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.”