But sometimes you can leave a question unanswered—then let it hang over the whole movie. This question then becomes the theme. John August’s blog discussed a while back whether or not writers should think about theme. Many writers don’t like to do it—because they believe that it’s the same as imposing a moral. But a good theme isn’t a statement, it’s a question, one that the audience has to answer for themselves. The easiest way to plant this question in your audience’s head is to have a character ask it aloud and get no answer. The whole movie becomes the belated response.
Election came up in the comments earlier this week and it’s one of my favorite screenplays. At the beginning, Matthew Broderick asks his civics class: “What is the difference between morals and ethics?”, but just then the bell rings and the class runs away before they have to answer the question. Instead, each character is forced to confront this question in much more difficult ways.