by Tom Ingram

Genre Theatre; Political
People David Mamet d.w.; William H. Macy; Debra Eisenstadt
/10 9

A professor (Macy) is accused of sexual harassment by a student (Eisenstadt) after an ambiguous incident in the professor’s office. Based on the play by David Mamet.

Before I watched this movie, I read the play and it kicked me in the face. This is a straight-up adaptation of Mamet’s controversial play dealing with sexual harassment. Human communication being what it is, an awful lot of the play’s meaning rests on the direction. Mamet has kept everything ambiguous here, having Macy and Eisenstadt play off each other in such a way that the movie can support many different interpretations. There are a couple of frilly location shots added in as concessions to Hollywood, but no significant difference in content from the text on the page.

The play is a stroke of brilliance in which, depending on how you interpret events, either the gullible student is convinced by a faceless student group to trump up a charge of sexual harassment against the well-meaning professor, or the professor is a self-justifying creep and the student takes all reasonable measures to defend herself. The text seems to lean in favour of the former interpretation, which has led some to call it a misogynist screed that presents a striking but unlikely scenario that is the exact opposite of what would happen in real life. They may be right about this—I’ve read Writing in Restaurants, and I know—but if the play is a misogynist screed, it’s not just a misogynist screed.

Everyone should experience Oleanna regardless of their likely opinion of its two characters. However, you don’t necessarily need to see the movie. If you really want to see it acted out, you could do a lot worse than watching this adaptation. But Mamet is a very intense writer, and I would recommend that you read it to get the direct, unfiltered experience.

1h19m; 1994; Colour