Thesis: Can Justine and Douglas reconcile with their needs?
Inciting Incident: Douglas asks Justine to delve into what happened.
Justine’s been practicing in the mirror. She’s trying to figure out how to explain to Douglas, her psychologist, her relationship with her teacher, Jason. To say –
‘I have no regret over it.’
And she does. But it comes from a clinical place. She's not ready to talk about her connection to Jason. Not even the fallout.
It’s a clean call to adventure and a clear refusal. Justine is looking to protect her Jason, for someone in court to back up the consensual nature of their relationship. She’s not here to face her own feelings about the break-up, and it's a part of the flaw.
Threshold: Justine opens up about the relationship.
Bad news runs. Paula, Justine’s sister, comes to her with a liter of soda, washed with coconut rum to tell her that Jason has disconnected his number. He’s not calling back.
Justine drinks then drives to Douglas’s office. He’s in after hours, and she explains the relationship. In a flashback we find ourselves in high school, Justine’s eyes dilated full frame as she gazes upon her teacher. She recalls the times after school when they were together –
“…as if my body was made for something beautiful.”
Here we finally get a reveal. Justine recites her past which gets her closer to where she needs to be. Even if we don’t get a full picture, it’s a start, and it incites the second act.
Midpoint: Justine and Paula fight after she drives her home from a party.
Justine and Douglas have been getting closer between coffee dates and conversations that unearth layers of guilt in their personal lives. In the middle of one of these, Paula calls. She’s been sexually harassed by a boy who parades her bra to show that she’s into older men, and she needs a ride home.
Justine drives Paula home, but in the car, Paula resents her; for sleeping with her teacher, for thinking that Douglas is any different than Jason. When Justine defends him, Paula unloads -
“You’re so fucking dumb.”
This was the hardest point of action to uncover. At first I thought the midpoint might be when Douglas asks Justine out into the city. But it was too close, and that scene was really about him indulging in his affection. Here, we see Justine’s inner workings laid out by her sister. Paula’s frustrated and terrified of future possibility. Of being alone. Of everything just happening over again. I’ve never seen ‘fucking dumb,’ loaded with so much intention. But here it is. Here are the demons.
“You’re so fucking dumb.”
Low Point: Justine doesn’t intervene when Paula harasses Doug.
Doug takes Justine out for a night in the city to ‘welcome her to her twenties,’ on her eighteenth birthday. The night goes well, and he comes back home with Justine. They play cards until Paula comes in, drunk.
She knows she walked in on something between Justine and Douglas, and she wants to break it. She straddles herself between Doug’s knees, knowing she can get at him. She asks if he’d want to be with her too. He tries to fight back. Claiming –
“You’re so sad.”
But the words are self-examining. They’re opaque and loud. All the while, Justine just sits there, because she knows that what Paula says is true. Doug is sad. He wants something else. And she can’t deny it.
This is one of the rare instance where a film’s midpoint is not a false victory. It’s a turning point. A word I haven’t used in a while. It’s something that happens to the protagonist that exposes their true state. Paula illustrates their being. Both Douglas and Justine. Altogether.
Climax: Justine and Douglas agree to be their rock bottom.
Doug and Justine drive back to his place in an uncomfortable silence after they’d just kissed. A wall of guilt keeps him from saying much, until Justine starts talking hypotheticals, of them having sex, of him being hungry for her.
Douglas releases himself onto Justine, where they finally feel each other’s touch. The moment after is wary and uncertain.
They have a conversation on his bed -
“I’m not any better than he was.”
There’s guilt, but they recognize their fallibility here. An aspect of human life, doing the best with what you have. For the summer, at least to push through the conflicts set ahead, they need each other. Justine knows its temporary. By the end of it they’ll lose touch. But for now -
“Let’s be each other’s rock bottom.”
A kiss can just be a kiss, the same way that sex can just be what it is. Jason wasn’t ever there for Justine, but Douglas is. Some could argue that the climax happens as soon as they have sex, but there’s a rough guilt followed shortly after, which the thesis of the film needs to answer to before the climax.
When they reconcile with their needs, they break through that threshold.
Resolution: Justine leaves for college.
Standing by a van, Justine waits for Douglas to show for a final goodbye before she goes to college. He arrives and she sits in his lap, their faces close but knowing not to touch.
It’s a clear resolution because it’s the start of a new story, for both Justine and Douglas.
I played myself. The nature of writing act structures is an opinionated one. It usually starts with finding a critical flaw, the true thesis of the film creeping in as we move though. This didn’t happen for me this time – because I played myself.
I thought I knew what the midpoint was. It would read:
Douglas and Justine have sex.
In my writing, I’m obsessed with cycles, of repeats in character tendency. The way they tear off on their own, some of it with change, most of it in old territory. I thought Douglas and Justine wandering into romantic touch was just ignoring the problem. I feel like in a way, Doug’s right about his own feelings.
‘I’m not better than he was.’
But it’s his reconciliation with his loneliness, the grey in his need, that push him forward as a character. So their relationship, even if by the end of it –
“We’re not those people anymore.”
It matters. It’s a movement forward.
But I was rooting the entire time for them to do it because it would have made finding the midpoint (usually the hardest moment to pin), so damn easy. And when it happened, the film ended within twenty minutes.
I had to really rethink the entire film. I had to peel back my judgement. Of course, as a man viewing a film about a young girl, it’s easy for to believe in black and white, to think that an age gap is all it takes for something to be mistake. But that’s not the case here. What on the surface appears to be destructive, is of imminent value. As with anything, watching with empathy leads to a much more intimate understanding of life. A much more rich and complicated one.
The View From Tall is an example of women telling a girl’s story with such specificity. Directors Caitlin Parrish and Erica Weiss designed a world to be viewed through a female perspective, not a fish tank to be stared into. In a time when men write women, where minorities have their narratives stolen, it’s refreshing to hear that even behind the scenes it was a production true to its story.