Changing Fate: The Power Dynamics in ‘Stranger Than Fiction’

The movie Stranger Than Fiction plays with the idea of fate, the unknown, and the inevitability of death. Harold, the main character, has to contemplate these in his adventure to uncover the one pulling his strings to his preordained death. Throughout the movie, I kept wondering about the power dynamics between Harold and his writer Karen in the grand scheme of Harold’s story. Considering that the story doesn’t in fact end with Harold’s death, questions began to arise about how preordained each scene and action is up to the final moments where Harold should in fact die. I personally argue that while Harold may feel that Karen is controlling his every step that she is in fact guiding him to a conclusion that she wanted. I don’t think fate had anything to do with the death that had been outlined for him.

From the moment that Harold began hearing Karen narrate his life, I felt that the way she wrote ranged from declarations to suggestions. For example, in the beginning, Karen is narrating the mundane task of getting ready for the morning. She writes of how many strokes he brushes his teeth, how he picks his tie, and always nearly misses the bus. We the audience see this even before she speaks, these are facts. This task isn’t something that she ‘programmed’ into her character. It’s just something is.

When Karen’s writing becomes ‘suggestive’ she is pushing the plot along. In this case, I don’t see her have power either. For example, when Harold sees Anna for the first time at the bakery, he is professional towards her until Karen begins to mention her body. In our reality, the moment a person mentions something, it often directs the person listening to look at what they are talking about. For example, if I were to say “The sky’s so blue today,” my friend and maybe even a few passersby would look up at the sky and either think “Yeah, it is,” or “What’re you talking about, it’s 8 o’clock at night.” Either, I created a sentence that placed a suggestion into someone’s mind that warranted an action. In this way, I believe that Karen began to roll the plot along in Harold’s story.

While Karen didn’t start off with the power to control Harold, I do think that Harold gave her the power to control him. The moment Harold begins to hear Karen, he becomes hyper aware of his actions and how they may affect the progression of the story to what he believes to be his eventual death. He even begins to seek out his plot at the Professor’s behest. It is at this point that he begins to become a ‘character’. By this I mean that he acknowledges that he must be in a literary work and should act the part. In some ways, he takes advantage of his shrinking life span to go do what he never let himself do.

Still as his death creeps ever closer, he begins to search for Karen in earnest when he discovers her identity. It is at this point in the movie that the power dynamics really show. The greatest example is when Harold goes back to the IRS to look into information on the writer. From what is narrated up to the moment Karen’s own phone rings, it is obvious that she doesn’t know what Harold is really doing. Her gaze, like any omniscient writer really, shifts from within the character’s mind to the outside. She sees his actions but the detail of it. It is in this scene, that I feel the depth of their power dynamics show the brightest where Ana isn’t present.

Arguably, the only point in the movie that I believe Karen stood to have direct control over Harold’s life is the point in which he should have died. I personally believe though that Harold knowing the details of his death and the fact that he greeted it with open arms affected the outcome of what was to be his final moment. By this, I mean that Harold effectively changed the outcome precisely because he was aware that it would happen. It had the same effect of telling someone in a drug trial that they were the placebo. It skewed the results. Therefore, while Karen was omniscient, I feel that she had no true control of Harold outside of suggestion which he allowed to take control of his reality.


Oscar! Oscar!

With the 89th Oscars showing on February 26th, people are trying to see all the nominated films before the big ceremony! While most of the films nominated for Best picture are still in theaters, there are 88 other years of great films for you to watch! Here is a small selection of wonderful films that are available at the Wells Library, so maybe you could have an old fashioned Oscar party while watching these films!

  1.  Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner- This film rocked the world in 1967 where it portrayed an interracial couple in a positive light in a world where interracial marriage was illegal until June of 1967, six months before the premiere of the film. The legendary actress Katherine Hepburn won Best Actress for her portrayal of a mother whose daughter brings home an unexpected guest.

2. The King’s Speech

This film won the coveted Best Picture Oscar in 2010, and it was well deserved. This film follows King George the IV as he overcomes a life long stutter during the beginning of World War II.

3.  Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki is known around the world for being a genius in the realm of animated movies. Out of the thirteen feature films that he has created, this is the only one that won an Oscar, in 2002 it won Best Animated Feature, the second Oscar granted after 2001 to the film Shrek. This film is visually stunning and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as they follow the heroine, Chihiro as she falls into the realm of spirits in effort to find her parents.

I hope this small selection of films has got you interested in films that were deemed worthy of getting an Oscar. There are many more, on the Oscar film database, just be sure to cross check them with IUCAT and if we are missing any of these seminal films be sure to let us know!


ALA VRT Notable Videos for Adults 2017 Winners

The American Library Association (ALA) Video Round Table Notable Videos for Adults Committee has compiled its 2017 list of Notable Videos for Adults, a list of 15 outstanding films released on video within the past two years and suitable for all libraries serving adults.  Its purpose is to call attention to recent video releases that make a significant contribution to the world of video.  The list is compiled for use by librarians and the general adult populace.

The Notable Videos for Adults Committee selected 15 outstanding titles from among 67 nominees for this year’s list of Notable Videos for Adults.  The availability of closed captions (CC) and/or subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH) is preferred; inclusion and exclusion of the same is indicated below.

3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets (2015) 98 minutes. HBO Documentary Films. DVD.  Ro*Co Films.  Subtitles.  Invoking the controversial “Stand Your Ground” defense, a Florida man opens fire on unarmed African-American teenagers, killing Jordan Davis. [Available for checkout from Media Services]

Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2016) 120 minutes; Firelight Films. DVD. PBS.  CC & SDH.  An historical overview of the rise and fall of a radical social movement that sought to empower African Americans and change the capitalist system.

Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare(2016) 114 minutes. Sternal Entertainment. DVD. Kino Lorber. Subtitles.  Desperate African and Middle Eastern refugees arrive by boat to the Italian island of Lampedusa and residents respond.

The First Monday in May (2016) 91 minutes. Relativity Media. DVD. Magnolia Home Entertainment. SDH.  A fundraiser for the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fashion wing makes multicultural connections between East and West.

Heart of a Dog (2016) 76 minutes. Abramorama. DVD. Criterion Collection. SDH.  Experimental artist Laurie Anderson projects the canine perspective in this non-linear meditation on fear, loss, and love.

How to Change the World  (2016) 110 minutes. Sky Films. DVD. Kino Lorber. CC.This history of the developmental phases of Greenpeace serves as a primer for environmental activism and political organizing for social change.

Last Day of Freedom (2016) 32 minutes. Grasshopper Film. DVD. CC.  His image altered by the animation technique of rotoscoping, the sibling of a death row inmate recounts the military service and PTSD leading up to his brother’s crime and punishment.

Long Story Short (2016) 45 minutes. Icarus Films. DVD. CC.  Based on interviews with residents of California homeless shelters, the filmmaker uses creative audio and visual techniques to distill hundreds of stories of poverty into a single message.

Matt Shepard Is A Friend of Mine (2015) 89 minutes. Logo Documentary Films. DVD. Available from various distributors. CC.  Friends of the Wyoming student and hate crime victim remember his life while also revealing the depth and longevity of their grief. [Available for checkout from Media Services]

OJ: Made in America (2016) 520 minutes. ESPN Films. DVD. CC.  An encyclopedic analysis of the sociological impact of the murder trial of OJ Simpson, as seen through the lens of race, celebrity, and class. [Available at IUB Law Library]

Sembene! (2016) 89 minutes. Impact Partners. DVD. Kino Lorber. CC.  Ousmane Sembène, a laborer and son of a fisherman, becomes a pioneering and controversial African filmmaker.

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry  (2016) 93 minutes.  Music Box Films. DVD. Cinema Guild. SDH.  The women who raised consciousness, organized, and demonstrated for equal rights, tell the history of second wave feminism. [Available from IUPUI Library]

Under the Sun  (2016) 110 minutes. Icarus Films. DVD. Subtitles.  Officially sanctioned footage demonstrates the mesmerizing, pervasive power of rhetoric, repetition, and propaganda in North Korean life. 

Welcome to Leith  (2015) 86 minutes. First Run Features. DVD. SDH.  Residents of Leith, North Dakota, struggle with democratic principles when a white supremacist buys property and moves to their small town. [Available via online streaming]

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2016) 116 minutes. Netflix. DVD. Eagle Vision. Subtitles.  The complex and emotionally charged life of legendary musician and activist Nina Simone is chronicled. [Being cataloged, ask staff]

Be sure to check with Media Services for availability of titles.  “We Like to Watch!” (an old ALA VRT motto!)

~ Monique Threatt

Shameless: A TV Show for Everyone

Recently, the show Shameless has become a household name recently as its popularity has skyrocketed. The story is set in Chicago and follows a dysfunctional family who runs into trouble wherever they go. The plot will keep you guessing and always has you on your toes as the surprises are endless…

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Fantastic Mr. Fox: A Kid’s Film for Adults

Many of the works of the beloved children’s author Roald Dahl have found their way onto the silver screen. From Matilda to The BFG, Dahl’s written work has taken on a second life in the form of film. Perhaps this is because of how unique Dahl’s children’s fiction is, and how readily his material lends itself and adapts to the screen. Dahl’s work is distinctly mature for being stories meant for children. His stories are often darkly comedic and occasionally find themselves bordering the morbid. Anyone who has seen Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory knows that the wicked are punished, often brutally, for their impropriety. Dahl’s stories show how the good and the pure ultimately overcome the iniquitous and immoral. Such mature themes make it difficult to classify film adaptations of his work as “kid’s movies.” But that is the beauty of Dahl’s storytelling: he does not flinch from the notion that children can be adult, or that adults can be childish… Continue reading “Fantastic Mr. Fox: A Kid’s Film for Adults”

Zootopia Analyzed: Disney’s Timely New Classic

When many people think of Disney movies, their minds might go towards the token Princess movies, maybe the classics such as The Jungle Book and The Lion King, or perhaps the many wonderful Disney/Pixar collaborations. Just last year, however, Disney brought us a film that not only rivals the quality of the classics with the same heartwarming story and lovable characters but also goes to infinity and beyond in just about every way that we expect from their live-action films as well. Because of that, Zootopia is not just a kid’s film, but a family film that every viewer can enjoy and relate to; this one improves upon that notion by allowing kids to have fun while provoking adults to think more so than most other animated films will warrant. In my opinion, this film is a great example of how movies can balance not only just a relevant and relatable narrative but also subtle and smart comedy that allows the story to thrive as what it’s meant to be at heart: fun!… Continue reading “Zootopia Analyzed: Disney’s Timely New Classic”

Adapting Media into Films: What Works and What Doesn’t

When books are adapted to movies, it’s impossible to copy the original word for word. Often times subplots, scenes or other elements in the book are left out of the film to meet an acceptable runtime, and this can harm a reader’s appreciate of the film version. Since a book is interpreted differently by all who read it, it’s impossible for the person adapting the work to please every member of the audience. When I watch an adaptation of a book, I’ll often walk out thinking “man, I wish this was more like how I imagined it,” but there’s one movie adaptation that is so faithful to the source material that audiences everywhere thought “man, I wish I imagined the book more like that!” This adaptation is Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, based off of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novels

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The Media Services Top 10 Films of 2016

Media Beat Blog Header2016 has been all over the board in film- many disappointments, many surprises, and now it’s time to forget all of the bad films and just focus on the ones that spoke to us. Film is an art that allows people to connect, listen to stories, and learn about characters, and sometimes, even learn about ourselves. We asked our staff and coworkers this week to send in their favorite ten films of 2016, and using an algorithm, combined the lists into one Top 10 that takes into account everybody’s vote for every movie. What follows is the official Media Services Top 10 Films of 2016…

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The Female Gaze

Media Beat Blog HeaderSo, the United States of America didn’t end up electing a female president… the president-elect we do have thinks Time Magazine’s Person of the Year should go back to Man of the Year. Women are, on the whole, paid less per dollar than men for doing the same job, and their reproductive rights are constantly under attack. 2016 was a great year for the unchecked egos of certain male figures, but a bummer for ladies and those who support them…

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