Marisha Pessl: Night Film

Marisha Pessl

Night Film Discussion Guide

Is your book club reading Night Film? If so, leave a comment and let us know! 

Here are 13 questions to kick off your discussion.

1. Professor Wolfgang Beckman accuses Scott of having “no respect for the murk. For the blackly unexplained. The un-nail downable.” How does Scott’s perspective on mystery and the “blackly unexplained” change over the course of the novel?

2. Nora asks Scott, “How much evidence do you need before you wonder if it just might be real?” Do you think Scott’s skepticism is a mark of pride, as well as rationality, as Nora suggests? Why does he wish to believe in the curse after his conversation with Inez Gallo? How ready were you to believe in the curse?

3. Scott is relentless in his pursuit of the truth about Cordova. How far would you have gone, in his situation? Is there a point at which you would have stopped pursuing the truth?

4. Cordova’s films were filled with such horror and violence that, in many cases, they were banned from theaters. What is your perspective on violence—its role and its effects—in movies today?

5. Cordova’s philosophy is in many ways antithetical to our modern world, where transparency, over-sharing and social media are the norm. Did you feel drawn to Cordova’s philosophy, or repelled, or both? Why?

6. Discuss how Scott advertently or inadvertently involved his daughter Samantha in his investigation. What did you think of the role she wound up playing, in his discovery?

7. How does your perception of Scott change, from the beginning to the end of the novel?

8. What did you think of the evolution of Nora and Scott’s relationship?

9. Both Scott and Nora reflect on the power of memory and story to alter the way we relate to our experiences. Scott says: “It was never the act itself but our own understanding of it that defeated us, over and over again.” Nora says: “The bad things that happen to you don’t have to mean anything at all.” Do you agree? 

10. Beckman says “Every one of us has our box, a dark chamber stowing the thing that lanced our heart.” Consider Nora, Hopper, Ashley, Cordova, and Scott. What do their boxes contain, and in what ways do these secrets motivate them? Imprison them?

11. What do you think helped Hopper come to peace with Ashley’s memory?

12. New York City is just as much a character in the novel as any one person. How does your personal experience of, or relationship with, the city affect your reading?

13. How did the visual elements throughout the book enhance or impact your reading experience? 

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Brilliant, haunting, breathtakingly suspenseful, Night Film is a superb literary thriller by the New York Times bestselling author of the blockbuster debut Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself. Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.

The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.

Night Film, the gorgeously written, spellbinding new novel by the dazzlingly inventive Marisha Pessl, will hold you in suspense until you turn the final page.

Scan select images in the novel with the Night Film Decoder app to unlock exclusive multimedia content.

With the free Night Film Decoder you can enhance your Night Film experience. Interactive touch points buried throughout the text of the book will unlock extra content on your smartphone or tablet.

    If you have a device with a rear-facing camera (connected to WiFi or a cellular network), please follow these steps to access the bonus content:

  • - Download the free Night Film Decoder app from your app store.
  • - Install the Night Film Decoder on your device.
  • - Search for the bird image above in select illustrations throughout Night Film. When you see it, launch the app on your device and scan the illustration with the rear-facing camera on your device until a Play button appears on the screen. Hint: Not every one hides a secret.
  • - Press the Play button and enjoy.

* Works with any version of the book—both print and eBook.

Welcome to my world. I’d like to use this space to tell you a bit more about me, what you might not find on Google or Wikipedia.

I currently live in New York City but grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, graduating from Asheville High School. I had a very creative childhood (a glimpse of which can be seen here) and began writing mysteries as a very young child (one can be read here). I attended Northwestern University where I majored in Film and Television, then transferred my junior year to Barnard College in New York where I majored in Contemporary Literature with a minor in Playwriting.

I dreamed of being an actor or playwright when I grew up. This changed shortly after I graduated from college and was hired by PricewaterhouseCoopers. In my cubicle on the fifty-second floor of the Fox News Building when my boss and coworkers believed I was hard at work on Power Point presentations, I was actually searching the company database for good names to use for my main characters in a new novel I was writing called The Anatomy of Butterflies, later retitled to Memoir of an American Girl. Two years later, after moving to London, I finished this book, which went on to be retitled Special Topics in Calamity Physics. It was a New York Times bestseller, published in 30 countries, and a New York Times book of the year. It was a dream come true to say the least. Yet my favorite part of this job is the creation of a book—building a universe from scratch, populating this planet with characters and landmarks and hidden tunnels and shops and corners, dark histories and hopeful futures.

I’m often asked to explain what my novels are about, but I find it difficult to really answer. That’s like asking the moth to analyze its flight pattern as it blindly careens from porch light to porch light in the pitch dark. Writing is a meditation, a brutal trek through the wilderness, and a magic trick all at once.

My writing schedule is like any normal job, 9 – 5, M – F. I used to plot out my books meticulously but now I like to start with a specific premise and see where it leads. A few people who influence my work are Agatha Christie, John Hughes, Mark Twain, David Lynch, Damien Hirst, John Lasseter, Georgia O’Keefe, Shel Silverstein, Preston Sturges, Woody Allen, and Truman Capote.

I love fearless people who build companies and outsiders who design worlds, anyone who isn’t afraid to break the mold or stand alone. I love old movies starring Carey Grant or Carole Lombard where everyone wears shimmering eveningwear and talks rapid-fire with a Transatlantic accent. My favorite TV show of all time is Breaking Bad, my favorite films Godfather II and Manhattan. “Ramble On” is a perfect song.

I love people who take time out of their hectic lives to read, so I look forward to meeting you in bookstores around the world. I hope that you never stop finding a reading books or seeking the truth to the mysteries in your own life with courage, laughter, and a healthy respect for murk.

Sovereign. Deadly. Perfect.

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