Category Archives: Books in Film

Books in Film: Metropolitan (1990)

Every now and then, I thought it’d be interesting to write a post on books featured in films.  I did this once before with the film Next Stop Wonderland (starring Hope Davis).

Pardon me for picking another relatively unknown film, but books feature so prominently in Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan that I couldn’t resist.

First about the film itself (this part is taken from a review of the film I wrote over a year ago):

Metropolitan follows a group of young privileged New Yorkers, about the age of college freshmen, as they progress through the debutante season, with particular focus on the after-parties held into the early morning hours. Giving us an outsider perspective on this kind of life, is a ‘West Sider’ named Tom who reluctantly lets himself get adopted by this group.

There’s a real chemistry within the ensemble that make me feel fond of the characters even when they display unlikable behavior. The dialogue has a wit and vocabulary to die for – it reminds me of dialogue in Austen or Dickens – where it’s not really the way that people do talk, but I kind of wish it was.


And now onto the books featured in the film:

There is a terrific ongoing discussion between two of the characters about Jane Austen. In one scene, the warm-hearted, bookish Audrey Rouget is telling Tom her favorite books: “by Tolstoy, War and Peace and by Austen, Persuasion and Mansfield Park.”

“Mansfield Park!” Tom exclaims in disgust. He explains his reaction by referencing a critical essay by Lionel Trilling, who deplored the book. Tom goes on to say:

“The context of the book and nearly everything Jane Austen wrote is near-ridiculous from today’s perspective.”

Audrey replies: “Has it ever occurred to you that today, looked at from Jane Austen’s perspective, would look even worse?”  (Such an awesome line.)

Later in the film, Audrey tells Tom she has read Lionel Trilling’s essay, but found it strange.  “He says no one could like Fanny Price.  I like her.”  Apparently one of Trilling’s problems is that Fanny is too “good” to be likable. Audrey asks, “What’s wrong with a virtuous heroine?” (Personally, Mansfield Park is one of my least favorite Austen novels, but I applaud Audrey for sticking to her guns.)

At this point in the conversation, Tom admits without shame that he actually hasn’t read Mansfield Park.  “You don’t have to read a book to have an opinion on it,” he claims.  Furthermore, he tells Audrey that he doesn’t read novels at all, just literary criticism.  The film intends for him to sound ridiculous and he is.

Fortunately, Tom is not a hopeless case, as can be seen by a glimpse of Persuasion on his nightstand later in the film:

He tells Audrey that he is surprised by how much he is liking it.

Other books randomly featured in Metropolitan:

In one scene, the arrogant but wickedly funny Nick reads the back cover of Wardell Pomeroy’s Girls and Sex in mock-serious tones.  At a different gathering, under the influence of mescaline, Nick gets all depressed and sits in a corner with a children’s book.  Another character sits next to him and asks what he’s reading.  He says, with feeling, “The Story of Babar.  I forgot how beautiful it was.”

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Books in Film: Next Stop Wonderland (1998)

I returned home today after spending Thanksgiving in Vermont at my grandmother’s house, which is where I usually spend that holiday.  It was a good time with family – eating, talking, playing games, working on a puzzle.  I read some too. 🙂

I have a couple of books waiting to be reviewed, but that can wait until tomorrow.  Tonight, I thought I’d bring in my love of films and splice it with my love of books.  I chose the following film because the last part of the movie occurs close to Thanksgiving.

Next Stop Wonderland (1998) is one of my favorite movies because I love its tone and find the main character, Erin (Hope Davis), to be an interesting and relatable protagonist.  The director, Brad Anderson, explains that the movie was born out of saudade:

Saudade is a Brazilian word. It roughly translates into “melancholy” but it also implies a kind of longing for a happiness that is no longer within reach, a kind of home sickness. As Andre the Brazilian musicologist says in the movie, ‘it means sadness and happiness at the same time’ . . . In this movie I wanted to create a character, Erin, who embodied this mixed emotion, this suadade. It is her contentment with solitude along with her longing for companionship that for me makes her journey to find the right man so compelling… and funny.

It’s rare to come across a ‘romantic comedy’ type film that respects the value of solitude.  What I also enjoy about the film is that Erin is a reader and this aspect of her life comes up several times.

Early in the film, she walks up to the counter in a cozy bookstore with an old copy of Wordsworth’s The Prelude.  She accidentally drops the book on the floor where it lands pages open.  The owner of the bookstore stops her from closing the book, telling her, “You should never close a book until you’ve read something from it.  It can be very revealing.”

She reads:

When from our better selves we have too long

Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop

Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired

How gracious, how benign, is Solitude.

Later in the film, Erin, who is a nurse, comes across a sleeping patient with a book lying open on his chest.  The book is Robinson Crusoe and she picks it up to see the words: “I find that I am not alone on the island.”

And finally, near the end of the film, we see her pull out a small book of poems written by her deceased father, who was a doctor by profession, and who obviously instilled a love of words in his daughter.  The title of this fictitious book is called “Heart Needs Home” and is dedicated to Erin.

The books form part of the film’s overarching discussion of destiny, and as such, they uncannily reflect what is going on in Erin’s life at the moment.  And I like that about books, that books can be such companions, speaking back to you about your life – perhaps not as presciently as in the film – but communicating all the same.

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