The second in Trinity Film Review’s Summer Series (2019): touching on all things summer, student, and coming of age cinema.
In this section, writers were asked to choose films that fit best with a certain field of study: ones that you can watch instead of grinding away at the books. From Modern Languages to Economics to the Sciences, there’s a film here that almost anyone could see.
Modern Languages: Arrival
Written by Seirce Mhac Conghail
Anyone currently giving a language the seen should watch the 2016 stunner Arrival.
Arrival is about the descent of mysterious alien ships onto Earth, and the chaos that ensues as humanity attempts to somehow handle this. As human terror means loading bullets into guns, the need for communication with these beings becomes especially pressing. Front and centre is Dr Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, a linguistics professor who is employed to learn from and understand these aliens, while privately being haunted by flashbacks of her own life. Dr Banks patiently teaches these enormous, squid-like beings simple words, in exchange for their own symbols. If, at this end of the year, you too feel like an enormous squid and need to be taught simple words, this is the film for you.
Arrival also beautifully explores the theory that language affects the way you think, the Sapir-whorf hypothesis. While this film ultimately treats the study of languages rather gently, it is able to distill a real existential poignancy on how and why we communicate. I have an Irish grammar exam that I have not opened a book for yet. So I suppose the mere thought of this film is good procrastination. Procrastinate with me!
Written by Andrew O’Conghaile
For science students, some films can be very difficult to watch. Most cinematic science is merely buzzwords and cursory research used to sound smart, or simply hand waving nonsense. Let’s be honest, a science lecture isn’t very entertaining. Movies which put the time and effort into engaging with the real-world mechanics of what they attempt to portray are few and far between – and few go as far as Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
Trying to pull off things like gravitational lensing and time-dilation, while combining it with the awe and horror of looking upon something like a black hole, is remarkably ambitious. It works as an earnest description of physics that can resonate with students who study in the field – physics is hard and often confusing. The choice between an electromagnetism textbook and Matthew McConaughey is a pretty easy one. Interstellar counts as study for a cosmology exam… I hope.
It’s exceedingly rare for a movie to go further and actually contribute to the science it is trying to portray. Kip Thorne, American physicist and Nobel laureate, served as a consultant for Interstellar, and published a paper on the visuals produced for the movie – it turns out a multimillion dollar budget and access to the WETA Workshop’s computer farm is pretty useful.
History: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Written by Savvy Hanna
This most excellent 80s time travel film is the perfect excuse to take a break from studying. Bill S. Preston Esquire (Alex Winter) and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan (Keanu Reeves) are best friends from San Dimas, California, who are most non-triumphantly flunking history. To make sure that they can keep rocking together in their band The Wyld Stallyns, they have to pass their final history presentation. But instead of studying, the two teens travel through time in a phone booth and pick up some most outstanding historical figures along the way. They befriend Socrates, Billy the Kid, Genghis Khan, and many more historical dudes. Some bogus problems pop up along the way. But it’s nothing the two best friends can’t handle. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a hilarious, triumphant, and entertaining film from beginning to end.
Political Science: Knock Down the House
Written by Kate L. Ryan
Political Science often focuses on the big picture, from the cross-national studies of corruption to the usefulness of human rights agreements to debates on the very definition of democracy. And while all of this is extremely fascinating, in my opinion at least, it’s very easy to become detached from the day to day civic activism that makes up everyday politics. Knock Down the House is a perfect antidote to this. It follows four female grassroot candidates, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, vying to win the Democratic primary nominations in the 2018 US midterms. It’s a very inspiring film that delves into the motivations of these everyday American women trying to ensure that the issues of their communities are represented.
While it only focuses on one side of the political spectrum in the US, that makes the film far more enjoyable as it avoids the usual partisan squabbling typical of much of the debate in the US right now. Instead it’s a much needed reminder that politics does not have to be an abstract concept contained within the halls of power, but that it can both shape and be shaped by ordinary communities.
Law: The Social Network
Written by Conal Scullion
The Social Network proves that studying law would be much more enjoyable and non-painful if all testimony and judgement was written by Aaron Sorkin. The dialogue is so snappy and cleverly crafted that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a film about intellectual property theft followed by contractual breach. The film manages to inadvertently teach legal lessons to the audience: why are the Winklevosses in the wrong while Saverin, with a similar claim, can win his case? The film teaches us without us even noticing, while deeply investing us in both of their stories. It helps that the subject matter involves an asshole with a brain of gold, Mark Zuckerberg, and the property being argued over is none other than Facebook itself.
It’s usually easy to forget the importance of cases when studying law, but Facebook is one hell of a property to fight over. It’s also very satisfying to see the once-smug Zuckerberg panicking when statements in his first deposition, where he felt confident in his legal security, are used against him when he has shakier legal standing. The legal processes are used here to depict Zuckerberg’s downfall in a manner that rivals the greatest of tragedies.
Economics: The Big Short
Written by Jack Synnott
Economics is many things, but “dramatic” probably isn’t one of them. Unless you’re Adam McKay, that is, because his Oscar-winning 2015 comedy, The Big Short, sets out to glamourise the decidedly unglamorous financial crisis of the late 2000s, and largely succeeds.
Focusing on a group of loosely connected financial minds in the run up to the crisis and their key realisation of the bust to come,the film does a reasonably good job of accurately portraying what actually happened during the economic crash, and has succinct explanations of complex economic concepts to boot. More importantly than this, it’s a genuinely engaging, funny, and at times even moving film. The ensemble cast, which features stellar performances from Christian Bale and Steve Carell in particular, carry the film very far, preventing it from veering too much into the territory of dry financial analysis, and creating characters whom the audience can actually invest in. On top of this, the film features a perfectly pitched cameo from actual economist Richard Thaler, so it can probably be referenced in an essay.
Even if parts of the film fall flat, or venture into an annoyingly crude form of humour, it’s still guaranteed to be more fun than revising macroeconomics. Learning about collateralized debt obligations is a lot more interesting when Steve Carell is doing the explaining.