Note: Guides from our archive are in a slightly different format and have been edited here to make them more user-friendly. This guide was written by Rachel Helen Smith.
Once upon a time there was a young man called Hector (Simon Pegg). He lived a neat and tidy life with his girlfriend Clare (Rosamund Pike), who tied his ties, made his lunch and kept his sock drawer in order. Hector worked as a psychiatrist, listening patiently to his patients’ tales of trauma, whilst doodling in his notebook and dreaming of another life.
One day, Hector snaps. He cannot live as a fraud any longer, offering meaningless advice to his patients when he himself has never really experienced life. He sets off alone on a cross-continental adventure in the hope of discovering the route to true happiness. Those he meets along the way offer snippets of wisdom that he jots down in his notebook, but it is only once he has faced up to the emotions of his own past and his fears of the future that Hector can truly embrace happiness for his own life in the present moment.
- Did you enjoy the film? Why, or why not? What do you think about the view, expressed by many critics, that the film is culturally insensitive?
- What did you think of Simon Pegg’s performance as Hector? How did this character differ from those that he has played in other films? Did Pegg succeed in tempering his trademark humour with a more serious approach, and can you give any reasons for your answer?
- What did you think of the quirky visual devices: the notebook sketches, the toy plane, the young Hector? What did they add to the film overall?
- Hector eventually experiences happiness, sadness and fear. Was the film successful in making you feel each of these emotions? If so, at which moments?
- What lessons does Hector learn from his reunion with Agnes (Toni Collette)? How might nostalgia for our past affect the way we live in the present? In what situations should people simply ‘move on’, and how might they go about doing this?
- How does the film present Edward (Stellan Skarsgård) and his approach to life? How does our society view wealth of this kind? Would people in our society agree that money can buy you happiness and why, or why not?
- How did you respond to the character of Michael (Barry Atsma)? Did you detect in the film a message about poverty and foreign aid? How might this be connected to the film’s theme of happiness?
‘What if your happiness causes other people unhappiness? How can that be happiness?’ – Hector
- What eventually causes Diego (Jean Reno) to act in a way that has no benefit for him? What might motivate people in your own community to act altruistically? Is happiness usually a ‘side effect’ of living selflessly? Can you give any reasons for your answer?
- How does the film contrast Hector’s original ‘tidy’ life and his newfound ‘chaotic’ life? Which is portrayed as preferable, and why? Which type of lifestyle would people in your own community be drawn to?
‘Psychiatry comes with affluence. What does that tell you?’ – Hector
- How does the film present the role of psychiatrists in helping people? Was its satire convincing and why, or why not? What might we learn from the fact that psychiatrists are usually found in affluent countries?
- What different ideas about happiness does the film present? Does Hector eventually find happiness and, if so, how and where? Is happiness something that can be found if we search for it? Do we all, as Hector finally concludes, have an ‘obligation’ to be happy? What might this mean?
- In what ways does Hector’s life change when he decides to ‘stop pretending’? What does the film have to say about being an ‘authentic’ person? What might this mean in our own society?