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Oleanna (1994)

Not Rated  |   |  Drama, Thriller  |  4 November 1994 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.7/10 from 2,240 users  
Reviews: 102 user | 20 critic

Student Carol visits Professor John to discuss how she failed his course but the discussion takes awkward turn.



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Title: Oleanna (1994)

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Complete credited cast:
Debra Eisenstadt ...


A two character movie, involving a college professor, John, who is confronted by a female student, Carol, who is failing his course. The two spend a long time talking to each other, during which time John says a few things that can be taken the wrong way. After the night the two spent talking, John is slapped with a sexual harassment accusation by Carol. After more accusations from Carol, John's career as a teacher begins to fall apart. This forces John with a choice on how to handle the situation, and the results make up for a shattering ending to the movie. Written by Justin Sharp <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Whatever Side You Take, You're Wrong. See more »


Drama | Thriller


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

4 November 1994 (USA)  »

Box Office


$124,693 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


David Mamet's script was heavily criticized as sexist. He defended himself against this allegation in (Guardian supplement) (UK) 8 April 2004, pg. 8-9, "'Why can't I show a woman telling lies?'" See more »


When Carol leaves John's office after their second meeting, shouting "Help!", the shadow of the camera covers the door. See more »


[last lines]
John: Oh, my God.
Carol: Yes, that's right.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The "school song" (written by Mamet) played during the credits is sung by Mamet's wife, Rebecca Pidgeon who first performed the role of Carol on stage. See more »


Referenced in Mystery Science Theater 3000: Angels' Revenge (1995) See more »


Brief College Days
Words by David Mamet
Music by Rebecca Pidgeon
Soloist - Main Credits: Steve Goldstein (as Steven Goldstein)
Soloist - End Credits: Rebecca Pidgeon
© Copyright 1994 Dwight Street Music
See more »

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User Reviews

One of the scariest movies I've seen....
22 January 2004 | by See all my reviews

David Mamet's "Oleanna" is a harrowing, horrifying, gut-wrenching portrayal of two human beings who have entered into - as John, the professor played by William H. Macy declares - an agreement as to certain forms and institutions

  • and the institution of grading is, though the catalyst for what follows,

the least of concerns here.... "Oleanna" is set squarely in the midst of contemporary academia, but the issues it addresses are more far-reaching than those pertaining solely to classrooms and the offices of intellectuals. That said, many may have difficulty relating to the characters and to the specifics of the situation in which they find themselves - the drama is more often than not a drama of words, ideas - "discourses." But these are, ultimately, only the incidentals - or better, the particular manifestations
  • of what is at root as "simple" as a basic communication breakdown: "I

don't understand" is a phrase uttered countless times by both of the protagonists/antagonists. And ultimately, this is what "Oleanna" is really "about": the difficulty - the impossibility?, as it is suggested - for two people to understand each other on the most fundamental level.... The "plot," such as it is, is rather simple: a private meeting between professor and student yields two wildly divergent ideas of what actually took place, and why. Carol, an intense and troubled young student, is concerned with her apparently miserable grade in a course taught by John, and goes to meet him in his office to discuss it. Initially, the audience's sympathies are squarely with Carol - especially in light of the brusque, brutal, even cruel manner with which John initially dismisses her. But slowly, John softens - he begins to see himself in the young girl, and soon he allows his guard to slip - he "dissolves the boundaries between teacher and student" and undertakes to help Carol as a fellow, sympathetic human being.... The equilibrium - if in fact there ever is any at all - is not, however, to last for long; the encounter results in a savage power-struggle in which each participant fails to connect with the other and, ultimately self-absorbed, fails to understand the other's position and motives. "Oleanna" is really about the consequences, it seems, of abstraction - and Mamet and his actors do a wonderful job of demonstrating the disjunction between the real, human core of individuals and the superficial personae that are variously self-adopted and assigned by the other. There are several moments where entente seems on the very verge of realization, in which "feelings" emerge to bridge the gaps separating the middle-aged, middle-class, white male teacher and the young, lower-class, white female student - but the moments are always interrupted by one or the other of the two participants, through, basically, self-absorbed self-indulgence of immediate concerns - be they material or psychological. And each immediately falls back into the traditional, comfortable role s/he has been playing. This film troubled me a great deal - both at the time I watched it, and later. There are, in fact, no easy answers, and the tagline "whichever side you choose, you're wrong" has come to seem to me much truer than I at first thought. The film really is a Foucault-informed meditation on power and discourse - both consciously exercised and unconsciously-assumed. But ultimately, I think, the film indicates that no solutions can be discovered in the very foundation of the problem - the modern tendency to abstract identity from socio-political and intellectual discourses. John seems much closer to the truth than Carol - but he is no less wrong for it - for he fails to "practice what he preaches," whether or not he knows it. These issues are "universal" in today's post-modern Western world - but perhaps nowhere are they better exemplified, or more serious, than in academia, where words are the foundation of life itself. As a chosen academic myself, and as both student and teacher, I found this film woefully plausible (in many respects - the fact that even a second, let alone a third and fourth meeting ever took place is admittedly rather incredulous) and relevant; quite frankly, it terrified me. I can honestly say - even considering my guilty addiction to cheap horror flicks - that "Oleanna" is the scariest movie I have seen in years....

44 of 51 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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