108 user 27 critic

Oleanna (1994)

Not Rated | | Drama, Thriller | 4 November 1994 (USA)
When a student visits her professor to discuss how she failed his course, the discussion takes an awkward turn.


David Mamet


David Mamet (play), David Mamet (screenplay)
1 nomination. See more awards »




Complete credited cast:
William H. Macy ... John
Debra Eisenstadt ... Carol


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 <rainman88@earthlink.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


He said it was a lesson. She said it was sexual harassment. Whichever side you take, you're wrong. See more »


Drama | Thriller


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


Playwright and director David Mamet, according to the U.S. DVD sleeve notes for the film, was confronted by an "angry band of students" and accused of "political irresponsibility" at the first preview of the film's source "Oleanna" stage-play at Harvard University in 1992. See more »


When the professor says "Oh, my God." near the end of the movie right after striking his student and shortly before sitting down, for a short time the microphone hanging from the roof is visible at the top right corner of the screen. 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 »

Alternate Versions

There is a version of the movie circulating in Australia, in a series of videos along with other David Mamet films including "A Life in the Theater". This particular copy of the film is timecoded. In that version, after Carol tells John not to call his wife "baby," (thus sending him into a torrent of rage), and he slaps her arm and grabs her, screaming a sexual expletive and raising a chair above her head, the door to the hallway swings open and a number of people stand in the hallway, observing the fight and thus hopelessly damning John. In the version now appearing on The Sundance Channel (10/05), the expletive is unchanged but he never lifts the chair and the door never opens; aside from a final exterior shot of the school, the film ends with Carol (Eisenstadt) having collapsed on the floor of John's office, and John sitting in his chair, his head buried in his hands. See more »


Referenced in Behind 'Oleanna' (1994) See more »


Long Ago And Far Away
Words by David Mamet
Music by Rebecca Pidgeon
Soloist: Steve Goldstein (as Steven Goldstein)
© Copyright 1994 Dwight Street Music
See more »

User Reviews

One of the scariest movies I've seen....
22 January 2004 | by dcphillips33See 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....

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Official Sites:

MGM | Powerhouse Films





Release Date:

4 November 1994 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

David Mamet's Oleanna See more »

Filming Locations:

Massachusetts, USA See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$25,316, 6 November 1994

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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