Review of: The Iboga Visions (Redraft) 

reviewed by jayb on 03/01/2012
Credited Review
jayb
Iboga Visions review Credited Review
The premise of THE IBOGA VISIONS – an addiction treatment that causes lifelike visions in a guilt-ridden war vet – was intriguing enough to make me give this script a try. It starts well enough by placing the reader in the middle of the action with a scene that will have life-altering consequences for the protagonist. Unfortunately, the story that follows never came together for me. There is a love story that did not seem real to me, a subplot about a soldier wounded in World War I, which may or may not have really happened, and an illegal addiction treatment, none of which seem plausible or integrated into a unified story with a coherent theme.

This is all my personal opinion and there may be plenty of other people who will like this screenplay. I offer my comments on the chance they may be helpful to you. If not helpful, or totally out of line with the other comments you receive, by all means please ignore.

The biggest problem for me is that the story did not engage. This was especially true of the first half, which seemed implausible to me on so many levels. The character of Julie starts out as a caricature of an antiwar liberal. Maybe sentiments were different in Scotland, but of the many people I know in the US who were opposed to the war in its initial stages, all of them were careful to be respectful and even sympathetic to the frontline soldiers who had to fight it. Julie seems more like a throwback to the early 70’s. I’ve got no problem with her eventually falling for the object of her ire, but would have liked to see more of how that happened from the inside of the character. Instead, Julie does a sudden 180 degree turn from one kind of caricature to another.

Tom was not much more real to me. The incident on the Amman Road would be enough to give him nightmares. But heroin addiction? This is not the worst war has to offer. Not even close.

Tom is essentially blameless for Donna’s death. I can see how this incident would cause him a great deal of guilt, because he was the man in charge. But from a story point of view, I believe it is more poignant for him to have some kind of direct blame for her death, either through an error in judgment or an explicit failure of leadership. Instead, you show him performing as many soldiers would, which makes his situation look like the result of bad luck. He would have to be a man of weak character to turn to heroin over this.

The staging of the incident is also unrealistic. Donna would have to be pretty unseasoned to reach into her jacket like that and the troops would be unlikely to fire on an American female, no matter how green they were. The scene would be a lot more believable if an Iraqi national were involved and a lot more affecting if there was some grizzly collateral damage to innocent children bystanders.

Tom’s story did not come together for me. First, there’s the inexplicable recourse to heroin, followed by the Ibogaine cure. Tom has visions about a distant relation from the past, but it’s never clear how this helps him come to terms with his own wartime past. In Tom’s visions, his great-grandfather, Angus, gives up on life. The message there is pretty much a downer. So how does Tom get to the point of absolving himself and Presley of the guilt they feel about the Amman Road incident? It would have helped to have seen more of the internal journey that Tom goes through to find that inner peace.

One assumes that Tom’s relationship with Julie has something to do with his healing process. But I did not get a sense of how that happened either. Julie rejects Tom. Then Julie falls head over heels in love with Tom. Then she finds out about a traumatic thing that happened to him in Iraq and instead of sympathizing, she rejects him again. Then she accepts him. You give us some external sign posts to guide us on the way, like the back story on her mother’s death. But I never felt any of this from inside the characters.

Tom’s speech to Presley at the end of the screenplay is a good example of why this story does not succeed for me… “The things we do, the choices we make - it’s not us. It’s what we become, it’s what we need to be to survive. This, here, right now, is who you
are.” This could be a summary of the theme of the screenplay. Unfortunately, it is expressed in a long block of dialogue by a protagonist who seems a little too impressed with himself, instead of unfolding over the course of the story and the actions of its characters.

Like I said above, this is just one person’s opinion. My comments could be totally out of synch with the rest of the world. So please don’t be discouraged. Writing screenplays is hard. But pleasing everyone is impossible.

Notes

p. 1-3 – The opening scene doesn’t work for me. First, the scenario of nervous young soldiers firing at someone reaching into her jacket for a harmless object is a cliché, especially the reveal of the US passport at the end. Second, I can’t imagine US troops firing at a Western woman under these circumstances; it’s just too improbable.

p. 5 – I’m wondering how Tom shows up in Scotland with a supply of methadone. It seems highly unlikely that would happen, unless he smuggled it in. In the U.S., clinics generally do not allow patients to leave with take-home doses. I can’t imagine any clinic that would allow someone to take a supply with them overseas.

p. 5 – I feel it would be more effective to show Tom waking up from a nightmare, instead of showing the dream itself. Nightmare sequences rarely work in movies, because you can never make them as disjointed, bizarre and anxiety-provoking as they are in real life. It’s much more effective to show the anxiety and fear on the face of the waking sleeper… My opinion only.

p. 10 – “I’ve got ninety days to get clean or my career is over.” – I don’t know how this works in the military, but I can’t imagine the Marines would allow a soldier to go off on his own methadone cure in a foreign country. It’s just too improbable and calls into question the viability of the premise for your story. It’s going to be very hard for me to identify with the character and his story, believing that this could never happen in real life.

P. 13 - "How many innocent people did you kill?" - Julie comes across as a 60's cliché, rather than a real person.

p . 15- "I don't understand how Tom can take a position as Head of Security at Mar Hill. His status in the military is not at all clear to me. Can soldiers in the US military take medical leave, seek their own treatment and seek employment overseas? I wouldn't think so.

p. 15 – This scene ends abruptly. I was left wondering what Tom and Julie said to one another following this awkward moment.

p. 16 - I'm having a hard time figuring out what kind of facility Mar Hill is. Why would the staff entrust the care of a troubled young woman to a male Head of Security with addiction issues? (Only later did I realize it’s a hotel)

p. 19 – The conflict between Tom and Julie feels forced, like it’s there for the story, not coming from the characters. Julie doesn’t feel like a real person to me.

p. 22 – “Why are you telling me about it then?” – I was wondering the same thing. This is a critical point in the story, but it doesn’t quite come across as believable. I think you need to set it up a little better. Roddie could lose his license and maybe go to prison for administering the illegal Ibogaine treatment. I think he needs to be cagier about how he introduces the subject to Tom. It doesn’t work for Tom to ask if there’s something better that’s not recommended, then have Roddie mention the Ibogaine. From a storytelling point of view, this makes your protagonist far too passive. Better to make Tom the active character by having him find out about Ibogaine through his own actions and force Roddie to come clean about it. You could easily do this by making Mar Hill a little more mysterious. So far, it’s not very clear what kind of facility it is. Unfortunately, this comes across as merely confusing. I think it would help a lot if you used the first 20 pages to establish that there is something unusual and not quite legal going on at Mar Hill. Give Tom some hints of this, then show him trying to solve the mystery

p. 23 - Repetition of "gay university professor" is wasted verbiage.

p. 26 - Actually, Stalin died of natural causes and was never defeated militarily, so Tom is wrong to say that he was stopped by war... The scene is not engaging because it lacks emotional subtext -- just two people arguing about politics and not in a way that is especially intelligent or original.

p. 27-32 - The vision sequence does not in any way feel like a real vision. It feels more like a subplot in flashback form, intended to reinforce the main theme of the story.

p. 43-45 – Good scene… Implies consequences that may come back to haunt Tom later in the story.

p. 55-57 – Well-written battle scene.

p. 75 – Julie has a knee-jerk reaction to Tom’s story about what happened on the Amman Road. I thought her character had gained some depth and was past that by this point. Now she’s starting to look like a liberal caricature again.

p. 90 - The euthanasia scene is disappointing. Angus succumbs to self-pity and despair. Plenty of men in his situation have done the same thing. But as far as the story goes, this turn of events is a real downer. In the prior battle scene we saw Farquar redeem himself through an act of heroism. I can't believe he would render his sacrifice for naught by enabling Angus to end his life in a moment of self-pitying despair (which is how I read the cemetery scene). This doesn't make sense from either a story or human behavioral point of view.

p. 94 - Tom's letter to Julie is pretty lame… Mostly platitudes and cliches. It's hard to write this kind of letter without resorting to cliches. But if you're going to attempt it, try writing something that will add more depth to the reader's understanding of the characters.

p. 97 - "The things we do, the choices we make... etc." - This could be a summation of the theme. Unfortunately, it sounds very on the nose, stated outright in a speech like this. How can this be conveyed through action and emotion, instead of just putting words in the mouth of the protagonist at the end of the story?

p. 99 - Giving President Bush the final word in your screenplay feels totally out of place with the rest of the story. I have no idea what to make of this. Irony? It doesn't work for me on that level. But I can't believe it's intended as an endorsement of the war, either.

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