Film Reviews

FEMALE TROUBLE

Page 3 of 3

Uh-oh.
As presented here, this proposition, and several other misreadable comments and gestures, clearly is not intended as a come-on--indeed, it would be hard to find characters in Western drama as devoid of sexuality as these two. We're supposed to see that the poor prof is only guilty of colossal, arrogant carelessness (at the moment that the prof starts unwittingly screwing himself, Mamet has him walk under a ladder).

Yet in the subsequent two acts, the co-ed is a different person--a confident, unshakably articulate spokesperson for a campus feminist organization (to which, ominously, she refers only as "my group"). The prof, whose tenure her complaint has endangered, is systematically reduced from trying to reason with her to panicky begging to violent rage. As cinema, Oleanna is negligible. Mamet directed it himself, in a smooth, unobtrusive style, with a few nods to visual "opening out." As a melodrama, it plays fairly well--an ugly-spirited but gripping and theatrically effective dramatization of a white guy's furtive, masochistic fantasy. It really can't be regarded as more than that, because as a coherent, realistic drama, it simply doesn't add up. Mamet probably regards the burst of violence with which the play ends as a sign of "balance," an acknowledgment that when we guys feel sufficiently cornered, we will revert to physical brutality in an attempt to prove our dominance. But this, like Crichton's role-reversal claim with Disclosure, is a dodge, though perhaps an instinctive, unconscious one. There are only two ways to interpret the role of the co-ed--she's either an extortionist or the gull of extortionists. Thus, under the very weird, improbable circumstances which Mamet sets up, most people would probably consider the prof's savage reaction understandable--not conscionable, of course, but understandable. The "PC Wars" now being waged on American college campuses are a serious matter, no question, but to suggest that the melodramatic construct on which Oleanna hinges is relevant to that conflict is laughable. Considered closely, the matter boils down to this: If you've truly harassed somebody, you should be called on it. If you haven't, and someone falsely or frivolously accuses you of doing so, that's horrible and rotten, but it's also nothing that couldn't have happened to you at any point in history. The only difference is that now, sometimes, the accusation may be taken seriously enough to threaten career and reputation, whether it's true. That's the part that seems to bother Mamet and Crichton.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
M.V. Moorhead
Contact: M.V. Moorhead