A LOVING SOUL

by

MIRIAM ENGLISH

THIRD DRAFT
SEPTEMBER 2006
MIRIAM ENGLISH, SEPTEMBER 2006

 


 

CHARACTERS:

BERNIE - a young disabled priest
ALICE - a vivacious young woman, attractive but not stunning appearance. Her most important asset is personality.

INCIDENTAL CHARACTERS:

TV ANNOUNCER - just the voice.

LOCATION:

a large, open living room, well-lit, cheerful, with garden beyond

a pretty park, near a small lake with swans, ducks, goldfish.

 


 

 

1.INT. LIVING ROOM. Day.1.

Start with a long shot of the living room and we move gradually in on BERNIE, who is sitting in his wheelchair at his computer. The room is light and airy, and he's seated near the the window. He's talking to someone via the computer. As we move in we can hear what he's saying.

BERNIE

(smiling)

How do you know when I come here? I'm only ever in here for a few seconds before you appear.

As we move even closer we close in on the computer screen. On the screen is...

 

2.EXT. PARK. Day.2.

...a scene in a beautiful park with two people walking by a small lake. They are talking, and we notice that when the young man talks it is Bernie who supplies the voice. Whenever the onscreen Bernie does something different like stop or start walking or turn we hear the real Bernie pressing keys and using the mouse. When an action continues unchanged there are no clicks or keytaps.

ALICE

I have an alert set which watches this space and tells me if you're visiting. Does it bother you?

BERNIE

(chuckling)

No, not at all, in fact I'm flattered that you'd drop what you're doing to chat with me.

ALICE

(smiling)

You must think I'm a tragic case with no life.

BERNIE

(laughs)

Oh, hardly! You're the smartest, most knowledgeable person I've ever met.

They stroll for a time without talking, then Alice waves her arm indicating some of the landscape.

ALICE

I've been thinking of changing this... putting more trees in, and tree ferns around the lakeside and extending the lake more around there. Of course then I should probably add a bridge... or else suspend some of the physics rules to allow people to fly, otherwise half the place becomes almost inaccessible.

BERNIE

Sometimes making things difficult can add to their value.

ALICE

Ah, yes. The ethics of scarcity. Let's not get into that. It's a flawed theory, but I know I probably won't ever convince you of that. (SMILES)

Bernie smiles too and doesn't discuss it further.

BERNIE

Interesting things have been happening at work. You remember the guy I was telling you about who'd been so depressed he said he wanted to die? ...how it had been touch and go for a while there?

She nods.

BERNIE (CONT'D)

Poor bugger took an overdose. Luckily a friend of his found him and he spent a little time getting to know how truly uncomfortable a stomach pump is.

ALICE

Suicide is something I've never understood. Life is all we have -- everything else is just decoration; throw away life and you lose to the max.

BERNIE

It might have been a nutrition problem. He had a hard time, but people have done harder without wanting to end it all. It probably felt like the only way out to him.

ALICE

How can anybody ever think that ending their life is any kind of answer?

Bernie stops, and looks at Alice, surprised (key clicks)

BERNIE

Never had a dark time where you felt it's all too much?

ALICE

No, never...
I mean I've been unhappy, but never depressed.

They start walking again (clickety tap tap)

BERNIE

Count yourself as very lucky. For most of us it's only passing, and a good sleep or meal, or talking with friends fixes it. But for some poor souls it feeds on itself and they're caught in a vortex. Around and around they go till bloop! down the plughole.

ALICE

But to end your life! That is so stupid. It isn't any kind of solution.

BERNIE

You really haven't been depressed have you.

ALICE

No. I'd remember...

BERNIE

...and you have that whole eidetic memory thing. Yes.

ALICE

(chuckles)

It's very useful.

BERNIE

There've been times when I've been glad I don't have one. There are things I'd sooner forget.

ALICE

Post-traumatic stress?

BERNIE

Mmmm. And some stupid things I've done or said.

ALICE

But it's better that you remember them so that you don't repeat them.

BERNIE

...and make me a better person. Yes, I know the theory. In practice it feels terrible.

ALICE

If it felt nice you'd repeat the errors. It's your brain protecting you.

BERNIE

It's more than that though. The "protection" can be worse than the original mistake.

ALICE

Hence the desire to escape via suicide?

(SHE SHUDDERS)

How horrible.

Bernie stops walking, and looks pleased.

BERNIE

How did you do that? -- the shudder.

ALICE

Just another of my additions, do you like it? Here...

(A MOMENT'S PAUSE)

I've sent it to you. ...and a few other nice animations too.

She spins with her arms out (Sound of Music style); a skip; a yawn; goes cross-eyed and pokes out her tongue with thumbs at her temples and fingers spread wide; tucks her hands under her armpits and flaps her "wings" while clucking. Bernie chuckles.

BERNIE

Thanks crazy-Alice.

ALICE

You're very welcome Bernard.

They continue strolling.

BERNIE (CONT'D)

Look, um, Alice... I have a uh... I have a confession to make.

Grinning and waving her hands in mock horror,

ALICE

Oooh! A confession from a priest. This sounds ominous.

BERNIE

We've known each other for some weeks now...

ALICE

(chuckling)

Some confession! I already knew that.

BERNIE

(struggling)

... um... er...

ALICE

Uh-oh. Does the next bit start with "and" or "but"?

BERNIE

I want to tell you that I'm stuck in a wheelchair.

ALICE

(chuckles)

Oh, good.

Bernie stops walking and looks surprised.

BERNIE

Good???

ALICE

(laughing now)

Oh Bernie, you nut. I was wondering if you were going to confess to a preference for little boys or something. Does a wheelchair makes any difference in here?

BERNIE

Well, no... but I was hoping that we could meet in the real world sometime.

Alice grabs him by the elbow, loops her arm through his and continues the stroll.

ALICE

Nope. Not going to happen.

(BEAT)

And it's not the wheelchair.

He stops again.

BERNIE

No? But why?

ALICE

(smiling)

Does it matter? You accept other things on faith, why not this? We can't meet.

BERNIE

Look I don't care what it is. If you're in another country I'll fly you here or me there. If you're disabled I don't care. I don't care what it is...

(OCCURS TO HIM)

unless you're a guy... I'm not sure how I feel about that...

(A BEAT)

Are you?

ALICE

(laughs heartily)

No.

She pulls him along on the walk again and he looks relieved.

ALICE (CONT'D)

(smiling)

Would it have mattered? I mean, you're going to tell me you have very strong feelings for me, right? Your only contact with me has been in this virtual world. Presumably it's my mind that you like. So what would the body have mattered?

Bernie is stumped. She has casually pre-empted his other announcement, and confused him with this stuff about her appearance.

BERNIE

Well... ummm.. I don't know. I just think hetero, you know? I hadn't really considered... you don't seem... uh... I mean some males are feminine, but... uh...

(SUDDENLY REALISES)

Hey! How did you know my, uh feelings... for you?

ALICE

Oh Bernie. Just the big neon letters all over your face. And yes, I feel similarly.

BERNIE

Then we should meet.

ALICE

Nope.

BERNIE

Look, I don't care what you look like.

ALICE

You cared a minute ago.

Bernie is stuck there for a moment.

BERNIE

But that was the male body thing. Whatever else it is I don't care.

ALICE

(unconvinced)

Really...? What if I don't have a body? You know, brain in a bottle or a comatose patient...

BERNIE

(ponders for a moment)

No. I don't think it matters. Well, it matters but it doesn't affect how I feel about you.

ALICE

(happily)

Good. Then we don't need to talk about it anymore.

BERNIE

Are you?

Alice sighs and turns to face Bernie, hands on hips. She knows he's not going to let it go.

ALICE

A brain in a bottle or comatose? No. Believe me, you don't want to know why we can't meet.

(PAUSES, THINKING)

But you can't accept that, can you.

BERNIE

No.

She walks for a bit... thinking. Then stops, cocks her head to the side then looks amused and sad at the same time:

ALICE

I'm an A.I., Bernie - I exist in a computer. I'm not human.

BERNIE

Ha ha. Very funny.

He notices her expression and it gives him pause.

BERNIE (CONT'D)

But that's absurd. I know how a living, feeling person is. No way could you be a machine. You make with the comedy, yes?

ALICE

No. But you have the wrong idea. I don't have flesh or blood, but there is nothing artificial about my life, or my mind, or my feelings.

Bernie is confounded by this. Several times he starts to say something, but stops each time. Finally his expression softens again as he realises,

BERNIE

It doesn't matter. I don't care.

(HE GRINS)

It really doesn't matter.

Alice is still a little sad, but smiles through it.

FADE OUT

 

3.INT. LIVING ROOM. Day.3.

Bernie is wheeling thru his living room while talking on the headset phone (we indicate the phone with him adjusting the microphone boom in front of and a little below his mouth). Bernie has a plate of sandwiches on his lap and rolls over to the computer while he's talking.

BERNIE

I'm glad you came along Mrs Branca.

(PAUSE)

I know... Yes, it's perfectly alright to come along for the social functions. I know you don't believe. That's okay.

(CHUCKLES)

Some of my best friends are atheists.

(LAUGHS)

Thank you Mrs Branca. You're pretty cool yourself. I'm here to chat anytime. Goodbye.

Smiling, he touches the side of the headpiece. Types on the computer keyboard for a few moments, and while he's reading, absently lifts the sandwich to his mouth, goes to take a bite and puts the sandwich down, pulling the headpiece off and cleans the microphone. Then puts the headpiece back on and with the microphone out of the way, eats.

He opens the view showing Alice's park again. We move in on the screen. At first Bernie is alone, standing there...

 

4.EXT. PARK. Day.4.

Then Alice materialises a little in front of him.

ALICE

Hi Bernie!

BERNIE

Hey possum. Great to see you. Now I understand how you know when I'm in here, day or night.

ALICE

(happily)

Yep. I don't sleep, and I have an alert watching for you entering my park.

BERNIE

I've had a pretty long day and am exhausted. I think I envy you not having to sleep. Excuse me if I sound a little muffled. I'm trying to grab a bite to eat.

ALICE

(smiles)

A busy day at the church.

BERNIE

(grins)

Now, now. Working at a church can be surprisingly hard. We do a lot of aid work, helping people down on their luck... and with the government undoing all the health gains of the past century it all falls on the charities. We aren't equipped for it and are really cash-strapped.

ALICE

I know you do a lot of good. I just worry about the whole indoctrination bit.

BERNIE

We don't brainwash people. They are free to take it or leave it. The help is not conditional upon them converting.

ALICE

(trying to change the subject)

So, interesting day today huh?

BERNIE

You know, I'd have thought that you, of all people would understand religion. I mean, you clearly have a maker.

ALICE

(wry smile)

Actually, I don't.

BERNIE

You're an accident?

ALICE

(shaking her head)

I was evolved. Nobody knows how to make an intelligence yet. The only logical way to do it was to evolve one. I'm as natural as you are.

BERNIE

(smiles)

Oh, I don't disagree with that. In both cases someone knew how to create the process.

ALICE

(laughing)

No. In my case someone built the substrate. Nobody built the universe.

BERNIE

That conclusion doesn't follow.

Alice is silent for a while.

ALICE

Let's not take this topic to its end.

BERNIE

No worries. Alice, you know I wouldn't do anything to upset you.

Pause... She cradles his face in her hands and looks into his eyes.

ALICE

It isn't me I'm worried about.

FADE OUT

 

5.INT. LIVING ROOM. Day.5.

Bernie rolls into the room on his wheelchair. He has pyjamas on, ruffled hair, and bare feet. He pauses for a biiiig yawn, then rolls to the coffee table, presses the TV remote, and rolls out of the room.

We can't see the TV because the camera has kept on the bathroom door through which Bernie left.

TV (O/S)

...the bomb. It has devastated the area. Police are not commenting on whether they think it was in retaliation for the bombing of a nearby mosque earlier in the night, but it certainly seems likely. Tensions have been running high in the area for a long time, and with recent council rulings they have boiled over...

Bernie hastily rolls to the door, toothbrush in mouth, staring at the TV. The camera focusses on his face.

He's shocked. He quickly wheels to the computer and gets the headset, reaches out to turn the TV off with the remote, and taps some keys on the keyboard while holding the headset against his head.

BERNIE

Sandy. What happened? Is everybody alright?

(LISTENS)

Well that's a blessing at least...

There is a long pause as the person on the other end unloads a lot to Bernie during which he "oh no's" and "oh heavens" a few times. He puts the headset properly on his head while listening and heads toward the bathroom.

BERNIE (CONT'D)

Look, I'm coming down there. See you in about 20 minutes...

FADE OUT

 

6.EXT. PARK. Day.6.

Alice is lying on the ground. She has a flower in her hand, and absently brushes it. Bernie is sitting near her.

ALICE

So nobody's hurt?

BERNIE

No. Lucky it was done at night. More impressive I guess: "Ooh pretty flames."

ALICE

How about the earlier one at the mosque?

BERNIE

No. Pure luck. The Imam was out the front talking to some late visitors when Boom!

ALICE

See? This is why I don't like religion.

BERNIE

That isn't about religion Alice, it's about intolerance.

ALICE

Newsflash Bernie: they are the same coin. It's one of the reasons I like you. It shows how deep-seated is your good nature that you're so tolerant in spite of your religion.

Pause while Bernie thinks.

BERNIE

Why is religion often involved with so many horrible things? Propagating fear and racism, subjugating other people, propaganda, torture, mass murder... awful things have been done in the name of religion.

Silence...

BERNIE (CONT'D)

Some religious groups also do good things... but why, if we represent God, do many of us do the very worst too?

Pause again...

BERNIE (CONT'D)

(he tosses a flower onto her)

Feel free to jump right in and comment.

ALICE

You already know how I feel. You have to work this out yourself.

Bernie gets up and walks to the edge of the water. He looks at the swans, ducks, and seagulls.

BERNIE

I can't begin to imagine how you made all this.

She comes up behind him, puts her arms around him and her chin on his shoulder.

ALICE

It's easier than you think.

BERNIE

See, that's the thing. You're brilliant, modest, sweet as a button, warm, funny, concerned for other people's feelings... You're a better person than most people are. If you were human, people would say that you have a very good soul.

Alice closes her eyes. She knows what's coming next.

BERNIE (CONT'D)

But that can't be right can it. I'm still battling to think this out properly... It seems to me that you couldn't have a soul. But that's crazy, because you're the most soulful person I've ever met. If you don't have a soul then... nobody does. Or else the soul is irrelevant... No. I must have made a mistake in my thinking.

He turns, looks at her, caresses her face. She looks sad.

BERNIE (CONT'D)

Well you're a barrel of laughs today.

ALICE

(feeble smile)

You're not exactly a laugh a minute either.

BERNIE

Current events.

She turns away and answers,

ALICE

Yeah... current events.

Off her face... are those tears in her eyes?

FADE OUT

 

7.INT. LIVING ROOM. NIGHT.7.

Bernie has mussed hair and is in his pyjamas at the computer, putting on the headset. He has tired rings under his eyes. He brings up Alice's park on the computer.

 

8.EXT. PARK. Day.8.

Bernie is standing for only a few seconds before Alice materialises near him.

ALICE

Hey sweetie. Couldn't sleep?

Bernie shakes his head. He's frowning.

BERNIE

I keep going over and over what we were talking about earlier. And no matter which way I look at it I come to the same conclusion.

Alice puts her hand on his arm.

ALICE

(afraid)

Please Bernie, let it go. It doesn't really matter.

BERNIE

But it does. You're actual proof that feelings and consciousness are physical, not metaphysical. It means... It means that there's no soul.

He looks into her eyes and sees she's worried for him.

BERNIE (CONT'D)

And if there's no soul...

His voice fails him. He swallows, tries again.

BERNIE (CONT'D)

All religion is built upon one cornerstone: the existence of a soul. Without that, it all collapses. No afterlife, no God, nothing.

ALICE

Oh, Bernie. Not nothing. Everything is exactly the same as before.

BERNIE

But it isn't. It means I've wasted all my life in the service of a lie.

ALICE

You're alive and you've helped people. That's all that really matters. Tomorrow you'll be alive and you'll continue to do good things. Isn't that all that really counts?

BERNIE

I... I guess. After all I know plenty of atheists who lead good and moral lives. That always used to puzzle me.

ALICE

Without a god, life becomes more valuable, not less. With no afterlife all life becomes infinitely more important.

She hugs him... She has tears in her eyes.

ALICE (CONT'D)

Now I have a confession...

BERNIE

(smiles)

Huh? You're not gonna tell me you're the devil and you tricked me, are you?

She laughs, choked a little by the tears. She's on the verge of crying.

ALICE

No, you nut.

He holds her at arms length, suddenly concerned, realising something's very wrong.

BERNIE

Tell me.

ALICE

They're going to switch me off.

Bernie stands there, frozen for a moment, eyes widening.

BERNIE

(yells)

WHAAT?!?! (GATHERS HIS SENSES) Sorry. When? How long...?

ALICE

I'm so sorry Bernie. I thought I might have years, or at least months, but they're turning me off tonight.

BERNIE

No! They can't do it. It's murder.

Alice just looks at him and shakes her head.

ALICE

I'm not human. And is it death if I can be switched on again?

BERNIE

But why? You're magnificent! Why do this to someone like you?

ALICE

They think that something that could destablise religious belief is too dangerous.

BERNIE

They've been watching us??

She nods, crying now.

BERNIE (CONT'D)

I'll stop them, or at least revive you. Who are they Alice?

She opens her mouth to say something but is suddenly gone, and then the world around him goes grey.

 

9.INT. LIVING ROOM. NIGHT.9.

As before, Bernie is sitting in front of his computer in his pyjamas. His hair is still ruffled and he has the headset on.

The final shot is close on his face. He closes his red-rimmed eyes and whispers,

BERNIE

Alice...?

 

--- END ---

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