For my second genre paper, I wrote a screenplay with the purpose that it would help students better understand character motivations.
Overview: Six fictional characters, one therapist, and one reader meet for a group therapy session that erupts into arguing until the reader recognizes each of the character’s motivations.
Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby)
Esther Greenwood (The Bell Jar)
Billy Pilgrim (Slaughterhouse-Five)
Prince Hamlet (Hamlet)
Rosencrantz (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead)
Guildenstern (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead)
Because I was worried about the rubric, I created a mini-unit plan around the subject. All the links are in my previous blog post.
So, without further ado, here is my screenplay. I hope you enjoy it!
We are in the basement conference room of a community center. Poorly light, plainly furnished, with no windows or decorations. There are eight metal folding chairs arranged in a horseshoe. Six people – five men and one woman – are already in the room, standing near the chairs and chatting with one another. Except for BILLY PILGRIM, a pale and disheveled old man, who is staring off into space.
The THERAPIST enters, followed by SAM. The THERAPIST takes quick strides, wears dark-framed glasses, and carries a clipboard. SAM is a bored high school student, dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans with earbuds in.
NOTE: both the THERAPIST and SAM are unisex characters.
All right, if everyone will sit down, we can get started.
Everyone grabs a chair and sits down. The woman guides BILLY to a chair.
Everyone, this is Sam. He’s from the local high school and he’ll be sitting in on our session today. Just pretend like he’s not even here.
SAM pulls out the earbuds and waves hello.
Okay, who would like to start?
JAY GATSBY raises his hand. GATSBY is tall and tan, with slicked-back hair and an expensive white suit and gold tie. He often fiddles with his heavy gold watch, and his confident smile seems forced and fake.
Well, I’ve been thinking about Daisy –
The other patients groan. The THERAPIST glares at them and waves her hand in a “quiet, please!” gesture. They stop and she looks back at GATSBY.
Go ahead, Jay. What about Daisy?
(dreamy and nervous)
Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about our first kiss, how her face was so white and pure, how I knew that, when I kissed her, I would never think about any other girl for as long as I live, and there was just this sound in my ears, like a tuning-fork striking a star –
Man, you need to get laid.
There are a few snorts and giggles as SAM makes a “what’d I do?” expression at the THERAPIST, who stares at him in dismay. GATSBY folds his arms sadly and slides down in his chair. The THERAPIST leans over and touches his shoulder.
I’m sorry, Jay. Would you like to finish?
GATSBY shakes his head no and slides down further in his chair, pouting. A beat of silence, then ESTHER GREENWOOD, a rail-thin young woman with bobbed hair, conservative clothing, and wide eyes, speaks up.
Well, I can’t even imagine getting married. I mean, I’m not getting married. If I get married, then I’ll never be able to do anything! I’d have to choose between my husband and my career and I just… I-I don’t know. It’s like my life is this beautiful fig tree and each of my choices is a fat, purple fig, but I’m stuck in the branches and starving to death because I couldn’t make up my mind about which figs I wanted.
So it goes.
Everyone ignores BILLY, but SAM stares at him. PRINCE HAMLET, a rude and angsty young man dressed all in black, interjects.
What twaddle. You think your life is hard? Your most difficult decision is choosing between marriage and writing poetry. That’s nothing compared to my life, what with my father being dead, my uncle having murdered him, and my mother being so idle she’ll leap into the bed of the closest warm body without a moment’s hesitation.
Hamlet, please. There’s no need to attack Esther when she’s sharing.
There is if she is going to be ridiculous and absurd.
(long, dramatic sigh)
ESTHER glares at HAMLET, who rolls his eyes in response. The THERAPIST looks around, then smiles at ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN.
Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, would either of you like to share? You’ve been awfully quiet today.
ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN, two naive and often-baffled men whom no one can tell apart, look at each other.
I’d like to.
But what about?
I have something.
Are we playing questions again?
What do you think?
Do I think?
Statement. One, love.
When did we start keeping score?
Statement! One all.
Everyone has been watching the exchange like a tennis match, looking between the two men as they alternate speaking. SAM is the only one who looks confused – the others are used to it – but his confusion quickly morphs into frustration.
Just share already!!
ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN look up, then ROSENCRANTZ starts speaking.
Well, we were talking and I asked him if he ever thinks of himself as actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it? And he said no, and I said, ‘Nor do I, really. It’s silly to be depressed by it. I mean, one thinks of it as being alive in a box, but one keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead, which should make all the difference… shouldn’t it? I mean, you’d never know you were in the box, would you? It would be just like being asleep in a box. Not that I’d like to sleep in a box, mind you, not without any air – you’d wake up dead, for a start, and then where would you be? Apart from inside a box.’ And then he said –
Stop flogging it to death.
What a thought, right?
HAMLET groans loudly.
Why my mother and the traitor thought it was a good idea to stick me with these two half-wits who can barely tell each other apart – because they’ll both look if you say, “Guildenstern” –
Both ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN look at HAMLET, and GUILDENSTERN angrily elbows ROSENCRANTZ for looking.
– let alone have a meaningful conversation about death, which they know nothing about, I will never truly know.
ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN lower their heads in embarrassment.
Well, maybe if you weren’t acting like an escaped mental patient, your parents wouldn’t have had to call them in.
As if you have any room to talk, what with being actually insane.
ESTHER’S mouth drops open in horror and she starts whimpering. GATSBY awkwardly pats her on the shoulder, trying to comfort her.
HAMLET slides further down in his chair and throws up his hands in anger.
This is ludicrous! I can’t work with these irrational nutcases!
“There they go, there they go.” He meant his brains.
The patients start talking over one another.
‘Cause you’d be helpless, wouldn’t you, stuffed in a box like that? I mean you’d be in there forever, even taking into account the fact that you’re dead.
You’re still on about that?
It’s an unpleasant thought, isn’t it?
I think I’m going to kill you.
Oh, God, I’m such a disappointment. What must they all think of me? Why couldn’t I just die?
Daisy… Oh, Daisy…
The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist.
(loudest of all; angry and despairing)
O that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew! Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God! How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world! Fie on’t! O fie! ’tis an unweeded garden, that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature possess it merely. That it should come to this! But two months dead! — nay, not so much, not two: so excellent a king; that was, to this, Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother, that he might not beteem the winds of heaven visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth! Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him –
Basically, the session has erupted into chaos. The THERAPIST tries calming the patients down but she is ineffective, her voice swallowed up by the wailing and yelling.
Meanwhile, SAM has been watching. At the onset of the chaos, he was perplexed. Now he is disgusted and irate. Finally he stands up and shouts, cutting off HAMLET’S soliloquy.
HEY! SHUT UP!!
Everyone immediately stops talking.
What the hell is wrong with you people? Seriously?
SAM sarcastically addresses each character in turn.
Dude, you need to get a life. Yeah, Daisy’s hot and you guys used to be in love and all, but that was five years ago. She’s obviously moved on, you know, being married and everything. And it’s not like you couldn’t get any girl you wanted. You have nothing to prove to her. Why would you even want to? She’s obviously a bitch. You should just enjoy all your money and booze and whatever and get over her. She’s not worth it.
Okay, what century are you living in? We have a little thing called “working moms,” where, you know, you have kids and a career. God, why would you ever think you needed to choose between one or the other? And just because you can’t choose right now doesn’t make you a failure. So stop freaking out and get a grip.
I don’t even know what the hell you’re saying, but it’s seriously messed up. Life’s hard, I get that, but you can’t just disregard it all by believing in aliens and time travel! Be a character in your own friggin’ story, man, not the stupid plot device that’s killed off in three pages!
We get it, man. Your dad’s dead. Your uncle did it. Your life’s messed up. We friggin’ get it. Maybe if you’d grow a pair and actually do something with your life, you wouldn’t be here. Either that creepy ghost-thing was telling you the truth or it wasn’t, so you just need to make up your mind about the whole thing and kill Claudius already. Also, lay off your mom and Ophelia. First, Ophelia never did anything but love you. Second, it’s seriously creepy that you’re obsessed with your mom’s sex life. Not okay in any context.
(to ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN; winding down)
And you two! You’re like some bizarre combination of your buddy Hamlet over there and Billy friggin’ Pilgrim! Just ‘cause you’re minor characters in Hamlet’s big production of beating around the bush doesn’t mean you can’t do something with your lives. Or at least friggin’ question it. Don’t be a Billy! And the obsession with death and boxes, while deeply philosophical and funny as hell, is weird. So stop. Everyone. Just. Stop.
SAM glares at them all for a minute, breathing heavily from his lengthy rant, then his expression clears. His shoulders relax and he straightens up.
Wow. I think I get books now.
Without another word or even a glance back, SAM leaves.
The patients and THERAPIST sit in uncomfortable silence for a few long moments, glancing around nervously at everything but each other. Finally, the THERAPIST looks at her watch and clears her throat.
Well. Our time is up. I’ll see you all next week.
Everyone except BILLY stands up, exchanges a few awkward glances, then leaves the room. On his way out, HAMLET stuffs his hands in his pockets and halfheartedly kicks a chair over.
BILLY remains seated, staring off into space. SAM’S rant clearly didn’t cut through the fog.
The lights turn off. BILLY shuffles in his chair.
Oh. Hi, Montana.