Law librarian failure in ‘Philadelphia’ (1993)

Last week, in a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that federal employment discrimination law, Title VII, protects gay and transgender employees. It’s a historic ruling — one long overdue! — and Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. And it’s even sweeter for this ruling to come during Pride Month. You can read more about the decision here on the SCOTUS blog. We still have a long way to go when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, but this moment is one to savor.

It also got me thinking about the 1993 film, Philadelphia, which earned Tom Hanks his first Best Actor Oscar for portraying Andrew Beckett, a lawyer who gets fired from his law firm after his homosexuality and AIDS diagnosis are discovered by his law partners. With the help of lawyer Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), Beckett sues his law firm for wrongful dismissal. This film was released 27 years ago — repeat, 27! YEARS! AGO! — and only now, in 2020, would Beckett be recognized under Title VII protections.

Here is a trailer for the film, if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it. The movie is available to rent via Amazon Prime.

Philadelphia – Trailer” video uploaded by YouTube Movies, Standard YouTube License

Law library scene

At first, Miller does not want to help represent Beckett, so Beckett has to start researching on his own. And that leads us to a pivotal scene at a law library, which comes in at about a quarter of the way through the film. Beckett is researching materials in a law library, and Miller is at a nearby table.

A reel librarian, played by Tracey Walter, approaches Beckett with a book on AIDS discrimination he has found for him. The librarian, who is white and male, looks to be in his 40s, with thin, balding hair. He is conservatively dressed, in a sweater, tie, and button-front shirt, and he is not wearing glasses. Beckett thanks him for the book, but the librarian does not leave.

Law librarian in a scene from Philadelphia, 1993
Another version of the “librarian stare” in Philadelphia (1993)

Let’s listen in:

Librarian: We do have a private research room available.

Beckett: I’m fine right here, thank you.

Another patron then approaches the table and asks the librarian for help finding a case. The librarian tells him, “Just a moment, I’ll be right with you.” He then turns back to Beckett, sighs heavily, wipes his chin, and then leans in slightly in order to place his hand on the library table.

Wide photo of the library scene in Philadelphia, 1993
Another patron approaches the librarian in this scene from Philadelphia (1993)

Librarian: Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in a research room?

Beckett [looks around and coughs]: No. Would it make you more comfortable?

Miller then gathers his stuff and walks over to Beckett.

Miller: Beckett, how you doing?

Beckett: Counselor. Huh.

Beckett then stares back at the librarian, who then looks up at Miller. Miller stares down the librarian and, in a gesture of challenge, nods his head. The librarian then drops his eyes to Beckett.

Librarian (to Beckett): Whatever, sir.

The librarian turns to leave, and then so does the other patron sitting at Beckett’s table. Miller stays to review the material that Beckett has gathered, and he decides to take the case.

The scene lasts two minutes and was filmed at the Fisher Fine Arts Library, in the Furness Building on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. As it’s a pivotal scene — one that sets up the rest of the film — and the librarian makes an (unfortunately) memorable impression, this film and librarian portrayal land in the Class III category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, including a minor character in a memorable or significant scene.

You can watch the entire library scene here in this YouTube video:

Philadelphia (2/8) Movie CLIP – More Comfortable (1993) HD” video uploaded by Movieclips, Standard YouTube License

Assessing this library scene and its significance

This scene is awkward, and purposefully so. There’s not a lot of dialogue in this scene, but a whole lot of long stares, silence, and sub-text that speak volumes in-between the gaps of spoken text. The camera angles also shift, reflecting each person’s perspective. I want to break down what I imagine is happening with each major character in this scene: the law librarian, Miller, and Beckett. Full disclosure: I am writing from the perspective of a white, cisgender woman, so my perspectives are limited. If you have alternative, different, and/or more nuanced ideas of what’s happening in this scene, please leave a comment and share!

Law librarian (Tracey Walter):

What is going on in this reel librarian’s head as he decides to keep standing and asking Beckett if he wants a private room? He’s clearly connected the dots between the request for an AIDS discrimination case and Beckett, who is visibly pale, with watery eyes and a cap to cover what is presumably a bald head. The librarian believes Beckett himself has AIDS. Therefore, I can imagine he is rationalizing to himself that he is being kind to this patron, by framing his recommendation as a question (“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable…?”) rather than as a command. I can also imagine that he is rationalizing to himself that he is protecting other patrons from this person who has AIDS. These kinds of rationalizations reflect the time period and the uninformed attitudes about AIDS, but they are not excuses for discrimination.

I wonder what’s going on in this reel librarian’s head as he processes the collective stare-downs from Beckett and Miller. Who has the power in this situation at the beginning, and does that shift during this scene? I think the librarian is weighing his options and ultimately decides that it’s not worth his effort to continue trying to hassle Beckett into a private room, because (a) he’s outnumbered, and (b) he doesn’t want to call attention to himself and also be accused of racism — although when it was just homophobia, he was fine with it — because it’s clear Miller, a Black man, is a lawyer and supports Beckett. In that moment, the power shifts from the librarian to Miller and Beckett, and it’s all done through stare-downs and sub-text.

The librarian also tries to have the last word in this low-key stand-off, but it’s weak: “Whatever, sir.” He also sighs and shrugs as he turns away. It’s clear that he hasn’t learned any positive lesson from this interaction.

The camera angles used in this scene also make the audience feel like we’re in Beckett’s position, too, and that we’re being looked down on by the librarian.

Joe Miller (Denzel Washington):

At the beginning of this scene, Miller stops chewing, and his entire body gets very still. He recognizes the librarian’s discrimination even before Beckett does.

After overhearing the librarian recommending a private room, he pushes his stack of books in front of him. Why? To disassociate himself from the situation? To assess the situation without being spotted himself? To deflect any other discrimination the librarian may be tempted to dish out? To see and assess how Beckett handles himself in that situation?

When he overhears Beckett standing up to the librarian, that’s when Miller’s face shifts and changes. That’s when he stands up and joins Beckett. Miller, a Black man, faces discrimination due to the color of his skin. Beckett is facing discrimination due to his sexuality and AIDS status. Together, they are stronger.

Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks):

Beckett seems to be taken aback at first by the librarian’s reaction. Beckett thanks the librarian warmly at the beginning of the scene for the book he requested, and then he settles back into working. But he quickly reassesses the situation when the librarian will not leave.

He does not allow the librarian to put the onus on him regarding the private room. Instead, Beckett redirects the librarian’s question back onto the librarian: “Would it make you [the librarian] more comfortable?” He’s not going to play this game that the librarian is trying to play. He is calling out the librarian and his real motives.

Beckett also ensures the librarian knows that Miller is a lawyer. When Miller comes over, Beckett pauses before referring to him as “Counselor.” Such a smart move! This signals to the librarian that he’s up against two lawyers, and he, the law librarian, is not going to win this fight today.

Why this scene matters

It is a small battle, sure, but this is no ordinary fight — this is a battle of wills, a battle against discrimination. This scene sets up an ordinary, everyday kind of discrimination, in perhaps the least likely place: a law library. Libraries are usually viewed as safe, quiet spaces. But even in a so-called “safe” space, biases and discrimination and micro-aggressions lurk. And it’s important to show to the audience that neither Beckett nor Miller will allow this small act of discrimination to go unchallenged. If the audience can understand and buy into the fact that this librarian was wrong in this small act of discrimination, then they can understand that the bigger acts of discrimination, like being fired, are wrong, too. It is a pivotal moment in the film, and this film reflected a pivotal moment at that time, when we needed mainstream films that humanized gay men, that exposed the everyday discrimination that LGBTQ+ persons faced (and continue to face), and pushed back against the baseless fears that people at that time had about AIDS and homosexuality.

It is not like we’re post-discrimination today — we are in the streets protesting against discrimination right now — but films and moments like these are important in broadening the message of inclusivity and exposing the ripple effects of discrimination and micro-aggressions.

I wrote this in the post I wrote for the I Love Libraries blog last month:

I’ve witnessed a shift in films highlighting, even in smaller roles, how librarians can reflect social biases and discrimination—and how librarians, and society at large, are in the wrong for doing so.

This statement is applicable here, too. The reel librarian in Philadelphia (1993) is demonstrating anti-LGBTQ+ bias. Plain and simple — and oh-so-devastating. He reflects society at large in this moment. As such, he serves as Information Provider. He is providing information to the audience that LGBTQ+ discrimination can, and does, happen anywhere. Even in a library. Even from a librarian. It is a sad and uncomfortable truth that librarians can be as discriminatory as anyone else, which is especially disheartening because our job is to help people.

This month, our country is better for expanding employment rights and protections to gay and transgendered people. But we cannot cease fighting for progress, equality, and equity. And we cannot shy away from our own failings, reel and real, past and present.

Sources used

A reel librarian returns in ‘Major League II’ (1994)

Last month, in the “Spring training and special collections in ‘Major League’ (1989)” post, we ran the bases delving into the reel librarian character in Major League (1989). In that film, Rene Russo — in her feature film debut! — plays Lynn Wells, the world-class swimmer-turned-special collections librarian. Going through Russo’s film credits, I hadn’t realized she also returned in the sequel, Major League II (1994). It felt fitting, therefore, to continue the spring training. Shall we?

Major League II was available to watch for free via Amazon Prime.

*MILD SPOILERS BELOW*

“Major League II (1994) Official Trailer – Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger Sports Comedy Movie HD” video uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube license

The sequel, although released 5 years after the original (and far superior!) film, is set just one year later, as radio commentator Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker) gets us all caught up. Omar Epps has replaced Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hays, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) has sold out to corporate sponsorship, and Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) has retired and is the new owner of the Cleveland Indians team. Will they make it to the World Series this year? No pennants for correct guesses. 😉 This sequel is strictly by-the-numbers, with no surprises, or originality.

The sequel begins again during spring training, and catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) learns he has been cut from the team. His knees have finally given out, but he’s been mentoring a younger player. Therefore, Dorn and head coach Lou Brown (James Gammon) ask him to join the team as an assistant coach.

At 19 minutes into the film, he finds himself at home with Lynn. They’re seated around the kitchen table, talking about his future.

Jake and Lynn talk about his future prospects, in an early scene from Major League II (1994)
Jake and Lynn talk about his future prospects, in an early scene from Major League II (1994)

Jake: Called everywhere, but nobody’s looking for a 41-year-old catcher with bad knees.

Lynn: Well, it’s not like you don’t have other options. Alan Bellows wants you to join his brokerage firm.

Jake: And Jack Pursoff wants me to head up one of his Pepsi distributorships.

Lynn: And you’d be close to home.

Jake: Yeah, and I’d make a hell of a lot more money than I would as a coach. So what if I never made it to a World Series?

Lynn: Well, I think it’s pretty obvious what you ought to do.

Lynn says this last line softly and in close-up. This scene only lasts a minute, and Lynn has three lines total, but she makes them count. It’s clear that they are still committed to each other, and she supports Jake going back to the team. Plus, this scene sets up the World Series plotline. Reel librarians are so efficient! 😉

One last look at Lynn, the world-class athlete-turned-special collections librarian
One last look at Lynn, the world-class athlete-turned-special collections librarian

We NEVER see Lynn again in this film. Russo’s star had risen in-between the original film and the sequel — she had co-starred in Lethal Weapon 3 in 1992 and In the Line of Fire in 1993, and she was gearing up for the one-two punch of Outbreak and Get Shorty in 1995 — so I suppose they were lucky to get her for one day to make this cameo. It’s odd, though, to me that Rene Russo went uncredited for this cameo.

And of course, there’s no mention of any library in this short scene. You would never know from watching this sequel that Lynn is a librarian. But because we know that from the original film, I’m classifying this sequel as a Class IV film, in which reel librarians make a cameo appearance.

Had you forgotten about the Major League II sequel? Did you ever know that a third outing, Major League: Back to the Minors (1998) even existed?! If you’re tempted to watch the sequels, I would suggest just going back and rewatching the original comedy classic!

Sources used

  • Major League II. Dir. David S. Ward. Perf. Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen. Warner Bros., 1994.

Library research montage in 'The Manchurian Candidate' (2004) remake

“I got my library card… I do my research, too.”

As many of us are still self-isolating and sheltering in place because of the coronavirus — we’re all still washing our hands and practicing social distancing, yes?! — and most likely still seeking out things to watch via various streaming services, I thought it appropriate to only write about movies that are available via a streaming service (at least at the time of my publishing the post). This week, I’m analyzing the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, which is available via Amazon Prime’s HBO channel.

The original The Manchurian Candidate film, released in 1962 and starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury, is a classic. The remake? Not so much. Not even great actors like Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright, and Meryl Streep can lift this remake into anything more than a competent thriller. But there is one thing the 2004 remake has that the original film does not… a reel librarian! 😉

Denzel Washington plays the role that Frank Sinatra played in the original, Major Ben Marco, who knows something is rotten in the state of Denmark the United States.

Getting into the public library

At 1 hour and 20 minutes into the 130-minute film, Marco goes to a public library to investigate the Manchurian Global corporation. At first, it looks like he has wandered into a science museum, as the lobby is filled with scientific posters and genome models. Turns out, it’s the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library (SBIL) branch!

Lobby of the NYPL's Science, Industry and Business Library
Lobby of the NYPL’s Science, Industry and Business Library

Marco then poses for a picture for a library visitor pass. We then get treated to a closeup of the library employee, a younger black woman, handling the visitor passes.

Library Clerk role in The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Smile! You’re on candid camera!

Duana Butler plays the “Library Clerk” role, and she gets two lines in this cameo role:

Smile if you like. This will just take a minute.

As we see in the closeup of Marco’s library visitor pass below, he did NOT feel like smiling on this trip to the library. (You can just make out “The New York Public Library” text above his photograph on the visitor pass.)

Visitor pass to the NYPL

It turns out that this is the only reel librarian we will see in this library scene… before Marco even sets foot into the library!

I thought it interesting to highlight a reel librarian outside the actual library. Is this an interesting, albeit brief, take on the “librarian as gatekeeper” role? Is the director purposely mirroring the expressionless face of the Library Clerk with the equally expressionless face of Marco on his visitor badge? Is it possible I’m overthinking this reel librarian cameo role? 😉

Cue the research montage

Although we never again see a librarian, we do get treated to Marco conducting research via several different library resources and services, including:

  • a microfilm machine
  • a copy machine
  • headphones to listen to Rosie’s tapes
  • a computer to conduct a Google search on the internet

We also get a closeup of the mousepad, which officially reveals that Marco is at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) branch.

I also visited SIBL’s website, which highlights their amenities, including computers for public use, photocopiers, and scanners/reading machines. Marco definitely got the most out of this library!

Closeup of the NYPL Science, Industry and Business Library mousepad

Although libraries are generally seen as safe spaces — in real AND reel life — I thought it interesting to note that the director, Jonathan Demme, chose to highlight the library’s security cameras. The black-and-white shot below is mimicking the security camera’s feed. The message seems to be that no place is safe, NOT EVEN the public library!

Security camera feed in the NYPL
Someone is always watching… even in a public library!

Purpose of library scene

This library scene lasts 4 minutes total, and the primary purpose of the scene is to propel the plot forward, as Marco then acts on the clues and information he discovered during his research.

Although the only thing the reel librarian did was issue a library visitor pass, she did help establish the library setting. Therefore, she fulfilled the basic Information Provider role in this Class IV film.

About 10 minutes later, Marco confronts Rosie with what he found out at the library.

I got my library card, and I got your tapes. I do my research, too.

Have you done YOUR research?! 😉

Sources used

Law librarian sighting in ‘Fatal Attraction’

So THAT’s where one confesses to adultery, in the back corner of a law library!

Happy Holidays, y’all! Nothing feels so Christmas-y as a little adultery, kidnapping, and family arguments that cause kids to cry, right?! 😉 The Oscar-nominated Fatal Attraction (1987) has all three in spades. The film is considered an ’80s classic, but somehow, neither my husband nor I had managed to watch it yet. (We both knew about the infamous bunny scene, and we were both kids when this movie came out, so maybe that explains it. Animal cruelty is scary!) But when it came up on our Amazon Prime video subscription, we decided to watch it.

Haven’t seen Fatal Attraction in awhile? Here’s the trailer:

“Fatal Attraction – Trailer” video uploaded by YouTube Movies, Standard YouTube License

Law librarian cameo

Imagine my surprise that almost exactly halfway through the film, at almost 1 hour and 3 minutes, we get introduced to a reel librarian! (Y’all can hear my groans from here, right? “Oh no, I’m going to have to take notes now! Hit pause!”)

We see a young black man shelving (or unshelving?) books, dressed in a button-front shirt and tie, pushing a cart full of books.

Shelving books in the firm's law library
Shelving books in the firm’s law library

This character is uncredited in the cast list, so it’s unclear exactly who this character is: A law librarian? A fellow lawyer? Researcher? Paralegal? But there is a clue on the film’s Goofs page on IMDb.com, seen below, which states that this character is a librarian. Therefore, I’m going with law librarian!

Movie goof in the library scene, which highlights that this character is a librarian.
Goofs: Crew of Equipment Visible: Reflected in the window that the librarian pushes the cart past.
A law librarian and his cart of books
A law librarian and his cart of books

In the back corner of their law firm’s library, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is having a private conversation with a friend and fellow lawyer. So THAT’s where one confesses to adultery, in the back corner of a law library. Now you know. Because there’s no one to disturb you, except for perhaps a law librarian just trying to get some work done? (Sigh.) 

Private conversation in the back corner of the law library
Why are we having this private conversation in the law library, instead of in one of our private offices?
What's that sound?
Because clearly no one visits the law library, so we’ll be totally undisturbed here… oh wait, I hear something! Who would have thought a law librarian would have been in here?!
A law librarian rolls past
Whew, the librarian turned the other way. We’re cool. Continue whining about how it’s so unfair that your adulterous affair is ruining your life and how you can’t deal with the choices you’ve made.

This uncredited reel librarian fulfills the Information Provider role. This character type is the most common for reel librarians, with the most diverse range of physical characteristics, including diversity of ages and ethnicities. This is also demonstrated in this brief role, as the law librarian is young, male, and black.

Ultimately, this brief law librarian sighting lands the film in the Class IV category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.

Call number inconsistency

I also thought it funny that this short law library scene, which lasts a little over a minute, showcases some wildly inconsistent call numbers. In the screenshots below, we see:

  • Books with large call number labels shelved vertically, as seen near Michael Douglas’s elbow, as well as on the books stacked horizontally to the right of his colleague’s head, in the first screenshot below.
  • Books with NO call numbers at all, as seen in the back shelves in-between the two men in the first screenshot, and stacked haphazardly in the second screenshot below.

Clearly, the law librarian does not have enough time to properly label all the books, due to all the lawyers who keep whispering in the back corners of the law library! 😉

Call number inconsistency in the firm's law library
How do we find what we need in this law library if there are no consistent call numbers?
Call number inconsistency in the firm's law library
I don’t know, but it worries me greatly.

Explore more reel law librarians and libraries

Interested in more reel librarian sightings in law libraries? Check out a few related posts below:

Sources used

‘Scent of a’ student library worker

A rare example of a reel librarian character in a Thanksgiving-themed movie. Hoo-ah!

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! Although there are many horror films featuring reel librarians to help celebrate the Halloween holiday — as well as many holiday-themed films featuring reel librarians for the Christmas holiday season — there remains a scarcity of Thanksgiving-themed films featuring reel librarians. In fact, I have come across only ONE example in my 20+ years of researching librarians in film. That film is 1992’s Oscar-winning film Scent of a Woman, starring Al Pacino as Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade and Chris O’Donnell as Charlie Simms.

Scent of a plot

Has it been awhile since you’ve seen Scent of a Woman? Catch up by watching the trailer:

“Scent of a Woman Official Trailer #1 – Al Pacino Movie (1992) Movie HD” video uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube License

This coming-of-age story focuses on a young, clean-cut prep school boy, Charlie (Chris O’Donnell), who attends a New England private school on a merit scholarship and works as a student worker at the school library. To pay for a flight home to Oregon for Christmas, he agrees to be temporary caretaker for an alcoholic blind man, Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino), who takes Charlie on an adventure-filled Thanksgiving weekend in New York City.

Charlie Simms looks at the school's job board for Thanksgiving weekend jobs
Looking at the school’s job board

Scent of a school library scene

A little over 17 minutes into this 156-minute-long (!) film, we see Charlie working as a student assistant in the school library. While standing behind a high desk, he’s stamping and checking out a book to another student. The library is in the classic style, with lots of wood tones and tall bookcases, befitting a private prep school.

A classmate, George Willis, Jr. (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) then rushes up to the library desk with an armful of books. George has already been introduced in earlier scenes, as one of a group of rich, elite boys, so we know that he likes to mess around and make fun of those who are not elites like himself.

George:  Chas, Chas, hold up. [Puts books on counter] How ya doing’?

Charlie: I’m good.

George: That’s great.

Charlie: [looks at one of the books] This can’t go out. This is on reserve.

Charlie notices one of the library books is on reserve
Charlie notices one of the library books is on reserve

Their conversation continues:

George: Here’s the thing. I need the book tonight for a Thanksgiving quiz with big-shit Preston in the morning.

Charlie: Yeah I know. That’s why he put it on reserve. This is our only copy.

George: Chas, I’m pulling an all-nighter. Without that book I’m dead, okay?

Philip Seymour Hoffman in an early breakout role in Scent of a Woman
Philip Seymour Hoffman said this role changed everything for his career. RIP, PSH.

Charlie, as the one working behind the elevated library desk, is standing above George, ostensibly the one in the power position, at least visually. He also has the power of rules supporting him, the rules that the school instructor set for the book on reserve. The camera mimics the angle of Charlie’s perspective, as he’s looking down at George, who is pleading with him to bend the rules. However, we also know that Charlie is the “poor” kid, the one on merit scholarship, and George is the “rich” kid. Therefore, George is the one who really holds the power in this situation.

It’s no wonder that Charlie is the one who relents. You can see it on his face, as evident in the screenshot below. He knows the score.

Charlie: If it’s not back by 7:30, it’s gonna be my ass.

George: Oh, I promise. I promise.

They then leave the library together. Charlie tells George to wait because he’s “gotta lock up.”


Side note: As a self-respecting, professional librarian, I gotta interject and say, this is NOT realistic. I do not believe for one second that any library would allow a student worker to be solely in charge of the library — especially a library at a private school that surely has lots of expensive materials and collections — and be allowed to lock up the library by themselves. Nope. Not happening. Librarians usually take turns working a night shift during the week, or there are specific librarian positions designated for evening services. In my personal experience, student workers usually help with closing up the library — tasks like announcing when the library is about to close, checking group study rooms, etc. — but the professional staff is ALWAYS ultimately responsible for locking up.

Student library worker Charlie locks up the school library
Leaving a student library worker to lock up the library?! I don’t think so.

SIGH. Okay, soap box moment over. Please continue. 😉


The library scene lasts about 40 seconds in total. As they walk away from the library, Charlie and George see George’s friends setting up some kind of prank. This will prove pivotal to the rest of the film plot, as this prank later humiliates the head master, Mr. Trask (James Rebhorn). Trask then tries to get the two boys to reveal who pulled the prank, but neither Charlie nor George cooperate. Trask then puts the screws on Charlie — the vulnerable one on merit scholarship, natch — and gives him the Thanksgiving weekend to think about cooperating; otherwise, Trask will hold a discipline hearing in front of the whole school right after the Thanksgiving holiday.

After the holiday weekend with Lt. Col Slade and lots of “white male bonding” adventures — eating fancy dinners! dancing the tango with a beautiful woman! endangering the lives of others by encouraging a blind man to drive a sports car! — Charlie faces judgment at that discipline hearing. Lt. Col. Slade joins Charlie at the hearing and defends the young man.

Scent of a Liberated Librarian

So what role does Charlie fulfill? I believe he fulfills the role of a Liberated Librarian, a character who “discovers” himself — and what he’s capable of — during an adventure or crisis. These characters are usually younger (check!), become more “masculine” or “assertive” after the liberation (check!), and usually need an external force to aid or instigate the “liberation” (check!).

It’s important to note that in the case of this Liberated Librarian character, Charlie is not liberated from being a librarian or working in a library like some others (e.g. Joe Versus the Volcano). Rather, he is liberated from his own fear and self-doubt.

I place this role and this film into the Class II category, films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot.

Charlie is a not an actual librarian, of course, since he is a student worker in the school library, but he is considered a “reel librarian” for the purposes of this research and blog post. He is the only one we see in any kind of authoritative role in a library, using that authority to break the rules about reserve books as well as lock up the library. However, the fact that he works in the library does not directly affect the plot. He could have worked elsewhere on the campus; his job as a student library worker is used primarily to demonstrate that he needs a job. (Clearly, the salary for a student library job is not enough to pay for a plane ticket to Oregon.) And the library setting itself is not essential because it’s a library and serving as a center of knowledge or access to information; instead, it’s used as a convenient locale and reason for the boys to be out late at night on campus. But there could have been other locales chosen on campus, like a tutoring center or student center or even a dormitory, which would have worked just as well for reasons of plot.

Charlie is one of the two leads, but he’s not really the main character. After all, Al Pacino is the one who chews up the scenery throughout the film and won an Oscar for Best Actor for yelling out “Hoo-ah!” a lot. We learn a lot more about Pacino’s character, Lt. Col. Slade, than we do about Charlie.

So how is Charlie described in the film, and what do we learn about him?

Here’s how he describes himself:

I’m not a squealer.

Here’s how Lt. Col. Slade first describes Charlie, at the beginning of the film:

You little snail darter from the Pacific Northwest.

And then toward the end of the film, he recognizes Charlie’s worth:

You got integrity, Charlie.

When the shit hits the fan, some guys run and some guys stay. Here’s Charlie facing the fire.

Scent of an award

As I mentioned, Al Pacino won an Oscar for Best Actor for this role (he had previously been nominated 6 times, and was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for Glengarry Glen Ross the year he won for this film). Scent of a Woman was also nominated in the Best Writing, Best Picture, and Best Director Oscar categories but didn’t win.

The film also won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and Pacino won the Golden Globe for Best Actor.

And in a rare example of a reel librarian character resulting in major acting awards: Chris O’Donnell was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for the Golden Globes and won the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Most Promising Actor that year. Hoo-ah!

Scent of a comment

Have you seen Scent of a Woman lately? Did you remember that it’s a Thanksgiving movie?! Like me, are you left wondering if George ever returned that reserves book?

Please leave a comment and share… and then get back to your turkey and pumpkin pie! 😉 Happy Thanksgiving!

Sources used