Paloma is a serious and highly articulate but deeply bored 11-year-old who has decided to kill herself on her 12th birthday. Fascinated by art and philosophy, she questions and documents her life and immediate circle, drawing trenchant and often hilarious observations on the world around her. But as her appointment with death approaches, Paloma finally meets some kindred spirits in her building's grumpy janitor and an enigmatic, elegant neighbor, both of whom inspire Paloma to question her rather pessimistic outlook on life. In the process Paloma acquires some wisdom to temper her cleverness.
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Questions For Discussion
- Critics love to use words like "whimsical" and "touching" to describe the movie. What are single words or phrases that capture your first impressions?
- Which of the main characters did you enjoy the most: Paloma, Renee or Mr. Ozu? Why?
- Which character was the real hedgehog?
- Which biblical story does the movie remind you of?
- Barbery the author found philosophy to be a dead end of sorts. What are the limits of a solitary approach to self-knowledge and wisdom? How can relationships reinterpret reality for us when our experience has gone stale?
- What does the movie say, if anything, about class distinctions between working class and rich, between parent and child?
- What does it say about the struggle to find atonement in our fractured relationships within society?
- In Catcher in the Rye, we meet Holden Caufield, another adolescent who is disgusted with the adult world. In what ways are Paloma and Holden similar? How are they different?
- What is the significance of the goldfish?
- In the book, both Paloma and Renee keep a journal to capture their inner world. How does the movie translate this for both characters?
- One French critic called The Elegance of the Hedgehog “the ultimate celebration of every person’s invisible part.” How common is the feeling that a part of oneself is invisible to or ignored by others?
- Paloma decides to kill herself on her birthday because she cannot tolerate the idea of becoming an adult, when, she feels, one inevitably renounces ideals and subjugates passions and principles to pragmatism. At the end of the movie, has Paloma re-evaluated her opinion of the adult world or confirmed it?
- Renee seems to undergo transformation. What do you think is the cause? Does Paloma also change? Why or why not?
- We often don’t see past stereotypes. Part of this our preference for the future or the past, at the expense of the present. This week practice observing the people you meet in your daily rounds and note what, anything, you notice.
(Some questions taken from LitLovers reader’s guide for The Elegance of the Hedgehog).