As politics is a subject we’ve probably all been talking about in our daily lives — and/or reading about in our social media feeds — especially this week, I thought it would be good timing to round up reel librarian portrayals in films set in the world of politics and/or have political themes.
All the President’s Men (1976):
This film follows the Watergate scandal uncovered by reporters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford). After several attempts by the reporters to locate information, a library clerk helps by giving them circulation records.
There are actually four minor reel librarian roles in this film, one of which we only hear over the phone, plus the reporters visit the Library of Congress.
It feels like a good time to revisit this film soon…
Before Night Falls (2000):
This film highlights the life of Cuban writer and poet Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem, in an Oscar-nominated role), who struggles against the Cuban revolution and government censorship of his writings. As a young man, he enters and wins a contest for young writers sponsored by the National Library, the prize being a job at the Library.
It feels like a good time to revisit this film soon…
Borstal Boy (2000):
Based upon the autobiography of (in)famous Irish writer and activist Brendan Behan, this film focuses on his time in a borstal — a kind of youth prison/labor camp in the UK — during World War II. A prison librarian shows up periodically throughout the film, and introduces him to the works of Oscar Wilde, a “fellow Irishman, a fellow jailbird, and rebel.”
A young man (John Lynch) struggles to find himself in war-torn Northern Ireland during “The Troubles,” and he falls in love with the widow (Helen Mirren) of a man killed by the IRA. Lynch first notices Mirren at the public library, where she works, and he visits the library a few more times during the course of the film.
The Handmaid’s Tale (1990):
This dystopian tale is set in a world under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship, in which fertility has become rare, and fertile young women, trained as Handmaids, are treated as slaves in the households they are assigned to. The late Natasha Richardson plays a Handmaid named Offred, and we learn in one scene that she used to be a librarian.
It’s also a good time to revisit and analyze this film, as a TV series version will be coming out later this year, in April. The new series stars Elisabeth Moss as Offred.
I still have not yet seen this film, but it’s definitely on my list to see this year! Here’s how the film’s plot is described on IMDb.com:
Private Joe Bauers, the definition of “average American”, is selected by the Pentagon to be the guinea pig for a top-secret hibernation program. Forgotten, he awakes five centuries in the future. He discovers a society so incredibly dumbed down that he’s easily the most intelligent person alive.
Primary Colors (1998):
This film is a fictionalized account of Bill Clinton’s first presidential candidacy. The film begins with Jack Stanton (John Travolta) visiting an urban school that provides adult literacy classes, and he introduces the “very special librarian,” Miss Walsh (Allison Janney), a klutzy but dedicated teacher and librarian.
Soylent Green (1973):
Although ostensibly a mystery thriller, the undercurrent of this dystopian film is socially and environmentally political. In the year 2022, food is scarce and the world’s population relies on a food product called “soylent green.” A detective (Charlton Heston) investigates a murder of a Soylent official and his “Police Book,” Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson, in his final film role), visits a former public library, now known as the “Supreme Exchange—Authorized Books Only.”
The librarians in this dystopian, disturbing future are known as “Books.”
Storm Center (1956):
Any film that focuses on censorship is bound to be political.
Storm Center is a melodramatic film with the rare theme of library censorship at its center. Alicia Hull (Bette Davis), the director of the public library, is well-liked and respected in the town, by both children and adults alike. Alicia is asked to remove a book about communism, but she ultimately refuses (“I couldn’t take out a book whose ideas we don’t like”) and is fired—setting off an explosive chain of events.
David, a computer whiz (Matthew Broderick), hacks into a computer game system, accidentally starting World War III and riling up international relations between the United States and Russia. (Sound familiar?!) Is it a simulation, or a real-life crisis?
A pivotal library research scene reveals how David discovers the secret password into the computer system. A reel librarian is seen very briefly in this montage scene.
Do you have any political-themed films to add to the list? Please leave a comment and share!
- All the President’s Men. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Perf. Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jason Robards, Jane Alexander. Warner Bros., 1976.
- Before Night Falls. Dir. Julian Schnabel. Perf. Javier Bardem, Olivier Martinez, Johnny Depp. Fine Line Features, 2000.
- Cal. Dir. Pat O’Connor. Perf. Helen Mirren, John Lynch. Warner Bros./Goldcrest, 1984.
- The Handmaid’s Tale. Dir. Volker Schlindorff. Perf. Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth McGovern. Cinecom, 1990.
- Primary Colors. Dir. Mike Nichols. Perf. John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Adrian Lester, Kathy Bates, Billy Bob Thornton. MCA/Universal, 1998.
- Soylent Green. Dir. Richard Fleischer. Perf. Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Edward G. Robinson, Brock Peters, Joseph Cotten. MGM, 1973.
- Storm Center. Dir. Daniel Taradash. Perf. Bette Davis, Kim Hunter, Kevin Coughlin, Brian Keith. Columbia, 1956.
- WarGames. Dir. John Badham. Perf. Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, John Wood, Dabney Coleman. United Artists, 1983.