In several ways, Noah Wyle’s by-now-iconic reel librarian characterization of Flynn Carsen is the classic Liberated Librarian character type, which I will explore here in this post. As I summed up here in my “The Liberated Librarian (guys, it’s your turn)” post from 2012:
The male Liberated Librarians may begin as failures, but they grow in character throughout the film, just like their female counterparts; their latent skills and talents find a way to rise to the forefront — but only through the instigation of an outside force, action, or other person.
The male Liberated Librarian, as I mentioned, is usually young. Their physical appearance may or may not improve (compare this with their female [Liberated Librarian] counterparts, whose makeovers are practically a requirement!), but their wardrobes tend to get better. Personality-wise, they become more masculine and assertive. For major male librarian roles, the most common character type is the Liberated Librarian, with their liberation comprising the main plot.
There are many aspects from that general description of the Liberated Librarian that ring true for Flynn Carsen, aka “THE Librarian”:
- Young in age (and a bit immature in temperament, as well)
- Initially viewed as a “failure” in the eyes of his mother — and potential dates!
- An outside force (in this case, the library itself!) is the catalyst for his liberation
- He becomes more masculine and assertive throughout the TV movie
- His “liberation” is the main plot arc of the movie
However, unlike other Liberated Librarians — who usually need to be “liberated” from their jobs as librarians — Flynn becomes “liberated” by becoming a librarian. Let’s see how!
The TV movie starts off with Noah Wyle in an Egyptian tomb, kitted out in an ill-fitting trench, spouting off factoids about Egyptian pyramids and trigonometry. He’s generally being an annoying, socially awkward know-it-all, as illustrated in an outburst by a frustrated classmate:
Stop frickin’ posing and join the rest of the students!
The first 15 minutes of this TV movie not only set up the Liberated Librarian character type and plot arc but also contain some of the most memorable dialogue about lifelong learning and libraries. Here’s a closer look at the three main scenes that comprise the first quarter-hour:
In this brief scene, Flynn’s professor tells him he has completed his work and won’t be continuing in the program.
Flynn: But I’m your best student.
Professor: Voila, that’s the problem. You are my best student. You’re everyone’s best student. You’ve never been anything but the best student… How many degrees do you have in total, Flynn? I checked your transcript: you have 22!
Flynn: School is what I know, it’s what I’m good at. It’s where I feel most like myself.
Professor: You’re a professional student, Flynn. You’re avoiding life. This is a serious problem that I will no longer enable… Have you ever been out of the city? When was the last time you went dancing or to a ball game? You need to find a job, Flynn, to get some real life experiences.
Flynn: All I want to do is learn.
Professor: We never stop learning, Flynn. Never. It’s only where we learn that changes. And it’s about you start doing it in the big, bad, real world. Sink or swim, Flynn. Look ahead, that way. Good luck. Off you go.
Flynn goes home to seek comfort — from his books, naturally.
These aren’t just books. These books are slices of the ultimate truth. The greatest thinkers of all time. And they speak to me. Like nothing else.
Flynn goes downstairs to find that his mom has set him with a “nice girl,” Deborah, wearing a cardigan and pearl earrings. Small talk quickly touches a nerve…
Deborah: What do you do?
Flynn: Actually, I’m a student.
Deborah: You’ve been a college student your entire… ?
Flynn: I like to learn. Is that a crime? I mean, so what, I’ve spent most, if not all, of my adult life in school. Maybe I have missed out on a few extracurricular activities. That doesn’t make me a freak, does it?
Deborah: Of course not. I understand.
Flynn: You do?
Deborah: Sure. You like to learn. [Flynn: Yes!] And you’re in your 30’s and you’re still in school. [Flynn: Exactly!] And you live with your mother and you’re ok with that.
Flynn: Yes! No. No. Wait. I have to change my life.
Deborah: I would.
Deborah then wishes Flynn good luck as she rushes off. And just to make the point VERY CLEAR, his mother then turns to him to say:
The things that make life worth living… they can’t be thought here [pointing to his brain]. They must be felt here [pointing to his heart]. Maybe you don’t know so much.
Librarian interview scene:
Flynn then receives a mysterious invitation to interview at the Metropolitan Public Library.
As he walks to the library, he joins a very long line of candidates going up several flights of stairs. (This entire scene reminds one of the nanny interview scene in Mary Poppins!)
His interview is with Charlene, played by the stone-faced and implacable (and awesome) Jane Curtin, who is as imposing as the grand ballroom setting.
Charlene: What makes you think you could be THE librarian?
Flynn: Well, I’ve read a lot of books.
Charlene: Don’t try to be funny. I don’t do funny… What makes you think you could be THE librarian?
Flynn: I know the Dewey Decimal system, Library of Congress, research paper orthodoxy, web searching. I can set up an RSS feed.
Charlene: Everybody knows that. They’re librarians. What makes you think you could be THE librarian?
Flynn: I know… other stuff.
Charlene: Stop wasting my time. Tell me something you know that nobody else who has walked in here can tell me.
Flynn then taps into his inner Sherlock Holmes, rattling off several facts about her, including the fact that she has three cats (a white Himalayan, a tortoiseshell, and an orange-striped tabby). Next, the disembodied voice of Judson (Bob Newhart) asks what is more important than knowledge — and Flynn totally steals his answer from his mom (“The things that make life worth living can’t be thought here. They must be felt here”).
Charlene then officially sets up the Liberated Librarian story arc of the movie:
There will be a 6-month trial period. If you don’t screw up, then you will officially be The Librarian.
Judson then makes a physical appearance and utters what is arguably the quintessential line of the entire “The Librarians” series:
You are about to begin a wondrous adventure from which you will never be the same. Welcome to the library.
The rest of the TV movie and plot focuses on Flynn’s adventures to return a stolen artifact. Oh, and saving the fate of the world. (Obviously.) He teams up with Nicole Noone (Sonya Walger), the librarian’s bodyguard.
One of my favorite aspects of the entire “Librarian” series is how it excels at clever, seemingly throwaway moments, like when Nicole and Flynn have to waltz through a booby trap — and Nicole ends up dipping Flynn at the end of the waltz. 😉
The Librarian: Quest for the Spear boasts multiple male reel librarian characters (as played by Noah Wyle, Kyle McLachlan, and Bob Newhart), a rarity in film. It is the character of Flynn Carsen, however, who best exemplifies the Liberated Librarian character type.
Becoming ‘The Librarian’:
In the final action scene, Flynn has to match wits — and spears — with the last librarian, Edward Wilde (Kyle McLachlan). He also battles his former professor from the movie’s first scene, a very clever way of “closing the loop.”
Here’s a side-by-side, before-and-after visual comparison of Flynn in the opening and final action scenes of the movie.
By the end of the TV movie — and after the librarian has saved the world, as you do — the final scene showcases just how far Flynn has come. (Even Excalibur, the “sword in the stone” thinks so.)
Flynn is not only dressing better, it is also obvious that he has more confidence, both inside and out. He even stands up to his mother! 😉
Margie Carsen [speaking to a group of ladies]: Flynn is a librarian now. But he’s capable of so much more. Just needs the right woman to push him.
Flynn: Mom, you don’t understand. Being a librarian is actually a pretty cool job.
As he speeds off on his next adventure, Flynn is now truly a Liberated Librarian; in other words, THE Librarian.
If you can’t get enough of Flynn Carsen and “The Librarian” TV movies and TV series spin-off, here are more of my posts for all-things-The-Librarian:
- In name only? Librarians as title characters
- Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s
- A promotional peek behind The Librarian
- The Quotable Librarian
- ‘The Librarians’ come to Portland
- ‘The Librarians’ TV premiere
- First impressions: ‘The Librarians’
- Rating ‘The Librarians’
- Second impressions? Season 2 premiere of ‘The Librarians’
Next week, I’ll delve into yet another Liberated Librarian portrayal… stay tuned!
- The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV movie). Dir. Peter Winther. Perf. Noah Wyle, Sonya Walger, Bob Newhart, Kyle MacLachlan, Kelly Hu. TNT, 2004.