"Your identity is where you belong. We are all defined by other people."  How would you write an expository film review and a reflective essay?

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e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Writing a reflective essay that deals with the thematic questions of identity, we might first consider one or two example films to discuss in this context and use them to develop a sense of how you can approach this assignment. 

The films of Wes Anderson almost all deal with ways in which a person's identity is "defined by other people" and how "identity is where you belong." The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a prime example of these ideas at work. The relationship at the center of the story is between a father and son pair, played by Bill Murray (Zissou) and Owen Wilson (Ned). "Identity crisis" is perhaps the most salient concept of the film.

When Wilson's character seeks out his famous father, he does so in order to find his place in the world. If this is not his initial intention, it quickly becomes his goal. Over the course of the story, Wilson's character (Ned) develops a sense of belonging on the ship.

As he does this, other characters feel displaced because of the shifting dynamic on the ship. No longer the favorite crew member, Willem Dafoe's character (Klaus) lashes out at Wilson's character. Dafoe's character is losing his position on the ship and his relationship to Murray's character is slipping. Losing this, Dafoe's character is losing the primary marker of his identity. 

Steve Zissou: We'll split into two groups. I'll take Ned, Ogata, and Wolodarsky.

Klaus Daimler: [pouting] Thanks. Thanks a lot for not picking me.

In writing about this film in a reflective essay, you might look at how certain relationships drive the action of the story and also look at how the resolution of these relationships forms the core of the resolution of the film's narrative. In focusing on a few characters, you can write about how the relationships they share give them a sense of place and changes in these relationships lead to a loss of place or loss of identity. 

"Conflict between a person or group and another person, group, or natural force is what drives one into change" (eNotes).

Many films deal with identity and of these films most of them will feature a significant relationship that helps to fully develop a sense of belonging, of mature identity, and of place. This is true from The Dark Knight to Citizen Kane to Rango. Disney and Pixar films may be good places to look for films that explicitly deal with these issues. The Toy Story movies are prime examples of how an individual identity is formed largely by others. 

In the first of these films, Woody is challenged to accept a new person in his social world. This person, Buzz Lightyear, challenges Woody's status as the clear favorite. Woody's identity becomes complicated by this new presence and the film's narrative uses this tension of identity as one of its central conflicts. The last film in this series deals with place and relationship both as they contribute to identity. 

Here are some guiding questions you may want to address when writing an essay like this:

  • How does one character's identity play into the film's conflicts and how is the "identity conflict" resolved in the end? (Through the development of a specific relationship?)
  • How does a film's central conflict and/or climax hinge on an individual coming to be accepted by others as a member of the group?
  • How is geographical place tied to social place in terms of an individual's identity (and an individual's identity crisis)?
  • What is the specific conflict of the film and to what extent is that conflict driven by an individual's need to define his or her relationship to others?
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