Film Review
by J. C. Adamson

Oleanna


Director: David Mamet 
Cast: William H. Macy, Debra Eisenstadt 

RatingMust see

Review

This is probably the most important film to be released since Schindler's List. Not the best (though it is very good), but the most important. It raises vital and timely questions about masculinity and feminism. It probes our values about power and humanness.

David Mamet created Oleanna, closely based on his 1992 off-Broadway play. Both the play and the film are compelling, and controversial. John, a middle aged professor, engages in an extended dialogue with Carol, a young female student in danger of failing one of his classes. Their discourse passes from conversation, to concern, to confrontation. Before it's over, she formally charges him with sexism, elitism, and finally with rape. The entanglement of the two personalities, and the escalation of their conflict create a taut, engaging drama that will be troubling to nearly every viewer.

Oleanna would be nothing without solid acting and direction. It places huge demands on its two stars; it's all dialogue. Fortunately William Macy and Debra Eisenstadt are equal to the task, and Mamet skillfully guides the audience through subtle swings in perception that reveal all the raw emotional content of the story.

I left the theatre feeling like I'd been assaulted. I was filled with anger, almost rage. Apparently many men and women have reacted similarly to stagings of Mamet's play. During some presentations ushers have had to intercede in fights between couples in the lobby. Some theatre stagings have offered significantly different interpretations from that of this movie. The dialogue is essentially the same, but subtle variations in the action make big changes in the effect. Since Mamet directed this film, and wrote the screenplay as well, I have to believe the movie accurately reflects his intent. I've also read the text of the stage play. This film version seems very true to that text.

I connect intimately with this story, and with Macy's character. I'm male, the same age as director/writer Mamet - about the same age as the professor - and I'm a teacher.

I also believe I've been a true feminist all of my adult life, and that I have some credentials to prove it. In recent months, though, I've just about decided that I can no longer ally myself with popular feminism. I must indeed oppose it. Oleanna demonstrates the distortion of feminism that has brought me to this unhappy position.

I won't discourse at length on my feelings and beliefs, but I'd like to reflect on just one example from the picture. The student in Oleanna charges the professor with rape. No rape took place, nor did anything even approximating rape occur. Through most of the film, the woman's actions come closer to assault than the man's. When women apply the legal proscriptions against rape to lesser offenses, or to no physical offense at all, they leave themselves without legal protection from genuine rape. I don't want women to become legally defenseless against rape.

Feminism that assaults the entire fabric of male-female relationship may entirely destroy the essential social and sexual connections between women and men. I've begun to believe that vital fabric is nearly rent to shreds. Oleanna simply exhibited the reasons for my already present despair.

"It's only a movie," you caution me. True. But I believe it's premise is valid in our time. And just as I fear that violent films like Natural Born Killers inspire imitation, I believe this movie may become a primer for angry feminists bent on destroying masculinity. They may not know that they have the power to succeed— And that when they succeed they will destroy feminism as well.

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© 1996, J. C. Adamson


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