Oleanna (1994)

Not Rated   |    |  Drama, Thriller

Oleanna (1994) Poster

When a student visits her professor to discuss how she failed his course, the discussion takes an awkward turn.

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  • William H. Macy and Debra Eisenstadt in Oleanna (1994)
  • William H. Macy in Oleanna (1994)
  • William H. Macy and Debra Eisenstadt in Oleanna (1994)
  • William H. Macy and Debra Eisenstadt in Oleanna (1994)
  • William H. Macy and Debra Eisenstadt in Oleanna (1994)
  • Debra Eisenstadt in Oleanna (1994)

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Reviews & Commentary

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User Reviews

15 July 2004 | Ben_Cheshire
| Two characters, one room - I wasn't bored for a second!
Unique, hyper-real film where the dialogue is the main plot - and what a rivetting plot it is. I was very skeptical about Oleanna, and was really resistant to it - but was very surprised to find myself succumbing to it. If you love language, and know enough language, Oleanna will be a joy for you: because the dialogue is loaded with jokes about dialogue. You'll be able to pick the places where Bill Macy is saying non-words, pretentious words or jargons in his monologues - and notice where somebody is talking ambiguously, or not saying anything at all.

Its about words, talking and meaning. So there are lots of words for good reason.

Its very dialoguey dialogue: not the kind of things people say, but the kind of things writers write. Reminiscent of the verbal gymnastics of Samuel Beckett, and the twisting meanings of Catch-22. Or perhaps the comedic pretentiousness of Hal Hartley. Meaning is controlled by the powerful - that's the key. Whoever controls the conversation, the language, in this movie - controls the situation. So everything is either ambiguous or figurative. Mainly, the exact things the two say are not what's key. Its which one of them is talking.

The performances - well, Macy at least - are in an appropriately hyper-real tone to suit the hyper-real dialogue. The girl is not very good, but this is still a masterpiece of language. Its static, centring on two characters and one room, but for good reason - to put the words centre stage. I'm so shocked that i just watched a movie with two characters and one room, and was not only not bored once, but hanging on each word and found that the time flew by.

The moral of the story is that things are bound to go wrong if you talk to somebody for the length of an entire movie. You're bound to go nuts. The viewer is bound to go nuts just listening to William H Macy in the first half-hour of the movie - you'll be amazed that purely talking to someone, using words, can make you feel that you're trapped, that you can't win or even escape.

Quite brilliant, really.

8/10. Essential viewing. I never knew dialogue held this power. A unique discovery.

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Did You Know?


One of numerous collaborations of William H. Macy and David Mamet.


John: Get out of my office!
John: Get out! Get the fuck out of my office!
Carol: I'm leaving. And don't call your wife "Baby"!


When the professor says "Oh, my God." near the end of the movie right after striking his student and shortly before sitting down, for a short time the microphone hanging from the roof is visible at the top right corner of the screen.

Crazy Credits

The "school song" (written by Mamet) played during the credits is sung by Mamet's wife, Rebecca Pidgeon who first performed the role of Carol on stage.

Alternate Versions

There is a version of the movie circulating in Australia, in a series of videos along with other David Mamet films including "A Life in the Theater". This particular copy of the film is timecoded. In that version, after Carol tells John not to call his wife "baby," (thus sending him into a torrent of rage), and he slaps her arm and grabs her, screaming a sexual expletive and raising a chair above her head, the door to the hallway swings open and a number of people stand in the hallway, observing the fight and thus hopelessly damning John. In the version now appearing on The Sundance Channel (10/05), the expletive is unchanged but he never lifts the chair and the door never opens; aside from a final exterior shot of the school, the film ends with Carol (Eisenstadt) having collapsed on the floor of John's office, and John sitting in his chair, his head buried in his hands.


Brief College Days
Words by
David Mamet
Music by Rebecca Pidgeon
Soloist - Main Credits: Steve Goldstein (as Steven Goldstein)
Soloist - End Credits: Rebecca Pidgeon
© Copyright 1994 Dwight Street Music


Plot Summary


Drama | Thriller

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