I have never seen the David Mamet play, Oleanna, on stage, but surely the next best thing is watching Mamet’s 1994 film of it. William H. Macy is true and affecting as a college professor accused of sexual harassment, and Debra Eisenstadt is mesmerizing as the girl who has accused him. Mamet’s directing is satisfyingly competent.
Carol, the girl, understands nothing but believes she understands everything—except the lessons presented in John’s—Macy’s—class. She is academically sinking there, almost frantic about it. But she starts to think she can read her professor, and to discern oppression. John’s easy cynicism about higher education only makes matters worse. Carol resents that John possesses power of a sort, and goes so far as to deem him a rapist (!)
Mamet’s achievement is disturbing as it concentrates on the utter failure of human communion and on Carol’s use of radical sentiment, or political correctness, to defeat John. (But is she really a radical?) Near pleadingly at one point she tells him, “I’m bad!” The utopia that Oleanna‘s title refers to is not exactly beckoning in the university. This is a sadly dark opus.