IDA: The Search for Identity
and Creating Captivating Characters

by Susan Kouguell
“You’re Jewish.”

These few words are revelatory in the Oscar-winning Ida, written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.   

The setting; 1962 post-Stalin Poland.

A few days from taking her vows at the convent where she was raised, Anna, a naive orphan and young novice, learns the existence of Wanda — her aunt. A former state prosecutor, the cynical Wanda is part of the Communist elite.  

These two women are distinct characters . Wanda drinks heavily, chain-smokes, and has one-night stands.  Indeed, she is the opposite of her niece; worldly versus sheltered, atheist versus believer.  

Wanda reveals key secrets from Anna’s past: Anna’s birth name is not Anna but Ida, and her true religious identity is that she is Jewish.  This revelation  advances the narrative forward, prompting Wanda and Ida to venture together on a journey to discover what happened to Ida’s parents during the Nazi occupation.

Characters’ specific journeys — their experiences as they attempt to achieve their goals and what they learn about themselves and others—are the basis of defining a screenplay’s themes.  The theme is what your story is about; it is the central idea or dominant subject matter that reoccurs throughout your screenplay. Examples of themes include redemption, survival, empowerment, alienation, and triumph over adversity.   In Ida, the two central themes are identity and secrets of the past.