13 of Edward Hopper's paintings are brought alive by the film, as it is composed mostly of tableaus and scenes taken from or heavily inspired by Hopper's paintings. However, these scenes are linked into a story by featuring an individual woman, Shirley, who whose thoughts, emotions and contemplations illustrate an era in history. Shirley is an American actress, shown in the period of the 1930s through the 1960s. In this time, she visits Paris; takes menial jobs; lives through McCarthyism; attempts a relationship with a journalist, though she does not want to be a traditional wife; and struggles through the civil rights era. Shirley is an attractive, charismatic, committed, and emancipated woman.