Sunday, March 23, 2008

Name, rank, and serial number

Someone mentioned The Paper Chase in class the other day, so I watched it on Netflix. Like Scott Turow's One L, which was written about the same time, the movie (based on a book) is about a law school student's traumatic first year at Harvard Law School, especially in Contracts class with the school's notoriously mean but legendary professor.

(Incidentally, what was up in the '70s? Why the sudden pop culture obsession with going to law school?)

At any rate, Hart, the main character, is humiliated class after class while experiencing firsthand the rigors of the Socratic Method; he sees guys in his study group slowly start to be affected by the stress of their first year. But he vows not to cave, and starts seeing a girl (a young Lindsay Wagner, who strangely resembles Meg Ryan) who coincidentally turns out to be the daughter of his Contracts professor, and who is patently uninterested in anything related to the legal realm.

It's really, really predictable. And also rather boring. I also told myself I would not apply a Critical Legal Studies dissection of the film. (Hmmm, CLS was also a product of the '70s....) I couldn't, however, not note that if the film portrayed a realistic law school class in 1973, then women have come a long way in 35 years -- there were very few female students in the movie, and I'm pretty sure over half of all law school students are now female. So if anything, the movie made me appreciate admissions policies that have recruited women. And, since my program involves taking policy-related law classes, I am now also very, very grateful that Northeastern's law school is notoriously progressive and public service-oriented, and the professors I've had (admittedly, only two so far) have been very friendly and accessible, and don't care to perpetuate elitist professional standards and behavior. Go Huskies....

The ending was great: Hart ends up having his grades sent to him while he's vacationing on the Cape, and instead of eagerly ripping open the envelope, he makes it into a paper airplane and tosses it into the ocean.

After that so-inspiring scene, I decided not to read the five Econ articles on the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of military contractors, and instead opted for another Online Viewing film.

A Streetcar Named Desire, which I'd never seen, was excellent. I read the play in high school, but remembered little except the general plot. The acting was stellar. Simply amazing. I was blown away. Vivien Leigh, 12 years after her most well-known role in Gone With the Wind (coincidentally, also about the decline of the South), was brilliant as the neurotic and flirtatious Blanche DuBois, both hiding and hiding from her un-innocuous past. Marlon Brando was equally brilliant as Stanley, the loud and violent husband of Blanche's sister Stella.

Obviously, the story is not a happy one -- it's a tragedy of every level of every relationship imaginable: sister/sister, wife/husband, facade/reality, women/men, teacher/student, urban/rural, modern/past, living/dead, immigrant/native, "high" class/"low" class, children/adults, truth/lies, alcoholism/sobriety.

After watching the movie, I read up on some of the differences between the play and the film, which was changed slightly and censored for its 1951 audience. But even with all the censorship, there are still some bits of dialogue with both shocking and hilarious double entendres.

I really, really recommend the film! I think I originally added it to my Netflix queue when I added all the Academy Award-winning films I haven't seen. For the acting, raw pathos, and social themes alone, it's superb. Wow.

Then on the way to Easter Brunch this morning, I walked by Harvard Law School, and realized I still needed to read the Econ articles...

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