College in the movies: What Hollywood gets right and wrong

The college experience is more than parties

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(Photo courtesy of National Lampoon's Animal House's official IMBD page)

By Saliha Bayrak, Collegian Correspondent

Every freshman begins college with some expectations as to what their college experience will be like — complete freedom, the taste of adulthood and parties every weekend. Some of those expectations are met, while others aren’t.

Most of these expectations are formed from the movies we see, such as “Animal House” (1978), which has spanned multiple generations as the quintessential college party movie and earned its place as a classic comedy — serving as a source of nostalgia for past students, inspiration for current students and expectations for future students. The movie is a highly exaggerated depiction of the debauchery and sometimes reprehensible behavior that results when you give young adults their first taste of freedom. It is the predecessor of college movies like “Van Wilder” (2002) and “Neighbors” (2014) which focus on the fun that ensues when all restrictions are off, and the parties that aren’t too far off from reality.

By the end of your first semester, one realizes that college is a whole lot of freedom and fun, but there are a lot of parts in between the weekends that these movies neglect to mention. The college experience is also interlaced with an unnaturally high level of stress and young adults just trying to figure things out. Fortunately, there are some movies that capture the fun spirit of college while also tackling the more serious issues that students face.

“Everybody Wants Some!!” (2016), often considered to be a sequel to “Dazed and Confused” (1993), depicts the life of a baseball player, Jake (Blake Jenner) and his first three days of his college experience. Writer-director Richard Linklater, whose movies are often characterized by the depiction of the ordinary lives of people with undertones of more serious themes, doesn’t fail to follow his usual style with “Everybody Wants Some!!” Although not everyone can relate to Jake’s exact situation, this movie tackles many common experiences and emphasizes the formative effect of college on one’s identity.

Throughout the film, characters with different interests, such as baseball and theatre, discuss the difficulty of entering college with a talent that made them stand out in high school, only to enter an environment in which nearly everyone is equally talented. The competitive nature of college can often make one feel untalented and unworthy, but Jake points out that “it’s a gift to be striving at all, even if it looks futile to others.” What keeps Jake afloat through all the partying and chaotic fun is his passion and dedication for baseball. When you enter college, you may find it difficult to figure out what to do with the sudden influx of freedom and time given to you. During these times, it’s important to have something to focus on and to take the time to try a bunch of things until you figure out what that thing may be.

The movie also emphasizes the importance of staying true to who you are and not getting caught up in everything. Beuter (Will Brittain) is considered one of the “weird” teammates for his old-school lifestyle, but when he expresses that he might give in to the “temptations” around him, the same teammates that gave him a hard time makes sure that he is not ready to “fold like a chair.” Because when it comes down to it, “You bring what you are, never be what they want. And that my friend is when it gets fun,” as Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), the team’s source of philosophy, tells Jake.

The film ends as Jake falls asleep in his first class after pulling an all-nighter — possibly the most universal college experience of all — just as he is really beginning his college career. What happens to him during the rest of the year is unknown, emphasizing the endless possibilities and paths that lie in front of him as a young man on the cusp of adulthood.

Accounting for the more serious parts about being a young adult and a student is “Good Will Hunting” (1997) — a story about untapped potential and the importance of having someone who believes in you. Will (Matt Damon) is a young janitor at MIT who is a closeted genius and would rather wreak havoc with his friends before a professor (Stellan Skarsgård) discovers his intelligence, but it is his therapist (Robin Williams) who really allows him to break his shell in order to reach his full potential. As Will begins to receive countless job offers, he realizes he is doing what other people want him to do, rather than chasing after what he himself truly wants. At many points throughout college, you’re going to have to decide whether you want to do what others expect of you, or what you really want to do. And these are the moments that shape your identity.

In college, you’re suddenly forced to make your own decisions about what you want to do and who you want to be instead of having everyone else guide your life. Young adults are faced with a lot of new situations and issues that they’ve never experienced before and in navigating through them, they choose the kind of person they want to be.

Even though a majority of college students don’t end up dropping out of Harvard to become the co-founder of Facebook, “The Social Network” (2010), a semi-biographical story of Mark Zuckerburg during his time at college, still depicts a lot of issues that college students can resonate with through the conflicts of his upcoming company— the desire to become part of an elite social group on campus, the competition to be the best, friendships conflicting with personal goals and facing situations that put your beliefs and values up to question.

The explicit and crazy comedies about fun and partying can be an enjoyable watch and many movies do an incredible job of depicting the college experience, but there are still many things that are left out in these movies. There is a sense of malaise that a lot of college students feel, especially freshmen adapting to the significant change in their lives that haven’t been tackled by enough movies yet. Upon the first weeks of the new semester, you may find that you are constantly asking yourself — is this it? You might feel an unexplainable sense of dissatisfaction when you feel like you should be having the time of your life and that there’s something missing from your experience that you can’t exactly pinpoint. Since these emotions aren’t often depicted in the popular media, it may feel like you’re the only person experiencing it.

If you are in this situation, you aren’t alone in these feelings of incompleteness and dissatisfaction, but they won’t last forever. College can be an extremely fun and enriching part of one’s life and you will eventually find the purpose and community that can guide you through. Just have some fun along the way.

Saliah can be reached at [email protected]