Primary Colors

Directed by Mike Nichols, Screenplay by Elaine May

Discussion Questions

Scene 1:Handshakes

1. What do we learn of Governor Stanton's character from the description Howard gives of his handshakes?

2. Why does henry hesitate working for Stanton?

Scene 2: Hot tea

1.What does this scene reveal about Susan's position in her husband's campaign?

2. What are Henry's reasons for feeling disillusioned with his old job and perhaps his old boss, Adam Larkin?

3. What does Henry mean when he says, "They'd always ask for a loo loo"?

4. What does it mean to be "gutted in the Senate"?

5. Why, for Henry, is not the "moral victory" of forcing a veto enough?

6. What is Henry looking for in a boss?

7. What is he looking for from politics?

8. What is appealing to Henry about his grandfather's time?

9. Why is Henry given pause when Susan says the "best people" never learn how not to get burned?

10. What does this discussion reveal about Henry's character? What does it reveal about Susan's?

11. At first Henry is unwilling to talk to Susan about his old boss, Adam Larkin. Why does Susan's comment about experience open Henry up to talking about his old boss? Is Susan manipulating Henry, based on his idealism?

12. Do you think Henry will go to work for Susan and Stanton after this conversation? Why or why not?

Scene 3: Moment of Truth

1. Why did Henry and Libby go looking for "dirt" on Pinker?

2..How and why is Libby testing Jack and Susan?

3. If you were advising the candidate, Stanton, would you tell him to use the information against Pinker? Would your advice change if you knew your candidate's character was at least equally impeachable, as is Stanton's?

4. In whom is Libby more disappointed, Jack or Susan? Why? How do their responses to the information on Pinker differ? Recall the actors' expressions here as well as their dialogue. What does this scene teach us about poltics?

5. Libby calls Pinker "a flawed, but decent man." Would you say the same of Governor Stanton? Why or why not? What distinguishes the two men? As it turns out, Libby also has "dirt" on Jack Stanton, her boss. Do you believe she will expose him if he "moves on Pinker?" Should she? Why or why not? How would you advise Stanton to act given Libby's threat to expose his having slept with the seventeen-year-old babysitter of his children?

6. What does Libby's final comment, "yes, I will destroy this village in order to save it," reveal about corruption and political life. Libby threatens to expose Stanton. Is her dirty politics any different from the Stantons'? Why?

7.Consider Libby's last comments, where she blames Jack for corrupting Susan. She says that Susan has gone to hell and that she speaks in a voice from hell. What is Libby trying to say? Can Libby relate to Susan in the sense of having been cheated on by Stanton?

8. Libby's final words are, "I will destroy this village in order to save it." Can you make sense of this comment?

Scene 4: Resignation?

1. What does Stanton's singing in the final scene reveal about him? Who else - of these characters - do you imagine we might see singing in the film?

2. Is the song Stanton sings itself instructive to us as an audience? Why do you think the filmmakers chose to use this song?

3. Why does Henry say, "we flunked" Libby's test? Why does Henry consider himself part of Staton's failure?

4. Do you think Henry will go along with Stanton? What will he do? What should he do?

5. How much merit is there to Stanton's claim that one has to muddy himself - to have the opportunity, one day "to do it the right way"?

6. Reconsider the early comparisons made between Stanton and Henry's old boss, Congressman Adam Larkin. Given the subsequent scenes, how do you think Henry understands his old and new bosses now?

7. Has Henry changed his mind about political life since the first scenes of the movie?

Paper topics
1. Why is this movie called "Primary Colors"?

2. What does the movie teach us about politics? Is political life a noble life, a way to serve your country and make history - does it appeal to sacrifice and destiny as Henry would have it or is it inherently corrupting?

3. What does the film expect the viewer to be thinking or feeling in the last scene, watching the Stantons at the Inaugural Ball?

4. In what ways is Stanton like Machiaevlli's prince?

5. Is Stanton a better or worse man than Sonny in The Bronx Tale?

6. Compare the Stantons to the Macbeths. Why are the latter tragic, and the former successful?

7. Is Henry as good an advisor to Stanton as Walsingham is to Elizabeth? Is he a better advisor?

Primary Colors Reading

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