Transcendentalism in Modern Film: Pursuit of Happyness

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SWBAT analyze a modern film by applying transcendental characteristics to film events and characters.

Big Idea

"Don't ever let somebody tell you... You can't do something" (Pursuit of Happyness, 2006). Analyze modern film to engage.


Pursuit of Happyness

145 minutes

I introduce this activity as an example of how Transcendentalism still appears in our culture. There are sad looks until one hopeful student asks, "Is this a movie?" Yes. I give the movie title, which elicits some happy cheers, and give the basic context. Pursuit of Happyness is based on a true story about a man who hit rock bottom in his financial and family life and had to find the courage to pull himself back to his feet.

Of course, no movie comes free from work. I pass out the viewing guide (to groans) and explain that as students view, they should take notes to help them better use the film for our later analytical work. The "During Viewing" questions are simple plot-based questions which can be easily answered while watching. The "After Viewing" questions ask students to analyze how the story reveals the different characteristics of Transcendentalism. Since I will later ask students to evaluate the movie, understanding of how the traits appear will be helpful.

From there, we view what is a very enjoyable, uplifting film.

Transcendental Analysis

15 minutes

After viewing the film, I give students some additional time to complete the post-viewing section with their table partners. Some of the transcendental traits on the viewing guide are not obviously connected to the film; since students will need to make inferences, it is good for them to have support as they work.

I do not collect their work; students will need their analysis for future reading and writing practice.


30 minutes

Looking for extension of this activity? In the past, I've asked students to write a time expository essay about the movie as preparation for their timed writing on standardized tests. Their prompt is, "Is The Pursuit of Happyness transcendental? Take a stand and justify your reasoning with proof from the 'text' in your body paragraphs." I give students 30 minutes to write, using their notes/viewing guide as a tool.