Monday, February 8, 2016

Allusions & Archetypes in Stranger Than Fiction

I know I've posted earlier about using film as part of my existential study in CE Intro to College Literature, notably with the classic Bill Murray/Harold Ramis film Groundhog Day.  However, another excellent contemporary film that can serve the existential lesson plan - Stranger Than Fiction As Harold Crick slowly grows to understand how to live the life he has always wanted, or, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, "live the life he has imagined," his understanding of life, fate, choice, and meaning becomes increasingly clear.  Many quotable lines from the film reveal the existential dilemma.  However, repeated viewings unlock other gems for English instruction.  For one, it has the added benefit of a great explanation of literature that could be used in class for a brief introduction to archetypes and allusions.

The lesson is delivered by Professor Hilbert, an English prof and lifeguard, who is tasked with helping Harold Crick deal with his literary existential dilemma.  Harold seeks out an English professor after attempting to convince a psychiatrist he is not schizophrenic.  Thus, because he appears to be in a story being narrated, the doctor posits that his problem might be better solved by a literature teacher.  And, with that the film transitions to a great subplot of literary deconstruction in a role played perfectly by Dustin Hoffman.

In attempting to determine Harold's situation who is "playing the lead character in his own life," Professor Hilbert devises a series of questions from literature to determine which story Harold is living.  He rules out all the classic characters, including "the Gollum," and from there seeks to determine whether Harold is living in a comedy or a tragedy.  In a classic bit of summation, the professor notes, "In a tragedy, you die.  In a comedy, you get hitched."  It's a great bit of dialogue that would make any English teacher smile.  However, beyond that, it's a scene that could be used to engage students in the analysis of literature in a way they might not have fathomed before.

So, from a Mazenglish standpoint, Stranger Than Fiction is an excellent source for witty literature discussion.

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