Wit. Dir. Mike Nichols. Perf. Emma Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Atkins. HBO Films, 2001. Film.
Then answer the following questions:
Since Wit is an adaptation of the play of the same name by Magaret Edison, many of the dramatic conventions from the stage have remained: soliloquy, metafiction, minimal sets, and small cast of characters.
To repeat from the introduction, a soliloquy is a long speech by a character that is either alone or believes they are alone to themselves. It provides the audience a view into the thoughts and desires of the character. Most popular films avoid this directly by adding a voice over narrator. This film goes a step further by breaking the fourth wall, or the invisible wall that is between the audience and the play, by having Vivian talk directly to the audience.
1. What does Vivian’s opening soliloquy tell us about her as a person and as a teacher? Is she a professor you would like to have yourself?
2. In her first monologue, Vivian says that, in the play to come, irony “is a literary device that will necessarily be deployed to great effect.” What is irony? What aspects of the play would you call ironic?
Metafiction is a literary device used to self-consciously and systematically draw attention to a work’s status as an artifact. One way to accomplish this is for a character to acknowledge they are a character. On multiple occasions Vivian pointedly acknowledges that she is within a play. She tells the audience her motivation, reasoning, and future events. She also has minor control over the order in which they proceed.
3. What is the effect of her directness? How does this make us feel for the character?
An example of foreshadowing is when Vivian says, “I’m waiting for the moment when someone asks me this question and I’ll be dead.” Foreshadowing is a hint of events to come, usually a small action that later is replicated on a grander scale. (To be clear, the diagnosis at the beginning of the film was also a clear example of foreshadowing for anyone in the medical profession.) Anton Checkov argued that everything in a play should be necessary, so therefore everything becomes foreshadowing. “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.” Most films do not follow this literally, but if something is brought into the camera’s focus (and its not product placement) then it will be significant to the plot later.
4. What is the question she is repeatedly asked, and who is the last one to ask her?
The Lesson in Empathy:
A repeating message within the play and film is the confusion, humiliation, and plain awkwardness of the modern medical system. The patient receives animosity for medical professional’s inconveniences for which she has no control. She is asked questions that seem absurd. She is treated as an object with little or no freedom over the course of her treatment. etc
5. Does this seem representative of the actual practice or is this exaggerated for effect? Explain.
6. Does this reveal a reality that many people believe exists and felt they have experienced? Explain
When discussing characters, one difference between film and television is that the characters in film tend to be more complex. The main reason for this is a film is usually a complete work where individual episodes are only a small portion of the larger work which is usually never completed. We, the audience, expect the main characters to develop in a film. In a television show, we usually want them to stay close to the same or at least change slowly.
Eileen Atkins as Evelyn Ashford, Ph.D. — Vivian’s former mentor
7. After a brutal critique of her paper, Professor Ashford gives Vivian some advice when Vivian remarks that its a metaphysical conceit. What is the advice? Would Vivian give this advice to one of her students? Does Vivian follow the advice?
8. Professor Ashford calls The Runaway Bunny “a little allegory of the soul”. What does she mean by this? What does Professor Ashford perceive in The Runaway Bunny that is important? Why does Professor Ashford say “And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” as she leaves?
9. Why do you think she picked this for her grandchild? Why do you think the playwright picked this book?
10. What archetype is Professor Ashford?
Harold Pinter as Mr. Bearing — Vivian’s father
12. What does Mr Bearing instruct Vivian as a young girl to do?
13. How would you describe their relationship?
14. What archetype is Mr Bearing? What actions support this?
Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Harvey Kelekian — the head physician
The opening scene is beautifully set with alternate shots focused on the faces of Vivian and then Dr Kelekian as Dr Kelekian explains the diagnosis and treatment. Notice that Vivian is looking up slightly with a dark background while Dr Kelekian is looking down with a bright background.
15. How does this establish the relationship between Vivian and Dr Kelekian?
16. How is Dr Kelekian’s diction when describing the diagnosis and treatment another sign of their relationship?
17. Does Dr Kelekian believe this treatment will work?
18. What is Dr Kelekian’s motivation for having Vivian continue the full dose?
19. In many ways, Dr Kelekian is a foil to Vivian. A foil character is a character with similar personality and motivations to the another character, but respond differently to the events. How are they similar (ignore their relationship)?
20. Does Dr Kelekian develop as a character? Does this make him a character the audience cannot relate to?
21. What archetype is Dr Kelekian? What actions support this?
Audra McDonald as Susie Monahan, R.N. — the nurse
Susie Monahan is clearly embodies the archetype of the nurturer. For many, this is synonymous with her occupation, nursing. The nurturer is often labeled the nurse with a disclaimer stating the individual does actually not have to be a nurse.
22. What does Susie Monahan do that makes her the nurturer?
23. Do you share this notion of a nurse as the nurturer?
24. What would the characteristics of the nurse archetype be?
Jonathan M. Woodward as Dr. Jason Posner — the fellow
25. In what important ways are Jason and Vivian alike? Do they ever recognize their basic similarities? What does Vivian learn about herself from watching and talking to Jason? What sort of influence do you think Vivian had on Jason when he was her student? Has his professional attitude to some degree been formed by hers?
26. How would you describe Jason’s relationship to Vivian? Does he see her purely as “research,” or as a vulnerable human being? How does he show his very genuine respect for her?
27. To contrast, does he respect Dr Kelekian who we have argued is similar in many ways to Vivian?
28. If we focused on Jason as the main character as far as plot structure is concerned, what problem does he have to solve or overcome? What does he have to learn?
29. What archetype is Dr Jason Posner? What actions support this?
Emma Thompson as Vivian Bearing, Ph.D. — the one with cancer
30. Vivian is passionate about language: “It has always been my custom,” she remarks pointedly, “to treat words with respect.” How do her experiences in the hospital change her ideas about language–and about what language is and is not capable of expressing? When Vivian says, “My only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary,” (is she being straightforward or ironic?)
31. After the classroom scene, Vivian tries to express her emotions: “I feel so much–what is the word? I look back, I see these scenes, and I . . . ”). How might Vivian complete the sentence, if she were being perfectly honest with herself?
33. What type of archetype is Vivian? What actions support this?
34. What would the plot line for Vivian’s character be?
35. What is the theme of the film if she is the main character? ****Just answer questions only and number them.*********