Lucid in its bleak portrayal of souls dealing with the aftermath of German occupation, the Holocaust and Stalinism, Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida commands attention (Overall Story Concern: The Past). While the performances and stunning cinematography account for much of the critical praise, it is the soundness of the narrative that keeps us engaged.
On the eve of taking her vows, Main Character Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is told she must visit her aunt, Influence Character Wanda Gruz (Agata Kulesza). Wanda sets Anna on a personal journey of self-discovery once she informs the novice nun that her real name is Ida Lebenstein and that her parents were Jewish (Main Character Concern: Conceptualizing). Determined to find the bodies of Ida’s parents, the two strike up a most-unlikely relationship: the devout and the profane on a barren road trip through Poland (Overall Story Goal: The Past, Relationship Story Throughline: Fixed Attitude, Overall Story Problem: Knowledge).
Drinking. Smoking. Sexual affairs. Wanda is a woman struggling with all sorts of sensual passion (Influence Character Issue: Senses, Influence Character Symptom: Desire). Afraid that Ida will end up forever celibate, Wanda encourages Ida to engage in sin (Influence Character Response: Ability), picking up handsome hitchhiker Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik) to seal the deal (Relationship Story Problem: Inertia, Relationship Story Solution: Change). Ida resists by internalizing her own personal struggle—a resistance that Wanda eventually breaks down (Main Character Approach: Be-er, Main Character Growth: Start).
It is upon meeting Feliks Skiba that we begin to see the connections between these lost souls and the chaos of atrocities they still can’t overcome (Overall Story Throughline: Situation, Overall Story Symptom: Chaos). Whether forced into serving judicial terror on enemies of the state or forced into murdering a mother and a father and a young boy who can’t pass for a Christian, the characters of Ida’s Poland suffer at the hands of an un-Godly fate (Overall Story Issue: Fate).
Adopting Ida’s paradigm of identifying with family and familial relationships, Wanda finds herself forced to deal with the weight and guilt of the loss of her child (Influence Character Solution: Thought, Influence Character Resolve: Change). The memories prove to be too much and she hurls herself out of her bedroom window (Story Consequences: Memories). All is not lost as Ida reencounters Lis at Wanda’s funeral. Taking a moment to adopt Wanda’s paradigm, Ida slips into Wanda’s high heels and dances the night away (Main Character Solution: Perception). The change is temporary, fleeting, as Ida returns to the convent and her original paradigm (Main Character Resolve: Steadfast), confident of who she is and where she fits into the world (Story Judgment: Good).
This dynamic, where one of the principal characters adopts the other’s paradigm and one maintains their original paradigm, is the cornerstone of a complete functioning narrative. While there are many reasons why Ida excels, the accurate application of this story point to the narrative serves as the foundation for its success.