Of ‘monsters’ and missing maps

“We’ve checked every possible source. You’re our last resort.”

My colleague Michael from the Century Film Project passed on The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) to me for the website. It’s a ’50s sci-fi film about how an earthquake in California unleashes radioactive mollusk monsters. As you do. The special effects are… pretty much what you’d expect from that plot description. Earnest and enjoyably cheesy.

VHS copy of The Monster That Challenged the World
VHS copy of The Monster That Challenged the World
Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
Aaaargh, I’m the monster!

I also love the film’s tagline, “Distinctly chilling. So real that it is nearly incredible.” Nearly incredible. Nearly. A ringing endorsement! 😉

So where does a reel librarian fit into the picture? There’s not a librarian technically, more a museum archivist. But I’m still including the character in the reel librarian category, as the character is primarily an Information Provider, along with a little Comic Relief thrown in for good measure.

The Naval officers on a base near where the mollusk monsters were unleashed are working hard to contain the issue and track down the remaining monsters. Fifty-five minutes into the film, Lt. Commander John “Twill” Twillinger (Tim Holt) and a scientist figure out that the mollusks are traveling by an underground river through a system of 700 miles of canal bank. The scientist advises them to be on the lookout for a survey map that would show underground rivers.

Twill assures him, “If there is such a map, we’ll find it.

A couple of minutes later, the director cuts to the Imperial County Museum, and we see a middle-aged, balding man closing a file cabinet drawer. Milton Parsons plays the museum archivist Lewis Clark Dobbs, in an uncredited role.

Imperial County Museum sign and building
Imperial County Museum sign and building
Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
Can I help you?

Let’s listen in on the exchange:

Dobbs: Well, now, we gave most of our map collection to the library.

Twill:  Mr. Dobbs, we’ve already been to the library. We’ve checked every possible source. You’re our last resort.

Dobbs:  Too bad, too bad. We don’t have many documents. We don’t have room for them. We put up a bond issue, Proposition 14-A specifically asking for a document room, but… Oh, here. Here we are. [He hands them one rolled-up map.]

Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
Maps save lives, y’all

Twill:  Is this all you have?

Dobbs:  I’m sorry, just not a speck of room.

Twill:  Mr. Dobbs, this is very important. Have you ever heard of an underground river or an ancient waterway in the valley that empties into a deep pool?

Dobbs:  Dear, dear. Let me think. I can’t think of a thing. But every once in a while, somebody dies, and leaves us a whole lot of documents for our room, the one we didn’t get, you understand. Propositition 14-A was defeated.

Twill:  Well, if you should hear of anything, let me know. You should be able to get me at the base.

Dobbs:  Oh sure, sure, I always cooperate with the authorities. You’ll find that I’m a very cooperative person. Just call on me any time, night or day.

Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
You come back now, ya hear?

The officers are as eager to get away as Dobbs is eager to continue talking to them. He is very solicitous but doesn’t actually help them (at least not yet). He is more interested in talking about the failed bond issue. I KNOW THE FEELING. It’s an interesting choice to highlight public funding issues for a library or museum. This is definitely an issue that continues today — but not one I’d expect to find in a cheesy ’50s sci-fi flick.

I honestly thought we had seen the last of Lewis Clark Dobbs. But I was mistaken! At one hour and seven minutes, he shows up at the base — so nondescript that Twill doesn’t notice him on his way out; Dobbs calls out to him to no avail. Dobbs holds a briefcase and has smartened up a bit with a blazer and hat. He takes off his hat when the phone operator asks if she can help him. Dobbs dithers, muttering, “Well, well” several times and announces that he will wait. The phone operators shrug, and Dobbs sits down in the corner. Awkward social manners, to be sure.

Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
I’ll wait.

House later, Twill comes back to the base and is so focused on fighting mollusk monsters — as you do — that he doesn’t notice Dobbs in the corner. (Dobbs is probably used to this.)

Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
I’ve got a map.

After they shake hands, here’s the resulting conversation:

Dobbs:  It’s probably not anything at all.

Twill:  I see. [turns away, dismissive]

Dobbs:  You said it was important, you know, about the map.

Twill:  Yeah.

Dobbs:  Well, a very strange thing happened. I was looking for these papers — well,  actually, I was looking for this petition. [Takes out papers.] We’re campaigning again, for the Proposition 14-A, the one that was defeated. [Twill nods.] And there was this folder, and in this folder, there was this map.

Screenshot from The Monster That Challenged the World
Here’s my map.

As Twill reviews the map, Dobbs mutters on about a family that helped settle the area, the family that donated the map; Dobbs is oblivious that Twill is not listening. Instead, Twill points to the map and asks him if this is a river.

Dobbs puts on his glasses, and states, “Oh no, but the Indians dug wells all along there. It says here — in Spanish, of course — the wells of life. I read 18 foreign languages.

So what do we learn about Dobbs?

  • He dresses conservatively
  • He is patient
  • He doesn’t read social cues very well (which adds to the “Comic Relief” role)
  • He is a multi-linguist
  • Proposition 14-A is his favorite topic of conversation

Twill, a man of action, immediately sends the map off to the photo lab to help identify the location of the mollusk monsters. He doesn’t even thank Dobbs for the map! Twill gets all the credit (of course), but it’s really Dobbs who provided the essential evidence that saved the day. And if only that Proposition 14-A had passed, he could have helped them sooner… and perhaps saved a few more lives.

I was hoping this Class III film would end with Twill saying that the Naval base would contribute funds to the Imperial War Museum and their documents room, but alas there was no more mention of Dobbs or Proposition 14-A after that third short scene with the reel librarian. Oh, well. In my head, that’s what happened: the Imperial War Museum got a donation (and a plaque) to celebrate their pivotal role in challenging the mollusk monsters that challenged the world, and Dobbs is now happily puttering away in his new documents room.

Reel librarians save the world! Now THAT’s a movie tagline. 😉


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.

‘Quest for the’ Liberated Librarian

“Everybody knows that. They’re librarians. What makes you think you could be THE librarian?”

After my review of the second season premiere of ‘The Librarians’ TV series, I got to thinking that it was perfect timing to revisit the original TV movie, 2004’s The Librarian:  Quest for the Spear.

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!

Screenshot from The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV, 2004)
The perpetual student

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:


Opening scene:


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.


Home scene:


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.

Screenshot from The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV, 2004)
Books are my friends

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.

Screenshot from The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV, 2004)
Sloppy

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.

Screenshot from The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV, 2004)
Magical invitation from 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.

Screenshot from The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV, 2004)
First look at the Metropolitan Public Library’s archives

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.

*SPOILER ALERTS*


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.

Screenshot from The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV, 2004)
Before-and-after collage of Flynn

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.)

Screenshot from The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV, 2004)
The reel librarian and Excalibur

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! 😉

Screenshot from The Librarian: Quest for the Spear (TV, 2004)
Jeez, Mom, you’re embarrassing me

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:


Next week, I’ll delve into yet another Liberated Librarian portrayal… stay tuned!


Sources used:


An FBI librarian in ‘The House on Carroll Street’

“Library. Wentworth speaking.”

I had watched The House on Carroll Street (1988) many years ago, and I recently had the opportunity to rewatch it in order to revisit my notes about its minor reel librarian character. Everything about the film is minor, even though it features some major stars (Jessica Tandy, Jeff Daniels, Mandy Patinkin, etc.) and tackles the heavy-hitting subject of McCarthyism. Kelly McGillis, fresh off her role in Top Gun, stars as Emily, who gets involved in an FBI investigation after refusing to give names to a 1951 House Un-American Activities Committee hearing. Emily also gets intimately involved with FBI agent Cochran (Jeff Daniels).

There isn’t much to tell about the plot, except it involves a lot of running, dark alleys, red lipstick, retro waves, fedoras, and dark grey suits.

One of those dark grey suits is filled by an FBI librarian (played by William Duff-Griffin), who runs some stills and footage for FBI agent Cochran about three-quarters of the way through the film. The middle-aged, portly, white male — complete with glasses and receding hairline — shows off his technical skills by handling the projector as well as answering the telephone. [Tongue firmly in cheek.]

Screenshot from The House on Carroll Street (1988)
The FBI librarian
Screenshot from The House on Carroll Street (1988)
Multi-tasking

He also shows himself to be a man of few words as he answers the telephone: “Library. Wentworth speaking.”

He then turns to Cochran to tell him that the boss wants to speak to him, which leads to the next plot plot; we learn that Cochran has meddled too much and has been taken off the case.

The FBI librarian is only onscreen for a few seconds and therefore ends up in the Class IV category of reel librarians. He serves as a typical Information Provider.

The film also includes a earlier scene set in a bookstore. Emily suggests the bookstore as a place to meet up with a suspected spy, thinking that it would be a safe place that no one else would think of. Wrong! They get caught immediately, and a chase scene ensues in the bookstore, complete with toppling bookcases and turned-over book carts.

Screenshot from The House on Carroll Street (1988)
Bookstore, not a library

And what is the main clue for how to distinguish between a bookstore and a library onscreen, as mentioned in last week’s post? That’s right, there are no call numbers on the books in the bookstore! 🙂

Screenshot from The House on Carroll Street (1988)
No call numbers! That’s how you know it’s a bookstore.

So long, dear readers, and I’ll see y’all next week!


Sources used:


‘Time travel’-ing librarian

It’s hard out there for a time-traveling librarian.

Thanks to everyone who voted for their next adventure… and here you have it, an analysis post of your chosen winner! The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) is a romantic drama based on the best-selling 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger. The love story between Henry, a time-traveling librarian (played by Eric Bana) and Clare, an artist (played by Rachel McAdams) provides the central plot, as the film jumps back and forth in time, mirroring Henry’s travels. The two actors do all they can to provide gravitas and chemistry to the movie, but the tone and execution do end up feeling a little heavy-handed.

DVD cover of The Time Traveler's Wife
DVD cover of The Time Traveler’s Wife

Any kind of time-traveling-themed film involves its own brand of suspension of disbelief, as the audience has to accept somewhat circular logic and avoidance of plot holes (see also The Lake House and Premonition for other recent examples). This kind of story works better in print, and I did read the book years ago to see if Henry was a librarian in the book (he is). What’s intriguing about this variation on time travel is that Henry can’t choose when he travels back in time, and this brings on a whole host of problems and relationship instability.

*POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERTS*

Henry doesn’t get to keep his clothes when he travels, so most of his time spent time-traveling seems to involve breaking into places to find clothes, only to leave yet another pile of clothes as he disappears again. Also, Henry is older when he goes back in time to meet Clare, who is 6 years old when they meet for the first time on Clare’s timeline (incidentally, Henry is also 6 years old when he first travels through time). A 6-year-old girl and a 30-something-year-old man who later marry? Yeah, the creep factor is always there.

For a romantic hero, Henry is also unusual, because he often has to resort to petty theft, lock-picking, and sometimes back-alley brawls during his travels. (At one point, he also uses his abilities to win the lottery. Personal morality and ethics take a slip when one slips in and out of time.)

It’s hard out there for a time-traveling librarian. 😉

Librarian alert in the stacks!
Librarian alert in the stacks!

The two library scenes come fast and furious, both occurring within the first five minutes of the film. Three-and-a-half minutes in, we get our first shot of the library archives, as Henry travels back to his present (naked and shivering and emotionally drained). Henry wearily puts on his clothes, which are in a bundle on the library floor.

Screenshot from The Time Traveler's Wife
Rare books

After a heavy sigh, Henry then bends down to pick up rare books in a pile on the floor, affording us a close-up of his shoes. (Visuals of shoes feature heavily in this film, and a close-up of shoes in a field also graced the book’s cover.) Next, we see Henry bringing the stack of books to a patron in the library.

Patron:  That took you long enough.

Henry:  You have no idea.

Screenshot from The Time Traveler's Wife
“Took you long enough.”

Contrast that with the next scene, which brings sunshine and spring into the storyline. We also learn that Henry lives in Chicago. We get another wide shot of the library, this time bathed in sunlight and warm tones. The difference? This is when he first meets Clare, and they “meet cute” (or rather, “meet awkward”) in the library. Before Clare, his entire world — including his work world — feels cold and dark. With Clare, his world brightens — literally.

Screenshot from The Time Traveler's Wife
Reference help in the library

Fun fact:  Although the library is not named, these scenes were filmed in the Newberry Library in Chicago. This is also the library where Henry works in the book.

In this scene, we also get treated to another librarian, a young, red-haired woman perched in the stacks with a book cart in front of her. She looks quite professional — much more professional-looking than Henry — and is wearing a pin-striped Oxford blouse and a suit vest. This librarian is a typical Information Provider.

https://reel-librarians.com/rolecall/charactertypes/#informationprovider
Reference librarian in the stacks

Clare:  Excuse me. I’m looking for something on papermaking at Kelmscott.

Librarian: Our special collections librarian can help you with that. [She raises her voice to get Henry’s attention, who looks over at them.]

Henry:  Can I help you?

Clare:  Henry? [Claire recognizes him, but he doesn’t seem to recognize her.]

Henry:  Yes?

Clare:  Henry. It’s you. You told me this would happen. I’m supposed to act normal, but I’m not really acting very normal.

Here’s Henry’s reaction to Clare’s recognition of himself. Awwwwwwwwkward.

Screenshot from The Time Traveler's Wife
Awkwaaaaaard “Meet Cute” moment
Screenshot from The Time Traveler's Wife
Girl meets boy… again

Long story short, Henry agrees to meet up with Clare. Boy meets girl. Boy disappears. Girl has to clean up the mess. You know, the same old story. 😉

Although there are no more physical scenes of the library, there are a couple more mentions of his profession:

  • 21 minutes in, Clare introduces Henry to her friends Gomez and Charisse. Gomez isn’t favorably impressed at first, saying, “I couldn’t get anything out of him except he’s a research librarian.”
  • 25 minutes in, Gomez goes straight to Clare after learning Henry’s time-traveling secret. Gomez asks if Henry’s around, and she responds, “No, he’s at the library.”

Truthfully, it is not important to the plot that Henry is a librarian — except that it allows him to time travel, which IS the plot — so this film winds up in the Class II category. However, because of the extensive scenes we get to see of Henry outside of the library, and the personality flaws we witness, I would argue he fills an atypical role for reel librarians. Henry’s personality is atypical of most romantic heroes, full stop, and his role as a reel librarian is also secondary to the central romantic drama. It is also atypical to highlight a reel librarian, male or female, who is quite physically active and fit. (See also Rene Russo’s character in the 1989 comedy Major League). Henry is fit out of necessity, in order to survive while time-traveling.

The filmmakers are also not afraid to be critical of the lead romantic hero. Twice, Henry describes himself as a “pain in the ass.”

Screenshot from The Time Traveler's Wife
Classic viewpoints of a librarian through a bookcase

One could also argue that Henry’s role is that of a librarian as failure; that character type consists of self-perceived “failures” who resort to working in a library. And Henry did choose to be a librarian when he was younger and felt lost and unhappy — before he had met Clare, and before he scientifically explored his condition. However, the “librarian as failure” character type primarily fills the purpose of reflecting flaws in a library, or other social system or construct; this character type is also very closely tied to the library. In this film, the library is just an excuse.

Although Henry’s occupation actually does make it to the back of the DVD case (“… a handsome librarian who travels involuntarily through time”), like I said, it’s not really that important that he’s a librarian.

DVD back cover of The Time Traveler's Wife
DVD back cover of The Time Traveler’s Wife

His occupation is only important because it provides him a way to make a living that, well, doesn’t get in the way of his time-traveling. His job, that of a special collections or archives librarian, affords him time to spend in the archives, alone, so that no one really notices when he’s gone. (Even when he’s gone for two weeks straight, we don’t hear anything about how that affects his work.)

How’s that for an endorsement for librarianship? Be a librarian so that NO ONE will notice if you’re even there or not. SIGH.

This film attempts to end as a testament to true love and how it can stand the test of time. But there is no such love for the library. Because once Henry wins the lottery — surprise, surprise — there is no more mention of the library. Who would continue to work in a library when there’s no need to work anymore?

On that cheerful note, I bid you farewell… but you can count on me that I’ll be back next week, same time, same place. 😉


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