From OscarĀ(r)-nominated* writer-director David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross) comes this chillingly provocative, incisive drama that dissects the controversial issue of sexual harassmentfrom every emotionally wrenching side ... more »of the equation. When a college professor about to be tenured (William H. Macy, Fargo) meets a struggling student (Debra Eisenstadt) behind closed doors,their conversation yields only mutual misunderstanding and a charge of sexual harassment. And as their mutual antipathy turns ugly, it destroys lives, derails careers and ultimately leads to a cataclysmic event that no one ever expected! *1997: Adapted Screenplay, Wag the Dog (with Hilary Henkin); 1982: Adapted Screenplay, The Verdict« less
Watched the other night. I'm a big fan of William Macy's acting style. The female actress was pretty annoying at the beginning but by the end of the movie, you will understand why. **AVOID reading the description of this movie since it is a SPOILER!!!***
Oh, the damage two people can do...
Kevin Currie-Knight | Newark, Delaware | 04/01/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As mentoined by others, this is not a film for the unprepared. Take Mamet's trademark choppy and rythmic prose - add that there are two characters in the whole film - put that together with the fact that the film is about one of the most controversial subjects and yet, does no 'moralizing' of the 'who's right' variety. What do you get? Boredom? Torture? That's what you'd think, right? Wrong! This film is outstanding; that is...if you are a David Mamet fan. I am, and quite frankly, if you're not, you should be. Oleanna is the story of a girl who goes to see her college professor for help in a class she is failing. He means well (so it seems) and tries to help, but says (and does?) some thing that lead her to suspect sexual harrassment. Before long a complaint is filed and he may lose his tenure and his job. Yes, the whole film - THE WHOLE FILM - is dialogue between these two characters in his office (three acts). But as a testament to Mamet, no one has ever made a two-person dialogue stretched over 90 minutes so forward moving, exciting, confusing, nuanced, and awesome. The ending is explosive!The reason for the knocked out star is for the Mamet-ness which, though I am accustomed to and love, may seem strange to the uninitiated. His style is this: the dialogue he writes containes fragmented and somewhat choppy sentences as an attempt to immitate real speech (why do movie characters always talk in complete sentences?). Further, instead of the actors improvising the "ums" and stammers, Mamet actually WRITES THEM INTO THE SCRIPT and the actor's job is to perform it completely as written! What does this make for? If done correctly and properly it makes for a highly rythmic and forward moving style. If done poorly, it makes for a mechanical and almost dull recetative that gets under your skin, it's so tight. Fortunately, it is done quite well by the two actors (with ever-so-slight slippage into the monotone from the actress). All in all, this is a film I will watch again and again, and I'm confident that I'll see new nuances each time (that's just Mamet's way!). If you want to see some great art, get this film!"
Fascinating and Frightening
Joe Banks | New York, NY | 10/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A previous reviewer called this film unnerving. Being a university professor, I can certainly attest that it touched a nerve. Oleanna is a fascinating character study that will almost certainly evoke powerful feelings in whoever watches it. After seeing it, I felt a lingering sense of unease that I couldn't quite explain. I thought about the film a long time before the reason dawned on me.
Oleanna is a story about a power play between two relatively unsympathetic characters: a pompous, complacent Professor and a dedicated, but dense, Student. At the start, the failing Student is seeking help from the seemingly indifferent Professor. As the plot slowly unfolds, we see that the Professor is not as uncaring as he initially appears. In fact, he delays a critical real estate deal to stay and counsel the student. Ironically, because of his compassion toward her, the advantage gradually shifts from the Professor to the Student. By the end of the story, it's shockingly clear how high the stakes really were--the power play has morphed into a death match.
Some reviewers have argued that each character's point of view has merit. For example, the Student has sacrificed & struggled to get to college, and is (rightly) angry that she if failing a course by a the Professor who holds higher education in utter contempt. That being said, the Student is clearly unable to grasp anything beyond a literal interpretation of what she reads, hears, or experiences. Because of this, it's painfully obvious that she doesn't belong in college. However, rather than hold her to a clear intellectual standard, the Professor tries to coddle and accomodate her. It is this misguided deed, combined with her literal & paranoid interpretation of his actions, that leads to the Professor's undoing.
In the aftermath of their initial meeting, the Student charges the Professor with sexual harrassment and abuse of power. In subsequent acts, the Professor tries to reason with her, which only makes matters worse. Ultimately, she convinces the all-powerful Tenure committee to embrace her version of the truth. Only in the final act is it revealed she may have been out to destroy the Professor from the start. In fact, there's a not so subtle hint that she thinks she's God. And why shouldn't she? By the end of the story she has managed to change the destiny of both the Professor and herself. So what is the moral of this story? It is, simply, that the educated will let the stupid inherit the Earth. What makes Oleanna particulary frightening is that this can, and does, happen every day."
An intense view of pure evil
Cool Breeze | Boise, ID USA | 04/11/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have to agree with another reviewer regarding the tagline, ". . . whichever side you take, you're wrong." Well that's just not true. Any clear thinker can see the professor thinks he is interacting with a benign entity, a student who is floundering and needs his help. Unbeknownst to him, he is actually being visited by evil incarnate. Whichever side you take, you're either dead wrong or dead right.
Carol has struggled to get into college, and is now struggling to stay there at all. She is extremely frustrated. She is obviously her own worst critic, and as such is making college much more difficult than it needs to be by demanding that someone make her understand the material RIGHT NOW, and if a teacher is presenting material that is beyond her, it means she is stupid. Nobody likes feeling that. But in her mind, the teacher is actively saying that she is stupid, so she is going to make him pay. And she knows that she has no argument against him, so she does what any evil person would do: disregard the message, and destroy the messenger.
Carol is clearly a young, confused college student. Not uncommon. She has an IQ that obviously average. ("I don't understand." and "what does that mean?" about 400 times each). Common, by definition. She is naive to a degree that is disturbing. Not so common, which gives me some small amount of comfort, that people like this might be few and far between. These are her core flaws.
And then she hears her own teacher say that higher education might be a big swindle, might be a fake construct of a bygone age, might be of dubious use, and hardly anything more than a big game. The professor thinks that by making light of higher education, he might get her to stop being so tense, lighten up, and give herself a break. He deliberately provokes her in an attempt at a lively debate. He wants her to take the opposite position, argue for it, and perhaps win, all to get her to stop living in her notebook and to start THINKING.
Together, with her core flaws and the unsurprisingly low grade she has received, the result is not a flawed mind opening, but a towering rage -- a rage that badly distorts her view of the world. Her professor suddenly stops being someone who wants to help her, and morphs into: a sexist, a classist, an elitist, a patriarch, a rotten man who would use his sex, his position, his experience, his reputation, and his own "vile" belief systems to acquire power and exert it over everyone he can for his own gain. Her hatred is her rationale.
Great movie. Intense. Don't for a second believe that these two characters have opposite but equal arguments. Two arguments: one based on fact, motivated by a desire he help a student learn, the other based on a sick fantasy, motivated by a limitless desire to destroy the wrongly perceived source of a person's problems.
Mamet does it again. Whew."
Michael W. Robinson | 08/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD version of the Mamet play has been reviewed by quite a few people in this forum. I just want to add one observation that moves away from the common perception that the play is simply about a mentally disturbed woman who employs feminist politics to presecute a college professor. That's true as far as it goes, but the play also seems to be about a college professor who digs his own grave by undermining the student's faith in the educational process and the institution that provides it. The student comes to the professor with a burning desire to learn, yet a marked inability to understand the terms in which knowledge is transmitted. The professor takes this as a legitimate criticism of traditional education, and an occasion to advance a highly idealistic view of education as the questioning of authority. Unfortunately, this is not what the student is looking for. She wants certainty, security, positive meaning, and the power that, in her mind, the possession of such knowledge confers upon the professor. She wants exactly that which the professor proceeds to denigrate. He overestimates her, which is to say that he utterly fails to understand her in her youthful confusion, yearning, and anxiety. Adrift, she finds the unambiguous truth she desires through her feminist "group", and uses this "knowledge" to turn the tables, to seize for herself the power she perceives the professor as having held over her. In so doing, of course, she destroys not only the professor, but any form of education that you or I would recognize as having value. This, then, might be seen as a comment on the politicization of the curriculum that began in higher education in the 1980s, of an advanced humanism sowing the seeds of its own destruction. The play seems to suggest that society at large cannot accommodate the insights of the humanist intellectuals, but survives on a simpler faith. Our professor destroyed that faith insofar as the student sought it in higher education, so she found it elsewhere. In a sense, his loss of nerve opens the floodgates. I think of Hitchcock's movie, "Rope", also about a professor the effect of whose words on a pair of students provides the "rope" with which he "hangs" himself, in a manner of speaking (the professor in that movie isn't the victim, but he is brought face-to-face with the consequences of his own superficial nihilism. I'm not equating the Macy character's humanism with nihilism, just noting a similarity between the ironic structure of the two films). Anyway, the Mamet film is a good one to spark excited discussion among students. I recommend it."
This is actually a horror film!
John S. Harris | Memphis, TN | 03/03/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sure, on the surface this seems like a movie/play about sexual harrassment, but it is truly deeper and more terrifying than that. I believe what this story is about is modern man's inability to conduct civil discourse, and of our propensity to run roughshod over our fellow citizens just to prove that we can. The professor and the student in this story are both extremely flawed in their own ways, but in common they are both terrible at simple human communication. As a result, a very minor event gets blown WAY out of proportion, and neither character has the foresight to see how badly things may well turn out as a result - at least until it's too late. This is actually a very sharp microcosm of America's litigous society. We seek to sue rather than to compromise or understand. It's not enough to be right - everyone else has to be wrong. This story is as good an example as anything else I've encountered of why our society is going to hell in a handbasket. We as a society are so full of hatred, self-loathing, insecurity, and/or pomposity that we are hastening our own cultural demise. The tag line for this movie (and the play) is "Whatever side you take, you're wrong." How right that is! There is no right side or wrong side. That is not the point anyway. The point is, look at the kinds of problems we create for ourselves in this society. It is truly scary how much real life is mirrored in this story."