there's a support group for the moms. Wine is served. And chocolate.

8. One homeschool catalog you enjoy reading - Rainbow Resource. I read that thing from cover to cover every year. I am such a geek!

9. One homeschool website you use regularly - I can't think of any. I am not monogamous when it comes to homeschooling web sites. I poke around in one for a while then move on.

10. Tag six ... O.K. four ... other homeschoolers -

Cristina at Home Spun Juggling

Janell at The Labyrinth

Christine at Day Sixty-Seven -- 'cuz she's fabulous, and I'd love to see her start blogging again (poke, prod)

Adesa at Homeboys in da Hood

Philosophy Through Film Part I: Personal Identity

I. Philosophical Perspectives on Personal Identity

A. The Same Soul Theory of Personal Identity - Philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) said matter and soul are totally independent in existence.

B. The Physical Continuity Theory of Personal Identity

The identity of a human being consists of the biological human organism. (So the soul doesn't survive after death?) -- Sometimes in fiction and films, a person lives in a different body (Being John Malkovich, Freaky Friday, The Host by Stephenie Meyer). -- discussion of Being John Malkovich


It reminds me of a good episode of "Star Trek" -- "The Host" (Season 4) (you can watch it here) These stories play with the idea of whether a person's identity is inexorably tied to her physical self or if it's determined by something else.

What constitutes this physical continuity? After all, our bodies are always changing. DNA? But what about an identical twin or a clone?




C. Psychological Continuity Theory of Personal Identity

A person has a sense of himself as the same person over time.

1. Stream of Consciousness --My identity stems from my continuing consciousness and ongoing flow of memories. (However this consciousness ends during sleep).
(from Wikipedia) According to philosopher John Locke, personal identity depends on consciousness, not on the body or soul. I am the same person to the extent that I am as conscious of my past and future thoughts and actions as I am of my present thoughts and actions. I might claim to be a reincarnation of Plato, having the same soul. However, I would be the same person as Plato only if I had the same consciousness of his thoughts and actions that he did.

Identity is also not found in the body -- the body may change while the person remains the same. If a prince's mind enters the body of a cobbler (shoe maker), he's is still aware of his own thoughts and actions, not the cobbler's.

Locke also points out that can only be judged for the acts of your body, as this is what's apparent to all but God;. However you're really only responsible for the acts of which you're conscious.



Some movies feature characters who, for some reason, such as amnesia or insanity, aren't aware of their crimes (Memento, Secret Window, Angel Heart) Are they still morally responsible for their actions?

2. Character: Identity is connected to personality traits, temperament, well-entrenched beliefs, and basic desires, tendencies, and preferences. These character traits change slowly over time and offer a fairly stable account of personal identity. (What if my personality traits and values change over time? Is there still something at the core of me that makes me me?)




Fiction and movies often focus on a person who changes dramatically, often becoming a better person. (As Good As It Gets, Ghost Town, The Visitor) It is interesting to look at how the author or screenwriter handles this, making it realistic. For example, do some personality traits change while some stay the same, making the character recognizable as the same person? Do we see an event that causes an epiphany, showing us why the changes happened? (For example, Bertram Pincus changes after he meets a woman he deeply cares for and is finally confronted by his long-suffering business partner:
Dr. Prashar: Dr. Pincus, at some point in your
life, youre gonna have to stop and ask yourself the ultimate question.
Bertram Pincus: [nods curiously]
Dr. Prashar: "This business of... being
such a fucking prick, what is it really getting me?" Huh?
At the end of the movie, he has changed a great deal, but he still seems somewhat the same -- for example, he still seems socially awkward.


3. Memory -- My memories form my identity. (What about the concept of reincarnation, where people don't remember past lives? What if I have amnesia?) We can't really perceive ourselves directly (per David Hume, discussed later), so what gives us our feeling of identity? Our memories. I don't need a direct memory of myself as a baby, of course, to be the same person I was as a baby. But my infant self is accessible through a long chain of memories. And what I am doing right now depends on intentions I formed in the past.

According to Hume (discussed later) in order for a memory to be genuine -

--a previous perception must have occurred.

--the previous perception must have caused the present memory

--the current memory must accurately represent previous perception


Is it really possible to distinguish between genuine and non-genuine memories?
Memory is a net; one finds it full of fish when he
takes it from the brook; but a dozen miles of water have run through it without
sticking. -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Here are some articles on the the unreliability of memory: Our Malleable Memories, Eyewitness Memory is Unreliable,




a. In some movies, a person has two sets of memories, lost memories, or altered memories, but still have the same character traits that establish his identity. Examples: Memento, Cypher, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dark City -- Discussion of Memento; Discussion of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • According to philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), in his views on skepticism, we have no solid evidence that an unchanging self exists -- all we really know for sure is that we're having fleeting thoughts and perceptions. If a self exists at all, it's just a bundle of thoughts and perceptions.

  • Solipsism of the Present Moment: All that can be known for sure are the moment by moment perceptions and thoughts that pass by.



b. In some films, mental illness compromises a person's awareness of reality and his memories. (The Living and the Dead, Spider, A Beautiful Mind)






c. In some movies, a character is trying to find his purpose. This is reflected, in a twisted way, in Taxi Driver.



II. Rationality-Based View of Humanity -- According to Kant, the capacity for rational self-determination makes people uniquely valuable.

Rationality Criterion of Personhood Creates Problems:

A. Moral importance does not extend to non-rational creatures, e.g., "lower" animals

According to Kant: "If a man shoots his dog because the animal is no longer capable of service, he does not fail in his duty to the dog, ... but his act is inhuman and damages in himself that humanity which it is his duty to show towards mankind. ... We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals." (Immanuel Kant, 205-6)



He is saying that animals have only instrumental value, morally speaking -- they are important only as far as they're useful to us.

Contrast this with the views of Peter Singer -- In a nutshell, he's said animal experimentation or consumption is wrong except in a case in which we would be willing to experiment or consume a human with similar capabilities to the animal. Some quotes:
  • “The notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval.”


  • “All the arguments to prove man's superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering the animals are our equals.”


  • “The traditional view of the sanctity of human life will collapse under pressure from scientific, technological and demographic developments.”
Some Interesting Links on Animal Intelligence:
B. Emotional complexity is also needed for personhood (think of Sonny in I Robot, replicants in Bladerunner, and David in AI, all of which have emotions, even though they're not human) What psychological/emotional characteristics make us think of ourselves as human?




III. Erik Erikson famously laid out developmental stages each person goes through. Identity vs. Role Confusion is the central task of adolescence (around age 12 until age 18 or so -- I'd say age 12 until the mid-twenties would be more accurate. Does anyone else have thoughts on this?) This journey is explored in coming-of-age movies and fiction.

"Coming of age" is often characterized by confusion, turmoil, and frequent change. In Juno, Mac tells his pregnant teenaged daughter, "I always thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when." She replies, "I don't really know what kind of girl I am." The protagonist of Thumbsucker seems to be "trying on" various identities to see what "fits" -- slacker, ruthless debater, stoner. This turmoil and trial and error are not restricted to adolescence, of course. I suspect we all revisit this identity confusion, in one way or another, at various points throughout our lives.

IV. Elements of Film-Making

1. Varieties of Characters -- Read pp. 66-69 in The Art of Watching Films. Make lists of movie characters that fit each of these categories. If you prefer, you can print out photos of characters on the computer and make collages instead of lists.

- Stock characters or stereotypes

- Static characters

- Dynamic or developing characters

- Flat characters

- Three dimensional characters

2. Screenwriting -- Watch the movies Taxi Driver, A Beautiful Mind, Chinatown, and Gosford Park along with the commentary mentioned on p. 87 of The Art of Watching Films

V. Reading

- "Total Recall & the Sixth Day: The Problem of Personal Identity" in The Philosopher at the End of the Universe: Philosophy Explained Through Science Fiction Films by Mark Rowland

- Roger Ebert's Review of Memento

- Review of Memento by James Berardinelli

- Review of Memento by Christopher Null

- Review of Being John Malkovich by Roger Ebert

- Review of Being John Malkovich by James Berardinelli

- Review of Being John Malkovich by David Rooney

- "Shtetl Days" by Harry Turtledove -- In a world where Nazis have taken power and exterminated all the Jews, shtetls are set up for curious tourists to see how Jewish people once lived. However the actors playing the roles of the Jews begin to confuse their own identities with the roles they're playing.

VI. Writing Assignments (Please choose 2 of the 3)

- Make a list of movies or stories in which characters evolve or change, or use examples from real life. Beside each one, jot down specific ways they changed and what each individual's personality and character were like at the beginning and at the end of the story.

- Make a list of coming of age books and movies. Beside each one, jot down your thoughts on the struggles this character went through in understanding his own identity and how he grew or changed during the story.

- Start writing your own screenplay, either alone or collaboratively. It will probably take the whole school year to finish this project. You have The Screenwriter's Bible -- let me know if you need other resources of support.

VII. Project -- Vision Board: A vision board is a tool people use in exploring aspects of their identity, such as their dreams and goals. Sometimes a writer will create a vision board about her novel character, to help her get to know him better. With my help, create a vision board about yourself -- it's basically a big collage -- here's a video.

Sources:

Great Issues in Philosophy and course notes by James Fieser
Philosophical Films and Course Notes by James Fieser, University of TN at Martin

Notes for Philosophy 2800: Contemporary Problems by Andrew Latus, Memorial University

Christine Kane: How to Make a Vision Board