‘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

First impressions: ‘It: Chapter Two’ (2019) and the town librarian hero

“That was long overdue. Get it? ‘Cause we’re in a library.”

If you’re a regular reader — as always, thank you! — then you know that I highlight scary movies every October. Perfect timing, then, as I recently was able to watch the new film It: Chapter Two, which I also thought would make a good entry in my continuing “first impressions” series of posts. The film follows It: Chapter One, which was released two years ago. I published my first impressions of It: Chapter One back in Oct. 2017.

What’s a “first impressions” post?

First things first, “first impressions” posts focus on current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting posts are necessarily less detailed — hence the “first impressions” moniker — as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater. I do, however, take notes as soon as I can after watching the film.

What’s ‘It’ all about?

It: Chapter Two reunites the Losers’ Club 27 years after they first faced off again It, aka Pennywise the Scary Clown. Pennywise has returned to wreak havoc on the town of Derry, and Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) calls everyone back to finish off Pennywise once and for all. Will they succeed, or will they die trying? The film also heavily features flashbacks NOT included in Chapter One, so we get reintroduced to the teen actors playing the younger versions of the Losers’ Club.

Below is a trailer for It: Chapter Two (2019):

“IT CHAPTER TWO – Official Teaser Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by Warner Bros. Pictures, Standard YouTube license.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

Meet Mike Hanlon, the town librarian

In my write-up for It: Chapter One (2017), I highlighted the main scene set in the public library, which featured Ben, and how Ben fulfilled the historian/researcher role in that film, rather than Mike. Here are some excerpts from that post:

While I appreciated that there was a library scene in the film, I was disappointed that the research angle was taken away from the character of Mike, the only African-American and person of color in the group. In the book, Mike was the historian of the group. His father kept an album of photos of Derry’s history, which included several photos of Pennywise. Mike then researches the history of Derry — and later becomes the town’s librarian. Since he is the only one who stays in the town, he is the one who summons the rest of the Losers’ Club back to Derry 27 years later.

Therefore, it unsettled me that the remake changed the historian and research role from Mike in the book to Ben in the movie. 

From ‘First impressions: ‘It’ (2017) and its library scene,’ Reel Librarians, 11 Oct. 2017

As I wrote then, Mike Hanlon is the most important character in the story, in my opinion, and in the end, the town’s true hero.

In It: Chapter Two (2019), it is Mike’s voice we hear introducing us to the present. The first word we hear him say? “Memory.” He sets the tone for this film, with its bittersweet and mournful memories amidst all the nightmares and horror.

Meet Mike Hanlon, reel librarian.
Meet Mike Hanlon, reel librarian. Screenshot from “IT CHAPTER TWO – Final Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by Warner Bros. Pictures, Standard YouTube license.

Contrasted with Richie, as played by Bill Hader — who gets all the fun lines and steals scenes whenever onscreen — Mike, as played by Isaiah Mustafa, grounds the story. He is the institutional memory, the gatekeeper, the “man with the plan.” It totally makes sense that he becomes the town librarian, the keeper of memories and archives.

By the way, the word “librarian” NEVER gets mentioned in this movie. The word “library,” yes. But never the word “librarian.” But Mike clearly IS the town’s librarian — even living in the public library’s attic! And the fact that he is a reel librarian is absolutely essential to the movie. Therefore, Mike Hanlon is a Class I librarian, a major character whose librarian occupation is integral to the plot.

Scenes in the town library

There are a few scenes set in the town library. The library set in Chapter Two looked just like the library set in Chapter One, with its traditional look of half-paneled walls and dark wood trim.

Reel librarian Mike in a scene set in the town library.
Reel librarian Mike in a scene set in the town library. Screenshot from “IT CHAPTER TWO – Final Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by Warner Bros. Pictures, Standard YouTube license.

Early in the film, Mike brings Billy back to the library — “Didn’t it used to be bigger?” — and takes him up the attic to show him artifacts and historical records of Derry. The purpose is to convince Billy about the past, so that the others will stay in Derry and reunite to fight Pennywise.

About two-thirds of the way through the film, Mike is waiting for the others to come back to the library after they find their tokens from the past. As Mike walks through the darkened library and rows of books, the spirit of It re-reveals itself to Mike through the dropping of a library book, The History of Old Derry. Mike then gets attacked by the bully Bowers. In a Deus ex machina moment, Richie shows up in the nick of time and kills Bowers with a hatchet. Richie then gets the single-best line in the film:

That was long overdue. Get it? ‘Cause we’re in a library.

GROAN. But I still laughed out loud in the movie theater.

Mike as the hero

I’ve already said that, in my opinion, Mike is the true hero of the story.

Mike leads the Losers' Club.
Mike leads the Losers’ Club. Screenshot from “IT CHAPTER TWO – Official Teaser Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by Warner Bros. Pictures, Standard YouTube license.

Mike is the one we the audience believe in, even when the rest of the Losers’ Club don’t. He is the center of the whole film. Writing down notes after having watched the film, it struck me that Mike is the one who drives the entire plot structure: beginning, middle, and end.

  • Beginning: Mike has a list of the Losers’ Club and their current phone numbers, and he checks off their names as he calls everyone. He has to remind them of Derry and the oath they swore as teens to return when needed. He reunites the Losers’ Club.
  • Middle: After everyone else starts remembering Pennywise and the horrible things in their past, Mike says he has a plan to get ready to confront Pennywise again. He explains that each of them has to get a token from their past and to meet back at the library. Therefore, he serves as the catalyst for the entire middle part of the movie.
  • End: Mike figures out how to kill It, once and for all. He unites the Losers’ Club in this final battle.

It is interesting to note that in the book by Stephen King, Mike is left out of the climax and final fight with Pennywise. I’m so glad they changed that for the film!

It is also important to note that Mike is NOT perfect. He is human, and therefore imperfect. He shows that he feels vulnerable and scared sometimes. He also admits he stole a Native American artifact, he drugs Billy, and he lies to his friends by omitting part of the truth. But this does not diminish his worthiness, the sacrifice he made to stay in Derry all those years, to carry the burden of remembering.

Mike as a Liberated Librarian

The male Liberated Librarian character type always has a character arc. Initially similar to the Librarian as Failure character type, the Liberated Librarian breaks free (often at the very end of the film) of whatever barrier(s) is holding him back. Usually, this ‘liberation’ requires an external force or action. Liberated Librarians are usually younger or middle-aged. They also become more assertive after the “liberation.” Usually, being “liberated” means leaving the librarian profession (e.g. Tom Hanks in Joe Versus the Volcano), but not always (Noah Wyle in The Librarian TV movies and The Librarians TV series).

Mike Hanlon serves as a classic Liberated Librarian:

  • In a flashback, young Mike reveals that he wants to go to Florida. We know that he stays in Derry so that he doesn’t forget, so he can bring back the others when necessary. And he becomes the town librarian to be in the position of researching the history of Derry and keeping records. Therefore, his barrier is Derry, of being the librarian of Derry, of being the one who remembers. He has sacrificed himself, his own happiness, for the greater good.
  • At the end, Mike says to Bill that he was “in a cell” and now he wants “to see the sky.” The word “cell” in that line is an interesting choice — the “cell” could be a “prison cell,” or like a “cloisters” cell, like a monk. Both ways work.
  • At the very end of the film, we see Mike packing up his car and heading out of town. He literally is liberated from the town of Derry AND his role as reel librarian.

Let’s talk about race

In my write-up post for It: Chapter One (2017), I highlighted Zak Cheney Rice’s key insights into the erasure of Mike’s backstory, in  this article on the Mic website:

The film doesn’t just flatten Mike’s backstory. It reduces him to the kind of token black character that King’s novel was so adept at avoiding.

In the film, Mike barely has any lines. The role of group historian has been taken from him and given to a white character instead. He still gets targeted by Henry Bowers, but gone is the racial subtext that made the experience so entwined with Derry’s history of violence. His blackness seems largely incidental. And as a result, the film never has to address the messy topic of race or how it informs the lone black character’s life.

Zak Cheney Rice, Mic, 9 Sept. 2017

It seemed to me — and please note that I am a white woman, so my perspective is limited — that the film did a better job in It: Chapter Two (2019) about highlighting Mike’s backstory, agency, and experiences as a black man. The film also includes references to the long-lasting effects of racism that Mike continues to endure.

For example:

When Mike brings Billy back to the library in order to convince him that Pennywise is back, he says that he has compiled notes and clues from numerous Derry residents — the ones “who will talk to me, at least.” He then mutters, almost as an aside, a line (and I’m paraphrasing here from memory), “The people who won’t talk to me, that’s an even longer list.

Mike also says he needed to convince Billy (a white man) so that the others would believe him (a black man). Again, this is almost a throwaway line — and actor Isaiah Mustafa says this line in a low, weary tone — but it is SO revealing.

After the violent scene with Bowers in the library, Ben asks, “Are you okay?” Richie answers right away, but Ben says something akin to, “No, I meant Mike,” and turns to Mike. Both Mike and Richie look surprised at this. It’s clear that they both assumed Ben would be asking Richie (a white man) if he was okay, rather than Mike (a black man). This short bit reveals the specter of conditioned, internalized responses to systemic racism.

Mike states early in the film:

Something happens to you when you leave this town. The farther away, the hazier it all gets. But me, I never left. I remember all of it.

All the white members of the Losers’ Club leave Derry and forget the horrible nightmares of Pennywise. They enjoy the privilege of being able to forget. All the white characters enjoy financial and career (i.e. external) success. Mike, the sole black member of the Losers’ Club, has to stay behind in Derry and is forced to remember and relive the past horror of Pennywise. He also is “just” the town librarian and lives in the messy, crumbling attic of the town library. I would argue this serves as a metaphor for white flight and subtly shines the spotlight over the unacknowledged burdens and hidden labor that people of color endure.

I’m sure there is more to unpack in the film in this vein — not to mention the lack of agency that the Native Americans depicted in the film have over their story and artifacts — but I appreciated how this film incorporated deeper and darker themes in amongst the scary clown sightings and red balloons.

Your thoughts?

Have you seen It: Chapter Two (2019) in theaters? What are your thoughts? Do you prefer the new movie versions or the 1990 miniseries? Did you know that Isaiah Mustafa, who plays reel librarian Mike, also played the original Old Spice man, aka The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, in those iconic commercials?! I literally did not realize that until I started writing this post.

Old Spice meets reel librarian? I will take it. 😉

Sources used

First impressions: ‘BlacKkKlansman’ (2018)

Letting out some steam in the Records Room

I have done a few “first impressions” series of posts over the years, which focus on more current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting “first impressions” posts are necessarily less detailed, as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes, but they turn out to be some of my more consistently popular posts.

A little over a month ago, I was able to watch Spike Lee’s latest film, BlacKkKlansman, at The Grand Cinema, which is an awesome, independent, arthouse-type movie theater in Tacoma. The film is based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth, and John David Washington (the son of Denzel Washington and Pauletta Washington) is perfectly cast in the title role.


Basic plot and trailer:


In the early 1970s, Stallworth is hired as the first black officer in the Colorado Springs, Colorado police department. Initially assigned to work in the records room, he requests a transfer to go undercover and gets reassigned to the intelligence division. While reading the newspaper, he finds an advertisement to join the Ku Klux Klan. He calls and pretends to be a white man, and eventually becomes a member of the Colorado Springs chapter. Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) acts as Stallworth in order to meet the KKK members in person.

This is a film that punches you in the gut, and keeps you thinking and feeling and reacting. It is VERY timely. Highly recommended.

Below is a trailer for the film:

BLACKkKLANSMAN – Official Trailer [HD] – In Theaters August 10,” Focus Features, Standard YouTube License

So what does this film have to do with reel librarians?


Records room scenes:


As mentioned in the summary above, Stallworth is initially assigned to work in the records room. There is a small nameplate on the front of the shelving units that says “Records librarian” (which is visible in the screenshot below), although the records room is essentially the archives of the police department. Stallworth is really bored working in the records room, and it’s clear that the records room is like a “right of passage” for rookie cops. It’s not a prestigious job, and the “real” cops look down on their co-workers stuck behind the desk.

(Never mind that detectives could NOT do their jobs or background research without those records and archival materials, and someone to help them locate those records, but WHATEVER. SIGH. >( )

There are two major scenes set in the records room, scenes in which Stallworth endures racial slurs and harassment from his co-workers, particularly from patrolman Andy Landers, a corrupt, racist officer in Stallworth’s precinct. Stallworth lets out some steam after his initial encounter with Landers, as seen in this screenshot from the above trailer:

Screenshot from BlackkKlansman (2018) trailer
Don’t mess with records librarians!

We also see another records room officer, played by Jeremy J. Nelson, in one of the records room scenes.


Library research scene:


There is also a very brief scene — perhaps two-thirds of the way through the movie? — where the president of the Black Student Union (Laura Harrier as Patrice Dumas) goes to what looks to be an academic library and looks up microfiche. In that brief library research scene, you can catch a glimpse of a reel librarian, played by Elise Hudson, who helps set up the microfiche machine for Patrice.

Patrice is researching materials and photos for an upcoming speaker (Harry Belafonte as Jerome Turner), and in a later scene featuring Turner’s moving speech, you see the archival photos she found and used displayed around him.


Final thoughts:


Reflecting on BlacKkKlansman, I realized that this film falls 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. This is because John Stallworth, the lead character, worked as a “records librarian” — but more accurately, the records archivist. I would say his character reflects the “Liberated Librarian” character type pretty well, as he is literally liberated from the Records Room and promoted into the intelligence division.

There are two other reel librarians/archivists in the film as well, Jeremy J. Nelson as another Records Room Officer and Elise Hudson as a (more traditional) librarian, although we only see them collectively for a few seconds on screen. They function as your basic Information Providers, there to establish the library/archives settings of specific scenes.


Want more “first impressions” posts?



Sources used:


  • BlacKkKlansman. Dir. Spike Lee. Perf. John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier. Focus Features, 2018. Based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth.
  • BlacKkKlansman” via Wikipedia is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.

Scary clowns + reel librarians

I decided to address the “scary clown phenomenon” on this blog, because there IS a connection to reel librarians.

I had another scary movie post all lined up and ready to go this week, analyzing the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man, but then I got a “creepy clown hoax” email from my workplace. (For real! It was urging us NOT to wear clown costumes this year, for safety reasons). That’s when I decided to address the “scary clown phenomenon” on this blog, because there IS a connection to reel librarians.

That connection is the 1990 TV miniseries, Stephen King’s It. Every article I have read about the scary clown phenomenon that is sweeping the country right now mentions Stephen King’s 1986 novel and its title character, Pennywise the Clown. For the record, I have always found clowns scary, and I’m not the only one. Read this Time.com article, “The Surprising History Behind the Scary Clown Phenomenon,” and this more in-depth article from Smithsonian.com, “The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary.” Stephen King himself has weighed in on the clown craze and hysteria!

I haven’t read King’s original source novel, but I have seen the TV miniseries a few times. I won’t go into an exhaustive analysis of the miniseries right now in this post — there’s not time enough for me to do that — but I will point out that one of the main characters, Mike Hanlon (played by Marlon Taylor as a youth and by Tim Reid as an adult), grows up to be the town librarian. Although other characters get more screen time, Mike essentially serves as the catalyst for the entire second half of the plot, as HE is the one who contacts his friends to return to Derry, Maine, and fight “It” once more. Since Mike is the only one of the seven lead characters to stay behind, he becomes the “institutional memory” for the havoc Pennywise wreaked on the town. Also, being a librarian and archivist, he has resources to help his friend research and confront the evil plaguing their town.

Stephen King’s It 1990. Bill Denbrough and Mike Hanlon” video uploaded by Gunnar Andersson, is licensed under a Standard YouTube license.

Mike is a classic Liberated Librarian character, as I point out in my “The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn)” post from 2012. He may start out weak, a member of the self-proclaimed “Losers Club” — and his friends continue to sarcastically refer to him as “the answer man” — but he does find personal release from the town’s nightmarish history. I included the character of Mike Hanlon in my “Heroes/heroines” list on my “Victims or villains? Librarians in horror films & thrillers” post from 2013. He is a hero who unites everyone to fight against evil. (Also, in King’s 1994 novel, Insomnia, that is also set in Derry, we learn that Mike continued to work as a librarian, yay!)

Next week, I’ll be back with MORE creepy clowns in my film analysis post of The Wicker Man(There’s a harlequin clown character central to the May Day celebrations.) Stay tuned!


Sources used:


A Liberated Librarian ‘versus the volcano’

Being a librarian equals being a failure in his life. It is only by quitting and embarking on this adventure does he become liberated.

Last week, I delved into how Flynn Carsen from the first ‘The Librarian’ TV movie, The Librarian:  Quest for the Spear, fits the Liberated Librarian mold. This week, I take a look at another Liberated Librarian, the title character in the 1990 screwball comedy and cult classic, Joe Versus the Volcano.

The basic plot? Joe Banks, played by Tom Hanks, is stuck in a thankless job, and after learning he has only weeks to live, he embarks on an adventure to sacrifice himself in an island volcano. As you do.

The title cards start out fairy-tale style:  “Once upon a time there was a guy named Joe… who had a very lousy job…” And what is his job?! A librarian! (Sigh.)

Opening cards of Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
Opening cards of Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

Hapless Joe steps into a puddle getting out of his car and on his way to a factory-like building, and he raises his arms to heaven as if to send up a plea to save him from his hell. And how does he describe how he feels working in his workplace?

~ “Losing my soul” ~ “I feel kind of tired” ~ “I’m not feeling very good” ~

His uncaring boss, Mr. Waturi, played by Dan Hedaya, is unimpressed and suggests he should be grateful. After all, he “put you [Joe] in charge of the entire advertising library.” (Joe has worked there the past four and a half years.)

Joe’s response:  “Ah, you mean this room.

As Joe — and the audience — look around, we are met with a depressing visage of a sterile room with blocky desks, screened windows, file cabinets, flickering fluorescent lighting, and half-empty steel bookshelves. Yep, that is the entire advertising library.

The advertising library in Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
The advertising library in Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

Joe obviously feels no control over his job, and he is told he is “not competent” and “inflexible.”

Joe then goes to the doctor. As if he weren’t depressed enough, that’s when the doctor lays out the bad news — and the movie’s plot — by telling him that he has an incurable “brain cloud” and has only a few months to live. His advice? “You have some life left. Live it well.

When Joe goes back to the library, his boss tells him that he’ll “be easy to replace,” which makes Joe finally snap and stand up to his boss. “I’ve been too chicken-shit to live my life.

Joe vs The Volcano – Joe Quits” video uploaded by RdHolland is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

As he quits his job, he finally asks a female co-worker out (one of many roles played by Meg Ryan!), and she says, “Wow, what a change.

The liberation has begun!

A businessman, Samuel Graynamore, played by Lloyd Bridges, then offers Joe a chance for an adventure during his final days — to throw himself into a volcano as a human sacrifice. (Why? Because PLOT.) As he puts it — and true to the Liberated Librarian plot arc — “Try to see the hero in there.

Joe then has dinner with one of Graynamore’s daughters, Angelica (another one of Meg Ryan’s roles). Their conversation over dinner contains perhaps the most quietly damning insult to the librarian profession:

Angelica:  So what did you do before you signed on with Daddy?

Joe:  I was an advertising librarian for a medical supply company.

Angelica:  Oh. I have no response to that.

And Angelica isn’t the only one slinging out insults to Joe. He does it to himself! “I have no interest in myself. I start thinking about myself, I get bored out of my mind.

So off Joe goes to seek adventure, letting loose (performing a silly dance atop of a steamer trunk floating in the Pacific Ocean) and releasing his inner brave soul (“Take me to the volcano!“)

As he faces the volcano and almost-certain death, he proclaims that “I have wasted my entire life” and “My whole life, I’ve been a victim, I’ve been a dupe, a pawn.” But no longer! In the end, he faces his own fears, alongside Patricia (Meg Ryan again!), and becomes truly liberated.

Everyman Joe Banks, therefore, also fits the Liberated Librarian character type quite well:

  • Initially similar to the the Male Librarian as a Failure — but eventually breaks free
  • Needs outside force or action to instigate “liberation” (in this case, the medical diagnosis that he has only weeks to live)
  • Younger in age, late twenties (there’s time to redeem himself!)
  • Becomes more masculine and brave after “liberation”
  • His “liberation” is the main plot arc of the film

How Joe Banks differs from, say, Flynn Carsen from ‘The Librarian’ TV movies — who is liberated through actually becoming a librarian — is that Joe is first seen as a failure in part because of being trapped in a “lousy job,” in this case a advertising librarian for a medical supply company. Being a librarian equals being a failure in his life. It is only by quitting and embarking on this adventure does he become liberated. Therefore, Joe Versus the Volcano joins the Class I category, in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, and the librarian’s occupation serves as catalyst to the plot.

Have you seen the cult classic Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)? Please leave a comment and let me know!


Sources used:


  • Joe Versus the Volcano. Dir. John Patrick Shanley. Perf. Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack. Warner Bros., 1990.