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Fall 2018: Faculty Notes: The Movie That Changed My Life


WM asked Wabash faculty, “What was the movie that changed your life?”

It’s fall 1985; I have my Oxford DPhil. I'm working as a graphic artist and cartoonist in the hiatus in my academic career that at that point wasn’t a hiatus—I was a budding-career graphic artist, living in New Orleans. Some friends and I go regularly to movies, usually just big-release entertainment fluff. Then, in the space of one week I twice decided, "You guys go see that; I'm going to this one instead.” The two movies: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, by Paul Schrader; Brazil, by Terry Gilliam.

Both of them set off neuron explosions in my head like Chinese fireworks on a Honolulu New Year’s celebration. 

The cumulative effect was to start me wondering if I was squandering not my education, but my brain. I think that's the point where I started to shift back towards an academic career. 

Plus, the Mishima film was an important origin point for my interest in Japanese culture and military history, as well as the soundtrack being my first exposure to Philip Glass’ music, a lifelong passion since.

Stephen Morillo,
Professor of History

In those impressionable days of high school, one film that made me look at things differently was Vision Quest. In some ways a typical 1980s movie, but the passion teenaged wrestler Louden Swain [Matthew Modine] had in going after his dreams inspired me to go after mine, no matter what barriers came up before me. Then there’s Louden’s last line of narration: “But all I ever settled for is that we’re born to live and then to die, and... we got to do it alone, each in his own way. And I guess that's why we got to love those people who deserve it like there's no tomorrow. ‘Cause when you get right down to it, there isn’t.”

Ed Hensley,
Assistant Instructor of Accounting Economic

Dead Poet’s Society meant the world to me as a young, inexpe rienced high school English teacher. I loved everything about John Keating [Robin Williams] and tried to emulate his approach to teaching English and the way he built rapport with students. 

Working with future teachers at Wabash, I’m always surprised when they say they haven’t seen the film. I’ve been known to give it as an assignment. Now, if only I could get my Wabash students to call me “Captain.” 

All these years later, with suicide weighing so heavy on the hearts of all of us, I’m reminded again of how relevant the film still is. 

Michele Pittard,
Professor of Education Studies

The Gods Must Be Crazy taught the eight-year-old me that technological change isn't necessarily technological progress.

Ethan Hollander,
Associate Professor of Political Science

Good Will Hunting, particularly the scene where Sean [Robin Williams] asks Will [Matt Damon], “What do you want to do with your life?” The setting and context drove home for me the point that being intelligent or educated isn’t enough; you have to think hard about what you want to do with your life. If you can answer that question, the how-to-do-so becomes much, much easier.

Nathan Tompkins,
Assistant Professor of Physic

As a film studies student at CU Boulder, I saw many films that shook my world. The most powerful art experience I ever had was watching Stan Brakhage’s Passage Through: A Ritual, which is primarily just black film leader. The experience only works with a 16mm print. Your eyes eventually see the blue that composes the seemingly black leader, and when an image does appear, it’s as if the world is being born and then quickly vanishes as your brain tries to recalibrate your vision as things that are purple appear green and your brain executes crossfades inside your mind. 

I know of nothing else like it. I shared the experience with others, many of them in tears at the end, witnessing the very articulation of our vision being born again and again.

Matthew Weedman, 
Assistant Professor of Art