Out of the habit

Reel librarians who echo religious figures

Continuing the theme of deeper representation (click here and here), some reel librarians cinematically echo religious figures, such as the nun or monk. This correlation is most obvious in the film The Name of the Rose (1986), in which the librarians are LITERALLY monks, but less direct examples also exist. Reel depictions of nuns and monks tend to go medieval on us, focusing on celibacy (or at the very least, self-restraint of the “sins of the flesh”), hidden or conservative views, and power over knowledge (or access to that knowledge), usually of a secret or mystical nature.

Note:  I am NOT passing judgment on clergy folk, librarians, or those who are both, mmmkay? So don’t shoot the messenger. Or friendly librarian blogger. 🙂

The above qualities are most widely seen in the Spinster Librarian or the Anti-Social Librarian character types. Philadelphia (1993), In the Name of the Father (1993), and Sophie’s Choice (1982) all include librarians who hoard knowledge, although that knowledge is of a secular, not mystical, nature. Hidden views? Look no further than Soylent Green (1973) or Homicide (1991).

Citizen Kane (1941) features the strongest modern image of the librarian as representative of the nun/monk figure (although Lindgren in 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes a close second). Miss Anderson (Georgia Backus) appears as an undesirable — and therefore undoubtedly single — woman unwilling, or at the very least reluctant, to share information from the library with a reporter. Her severe suit and helmet of hair (perfectly silhouetted in the clip below) function as a modern update of the nun robes and habit. She embodies the hoarding of knowledge; the conservative dress and demeanor — wearing both as a costume or uniform; as well as the stripped-away sexuality (in her case, celibacy probably is self-imposed). Unwilling to yield to prying eyes or questions that might upset the world she controls, Miss Anderson cinematically represents the image of the (stereotypical) nun in a secular society.

Citizen.Kane.(1941).WMV” video uploaded by deanxavier is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Sources used:


  • Citizen Kane. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Ruth Warrick, Alan Ladd. RKO, 1941.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård. Columbia, 2011.
  • Homicide. Dir. David Mamet. Perf. Joe Mantegna, William H. Macy and Vincent Guastaferro. Triumph Releasing Corp., 1991.
  • In the Name of the Father. Dir. Jim Sheridan. Perf. Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson, Pete Postelthwaite. Universal, 1993.
  • The Name of the Rose. Dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud. Perf. Sean Connery, Christian Slater, F. Murray Abraham, Ron Perlman. 20th Century Fox, 1986.
  • Philadelphia. Dir. Jonathan Demme. Perf. Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Jason Robards, Joanne Woodward, Antonio Banderas, Mary Steenburgen. TriStar, 1993.
  • Sophie’s Choice. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Perf. Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol. Universal, 1982.
  • Soylent Green. Dir. Richard Fleischer. Perf. Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Edward G. Robinson, Brock Peters, Joseph Cotton. MGM, 1973.
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Author: Jennifer

Librarian, blogger, movie lover

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