Monday, March 17, 2014

ENGL 372: Oleanna

The film stars William H. Macy and Debra Eisenstadt.
David Mamet's Oleanna was definitely a work that got the class talking. A two person drama written by someone who allegedly inspired Quentin Tarantino's style of dialogue with his trademark "Mamet-speak," Oleanna's characters are constantly overlapping each other's speech, repeating themselves, and chewing up certain words to spin whatever meanings they may have with clever wordplay, all while almost never seeming to spit out a complete thought. Here's a sample of dialogue:

CAROL: No, no, no, I'm doing what I'm told. It's difficult for me. It's difficult ...
JOHN: ... but ...
CAROL: I don't ... lots of the language ...
JOHN: ... please ...
CAROL: The language, the "things" that you say ...
JOHN: I'm sorry. No. I don't think that that's true.
CAROL. It is true. I ...
JOHN: I think ...
CAROL: It is true.
JOHN: ... I ...
CAROL: Why would I ...?

The ellipses are not read as pauses, but the vast majority of the time as moments where one speaker is cut off by the other. John is a professor of education at a university who is happily married with a child, about to buy a house, and up for tenure. He is hypocritical, egotistical, and often a jerk to Carol, hardly letting her get a word in edgewise and sometimes grabbing her shoulders to calm her down, but in the first act it seems that he really wants to help her. Carol is a student who is struggling in John's class. In the first act she is asking for advice on a paper, but she and John are so busy cutting each other off and getting offended that nothing gets done. She is defensive, shy, and very anxious. At the end of the first act, she even claims that she is guilty of something. Something she needs to tell John right away but is very afraid to. Then the phone rings. It seems to ring whenever John and Carol are about to have some sort of actual connection, whenever they are about to reach any kind of understanding.

The second act provides a completely different reading of the first act, begging for it to be re-examined and reinterpreted. Sometime later, Carol has brought up a rape charge against John. She seems far more articulate and confident than she was in the first act, and she keeps mentioning that it's not just her, but her "Group" and the entire student body that want John's tenure denied. The wording of the complaint takes John's words and actions from the first act out of context and puts them in the wrong order, and John makes even more mistakes, grabbing Carol's shoulders again at one point to keep her from leaving the room so they can talk more about it.

The third act is explosive.

Oleanna is definitely a ride and it provokes very strong reactions from the audience. Sometimes people cheer at the end. Sometimes they shake their heads disappointment or disgust. Sometimes they write angry Tumblr posts about it. The point is, Oleanna sparks discussion and can be interpreted a thousand different ways by actors, directors, and the audience.

The film, directed by Mamet himself, can be found on YouTube.

1 comment:

  1. The best part of Oleanna is that it can be interpreted in thousands of different methods by actors, directors, producers and audiences as well.

    ReplyDelete