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Movie Review: Liberal Arts

Eric Hook image

Eric Hook wrote this review 5 years ago

4     0

“Mock on, mock on; ‘tis all in vain! You throw the sand against the wind, And the wind blows it back again.” 

After Radnor’s first film I had a feeling it was only the beginning. The second time around his narrative was a little less ambitious, and a lot more focused on one person. Radnor’s character Jesse is the core of the film which I would compare to a big fat tree trunk, all of the other characters in the movie are branches hanging off of it, and the little twigs sprouting off the branches are the themes each character collectively addresses with Radnor. As for the size of the tree, Liberal Arts would probably be big beautiful Redwood. (corny metaphor I know)

I’m fairly positive that Radnor keeps some kind of diary where he writes down individual complex thoughts he has. Thoughts that may only come around once in awhile, things he might only comprehend for as long as the moment lasts. Because his films is littered with these little capsules of brilliance. The amount of understanding his movies provide is amazing.

Let us look at a few of the characters…

First off Zibby, a nineteen year old attending college at Jesse’s alma mater played by Elizabeth Olsen. A very advanced girl who doesn’t identify with a lot of her peers. While she is smart, she’s still a kid. One that hasn’t gone through many of the trials that define adulthood. It would have been interesting to see clips of Jesse at her age, and compare how similar they were.

Her love story was a moral dilemma, with the characters completely disagreeing on the issue at hand. Zibby knew exactly what she wanted, while Jesse questioned everything. It’s obvious the two had a connection, but a 16 year age difference is something to consider. And when he found out she was a virgin, you can tell he wanted to sleep with her, but he felt like the dirty old man taking advantage of a kid. Ultimately he was probably right, the fact that she is a college kid would continue to rear it’s ugly head in different ways. It’s just a matter of being born in the wrong decade. Zibby will find a Jesse someday, one that was also born in the 90’s.

Jesse read & discussed the works of all the famous thinkers in college, dreaming about what the real world would be like. When he got there, he suddenly missed college (I can relate). It’s never one moment where you become an adult, and even though he’s 35 & looks a lot like one. Jesse was still stuck in that college kid mindset. It took one nostalgic return to school for him to move to the next stage. Interracting with kids still experiencing college & as well as his mentors who already went through his dillemma. He learns that life isn’t like the books he reads, but if you let it, it can still be pretty cool.

Radnor starts the film with a quote that applys mostly to the Dean character & Radnor himself. “He that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow.” The smarter you become, the more equiped you are to understand the ugliness around you. Dean is a depressed college student who reads books to help him understand his life, or the lack there of. These books provide him with wonderful insight from some of the greatest minds in history. But when he goes out into public he understands way too much about what’s going on, to the point where he cannot get out of his head, and just live. It’s a problem that many of the characters have, they overthink things because they are intelligent, and that’s what intelligent people do, they try to work things out & find answers. But when it comes to life, there are no definitive answers.

Prof. Hoberg after a long career as a teacher is reevaluating his time in this small town stuck in a room. He describes his job to Jesse, and he replies saying it sounds like a prison. Hoberg says, “Well any place you don’t leave is a prison.” What a grim statement, it shows us even the oldest & most wise men still struggle with finding resolve. He tries to renig on his retirement, but putting it off wouldn’t fix the problem. Change is not always going to feel right, but you’ve got to keep trying until it does, life doesn’t provide breaks.

Someday I’d like to write a more organized scene by scene breakdown of this movie because I feel like there is so much to talk about. I kind of hope that How I Met Your Mother ends, so Radnor he can write & direct more movies. And hopefully we don’t have another Zach Braff situation on our hands. I looked forward to Liberal Arts since I first heard about it, and it was completely worth the wait.



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