Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
James de Sève
cinema, screenplay, script, morality, character
The basis of this creative project was to construct a feature-length, three-act screenplay in the mold of both the American Western genre and the modern road epic. The “road” genre, a staple of American cinema, is form of story in which one or two characters are confronted by situations that put them on journeys of Odysseus-like proportions during which they must overcome some fundamental issues in their respective lives. Following the examples of mainstream road epics such as Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998) and the Cohen brothers O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), my screenplay incorporates the same three-act structure depicting an historical setting in which the moral and circumstantial conflicts of the characters are explored. These different issues all revolve around one fundamental question, which is reinforced by the journey narrative. Set at the start of the Second Industrial Revolution and unfolding in the wake of the American Civil War, my road epic’s fundamental question concerns the era’s divide between industrial progress and lost heritage. This epic follows two protagonists – the ex-Confederate soldier, John Cutler, and his young Native American guide, Apenimon – both of whom are confronted by the nation’s transitional era by way of their fading identities. The impending extinction of their respective heritages as frontier farmer and Native American and their different ways of life pairs the two men on a grave and morally ambiguous phrenological quest across the American West, during which the two often find themselves at odds for ethical reasons as they seek to uncover the buried skulls of Native American tribes. Yet, despite their ostensibly antithetical relationship, John and Apenimon are faced with the same fundamental question concerning their preservation of home as they travel across a war-torn America quickly working to restore itself. The heart of the script raises the question of whether it is better to adapt or risk one’s ethical integrity to cling to the past. This question is reinforced through the hard-luck frontier towns through which these two characters pass as well as the encounters they have with different members of a rapidly-changing postwar American society. Through their interactions with both the land and its share of absurd, quasi-mythological characters, John and Apenimon both form their own conclusions about the necessity of change as well as the morality of their journey. In this way, the road challenges them in equal parts physically, emotionally, and ideologically. Although, the long journey promises to bring the two protagonists together, the past issues that initially drove each man from his respective home leads to his own interpretation of the journey’s events, the morality of the phrenological expedition, and the quest’s noted fundamental question. Both John and Apenimon know that their antithetical journeys will bring them to a moment in which each will finally have to decide for himself what is most important: progress or heritage.
Zorn, Justin, "Desecrate: An Original Feature-Length Screenplay" (2017). Honors Theses. 255.