This week’s installment in the Ethical Dilemmas on Film series is the 1993 film adaptation of the John Guare play Six Degrees of Separation. In addition to spawning the game that would put a certain actor at the hub of all cosmic intersections, the film touches on a number of issues that are worthy of our consideration. Here are some questions and suggestions to get you started in your thinking about the film:


Six Degrees of Separation was written and first performed as a play. How can you tell? Why does it matter? 

Why is Jeffrey from South Africa? 
What is the importance of the Kandinsky painting? 
Think about these lines: 
    • “I’m trying to keep this abstract.” 
    • “I still don’t fully understand how this came about or the sequence in which it came about.” 
    • “That everything can be blamed on a bad childhood just doesn’t hold water.” 
    • The imagination = “what is most uniquely us.” 
    • “Safe.” 
    • “Imagination is not our escape. On the contrary it’s the place we’re all trying to get to.” 
Why are the following mentioned in this film? 
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 
The Sistine Chapel 
Andy Warhol 
Sidney Poitier 
Catcher in the Rye
Do the Kittredges owe Paul anything? Does he owe them anything? 
What do you make of the film’s title? 
What do you make of the film’s use of colors?
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19 Responses to Six Degrees of Separation: Questions for Consideration


    Before I watched this film I did some research. It is not at all what I expected, considering the year of the film. The cast was full of amazing actors who I amazingly had heard of, which rarely happens because I often do not watch older films. (A reason I decided to take this course) I thought that watching a film staring Will Smith that took place during the time that he was a big television star would be very strange, but he proved his dynamic acting skills. It was obviously much different than anything else I had seen him in around that time. Of course, at that time I was about six years old so that’s understandable.

    Unfortunately, I found this movie to be incredibly confusing. I found myself re watching almost the entire movie. I even created a web of characters to try to keep everything in order for myself. But even thought I found most of this to be rather confusing, I still enjoyed the film, beginning to end, despite having to rewatch and research a lot of questions I had.

    I tried to consider the importance of the Kandinsky painting in the film. Unfortunately, I had so much trouble focusing on the actually map of events and characters that I barely picked up on a lot of the symbolism. Since I enjoyed the film so much, I wanted to understand. Perhaps I’ll watch the film again in the future, and now that I have a better understanding of the basic plot and a better understanding of the character I will be better able to focus on specific lines and objects features in the film.

    What I did find fascinating was the relationship between Pail and Ouisa. Towards the end of the film, I understand Flan’s distaste towards his wife for communicating with Paul and actually trying to help him, I admired Ouisa’s actions. There were even time when I thought that she would end up in something even more confusing and diabolical, but I did not care. I loved the way their relationship flourished. There was a daring mix between a mother’s care but also a faint sexual relationship. It was exhilarating to watch the end of the film play out.

    I love that, in a way, Paul loses his concrete status as a person, and rather he is just this amazing story—A story that is being passed around the rich who were touched and untouched by this phenomenon that was Paul.

  2. GWEN K FRIES says:

    Though I’m still completely puzzled and bewildered by this movie, I enjoyed it very much. It was nice to have a movie where we could laugh for a change. (Besides, Donald Sutherland was in it, and if he’s in a movie, it’s good.)
    Telling that Six Degrees of Separation was first written and performed as a play was not too difficult to do. There was a limited number of characters and settings, and the movie was dialogue-centered. Also, the humor and storylines of plays are normally different than straight films. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I sensed something very different throughout. It was almost reminiscent of “The Importance of Being Earnest.” It had a bit of Wilde’s tongue-in-cheek humor about the upper class. “Throats slashed!” By a nude man? How silly.

    The character Jeffrey is from South America presumably to bring up apartheid in our minds. This movie was made in 1993, and while technically apartheid was outlawed in 1990, it took time to get from paper to the real world. Jeffrey’s world is most likely still extremely segregated. But aren’t the Kittredges also extremely segregated from people like Paul? As soon as he’s not Sidney Poitier’s son, he’s a crack addict. They know nothing of people like him and live completely separate lives.

    I’m not sure what I expected coming into Six Degrees of Separation, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so heavily about the nature of relationships between people. Though looking back, I should have seen it from the title. The title suggests how closely we are all related–all races, genders, classes, and titles.
    What I found most striking about the film was how the Kittredges interacted with their art. I’ve always believed that you can trust people who appreciate art. It’s hard to be a bad person if you truly appreciate art because the kind of person who can pause their lives to partake in the beauty of the work and the people who are untrustworthy and self-absorbed rarely cross over. That’s all I could think of while watching. And the Kittredges are not bad people, just severely self-absorbed. They care more about their social stature and wealth than being enriched by the world and people around them. Rather than using the imaginative qualities of the art as their passports to another world, they use the art as a meal ticket. The entire problem of the film was using something for selfish gain rather than appreciating its beauty, whether it be the Kandinsky or Paul. The way the Kittredges use art is just as bad as the way Paul uses the Kittredges–a meal ticket, a lie and a little bit of entertainment.
    Paul and the Kandinsky are very similar. They are both a balancing act between imagination and reality, between good and evil, and between chaos and control. Is Paul insane? Is he a good guy underneath the con man schemes? Is he out of control of himself? Can he just flip himself over like the Kandinsky?
    Ouisa is a great example of a modern (postmodern?) person struggling to retain her identity and humanity in a world overwhelmed by greed and stuff. In her life with Flan, they barely know the people whose weddings and baptisms they’re attending, they just go because it’s expected by society. Flan couldn’t even remember how he knew the couple who were getting married. And, in this culture dominated by self-interest, Flan and Ouisa were the ones getting all the attention at the wedding–even the bride and groom came over to listen!
    I liked how the movie didn’t make it so that Flan and Ouisa saved Paul and he saved them, kind of like the “Little Puppy Who Wanted a Boy.” (The little con-artist who wanted to be an upper-east sider?) The movie showed that in this self-absorbed world all about self and possessions, one can still rise about and retain their humanity. BUT, it also showed that this won’t happen for everyone by showing the dispute between Ouisa and Flan. Ouisa was changed by Paul. Flan collected him as another story.


    “Six Degrees of Separation” has been my favorite movie of those that we’ve seen this year. I can’t pin down exactly why that is, but I think it has something to do with the idea of experiencing life, rather than just observing it. The anecdotal nature of life is not satisfying enough. I don’t want to be a Flan, in other words; I want to be a Ouisa. Both these characters are very intelligent, well off, well connected, and any number of other things that Americans are supposed to strive for. They are in the upper echelon of society. And, to further things, they seem like perfectly compatible people, similar almost to the point of being boring at the beginning of the film. Yet, by the end of the film, it becomes readily apparent that they couldn’t be more different, and it all comes down to how they want to live their lives. This may seem like a rather large concept that I’m underselling, and maybe I am. But in the movie, the difference between the two walks of life, living life anecdotally or experientially, is so small that it takes Ouisa the entire movie to be able to differentiate between them.
    The process of Ouisa’s development starts, as the movie does, with the introduction of Paul. She and Flan start at the same place, but while Flan remains a static character, content with merely recounting their long saga with Paul to their many sycophantic friends, Ouisa wants more. She develops a sense of responsibility towards Paul, as he has changed something in her. She doesn’t just want to use him, his feelings, his life as another story, a metaphorical painting to be described and dissected by acquaintance after acquaintance. She recognizes that she had a real and true experience, one that she shared with Paul, and one that left them both changed. As someone who had been living virtually the same life presumably since before her children were born, the experience must have been a rush. This wasn’t something to just tell friends for a cheap laugh, this was something that would alter her worldview. Something like that isn’t so easily shared. Like a painting on a canvas, it can be displayed or told to others, but the true meaning of it can’t be deciphered simply by the pattern of brush strokes, the use of certain colors, or the presence or absence of order in the painting; it is a truly unique experience, and that is something special. Ouisa simply wanted to keep experiencing those types of events, to keep changing her outlook on life and improving herself rather than remaining stagnant. It is this same type of desire for novel experiences that we should all strive for. Why should we be content with our lives with a whole wide world out there to experience? Why should we have to settle for someone else’s stories when we can form experiences of our own? And why should we want to rehash the same old stories when we could go out and experience some more? We should desire the new, not the same old same old. That is what I think this movie is trying to say, and that is why I think it is my favorite we’ve seen so far.


    This film truly hit home for me. It triggered a part of my mind and soul to realize how we all try to live and what we usually pass by in our daily lives. So much of society and reality consists of everyone having a schedule and an idea of success that has been instilled in us by a variety of institutions. Six Degrees of Separation is a complete work of art in itself and covers an endless amount of controversies and issues in our modern society. However, as an art major, the film’s touch on a central theme of artwork made me re-realize how impactive and influential art is on the connections between people. everything around us is art. I could never imagine the world without art and I think that the reason why in this particular film that the Kittridges art extremely associated with the art world is because when Paul is presented to them, they realize that they’ve made art more of a business than something created with a message or just simply for aesthetics. The Mattisse reminded us of how we lose our inner genius at a young age and our imagination dwindles to a blunt point and conforms to the anti-imagination. I believe that the reference of Mattisse and Paul’s explanation of The Catcher in the Rye underlies how Paul is the imagination that everyone wishes they could get away with still having. He is every part of the Kittridges that’s incomplete and not free. There’s so much to this film that it could be analyzed for months at a time. It opens up the viewers eyes to what we may be missing out on and how the world doesn’t take enough chances.

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