What movies expect from University (and the far-less-exciting reality)


I am returning to University this year, and with most things in life, I turn to films for a refresher course in what it all means to be a studious-yet-fun-loving-party-liaison. I was quickly reminded, however, that movies seldom match the reality of the University or “college” experience. So, in order to promptly quash any “freshman” dreams taken from the silver screen, here is my comparative analysis of university onscreen in relation to university in the real world.


Expectation: dancing up the front steps of the campus on your first day

All movies set in universities always feature the “dance up the front steps and look out at the world” shot. The reality is, you are probably going to be lost on your first day. Before you dance up the stairs and beam out to face your bright new future, check you are actually going into the right building. Don’t do what I did and do a romantic Sound of Music style pirouette in front of, what turned out to be, a block of toilets.


Expectation: geniuses everywhere writing algorithms on windows and or mirrors

Films like The Social Network and Good Will Hunting lead you to believe that there is a genius lurking in every dorm room scribbling on windows, mirrors, tinfoil or any other semi-reflective surface late into the night. Ben Affleck even says himself, “So this is a Harvard bar huh? I’d thought there’d be equations and shit all over the walls.”

This is not the case at all, Baffleck. If a poor student is luxe enough to own window pens, they are guaranteed to be drawing cartoon genitals and swear words. Also, don’t expect anyone to talk as fast as Jessie Eisenberg. Play The Social Network at about ½ speed for a more realistic experience.


Expectation: people in berets/bare feet/floaty clothing talking about beethoven

Liberal Arts compares very closely to my own personal University experience in that I had to watch a bunch of excruciatingly unlikable characters talk about Beethoven for what felt like an eternity.

Ditto Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wagner, Post-Modernity, Intersectionality. Be prepared for all of this to happen if you are entering the arts faculty. Embrace it. Take your shoes off. Everyone else has.


Expectation: many many old-timey green lamps

Those rows of special folded-over green lamps are an iconic piece of uni-cinema imagery. But they do not exist in real life, as far as I can tell. If you ever see one of those lamps take it and run as fast as you can. I’ll be waiting at the docks with a blank cheque.


Expectation: studying for exams is an upbeat and well-organised montage

I’ve tried many times to trick myself into a studying montage by piling up colour co-ordinated stacks of books around me whilst playing an ‘80s pop hit and tying my hair into a lopsided ponytail. It never works.

The study montage is one of the most deceitful devices in all of cinematic history. You will not be clean. You certainly won’t be bothering going to the hairdressers or partaking in any personal grooming. You will have one book open, turned upside down next to a pile of snickers wrappers while you scroll endlessly through twitter/instagram/facebook. Which makes for a very poor montage.


Expectation: pristine and welcoming campus grounds

You can expect to frolic through gardens and weave through trees, happily skipping from park bench to park bench, but just keep an eye out for all the pigeons. They really are the rats of the sky/food hall/lecture theatre.


Expectation: visionary lecturers will take you under their wing and/or to the pub

Your relationship with your lecturers will not be like Animal House or Liberal Arts. Professor Donald Sutherland will not come to your dorm and introduce you to the world of recreational drugs. Professor Alison Janney will not go out for a drink with you. The best you can do is getting your lecturers to learn your name by the time you graduate.

And if you end up seeing them out of class and they call you by your last name, that’s close enough.


Expectation: you will undergo a political awakening and maybe buy a badge

A hugely emphasised part of the university experience in movies like Starter for 10 is the broadening of the mind politically. I applaud this movie for providing an unbelievably accurate representation of the politically active student body.

They can be found somewhere on every campus behind a tornado of flyers, badges and megaphones.Go check it out, and sign some petitions while you’re there.


Expectation: wild crazy parties with celebrity musical guests

Comedies set in colleges like Old School and The House Bunny always feature giant sponsored house parties that frequently turn out to have celebrity guests of honour who show up for little to no reason. Lower your expectations immediately. Your O-week musical guest will not be Snoop Dogg, but a drum n bass band called something like ‘Klass Akt’.


Expectation: your chutzpah will always be rewarded

In Legally Blonde, Elle Woods gets into Harvard by making a sassy video tape and prints out her CV onto pink scented paper. Movies teach you that standing out and being ‘outside the box’ will always get you recognised and praised by stuffy old professors. This is not always the case.

One time I handed in a piece of Creative Writing printed in Courier New font to give it that old time feelin’. I got a C- for failing to follow presentation guidelines. Smother your chutzpah.


Expectation: you will instantly be a party liaison officer like Mr V. Wilder

I recall there actually being similar characters around university similar to Van Wilder Party Liaison, but they were much bleaker.

Prepare to meet a few backpack-wearing men over the age of thirty who will try to get you to come to a laser-light-foam-filled-toga-costume-keg-party that they have organised in an abandoned shed. Politely decline and watch them drive off into the distance on their golf cart.


Expectation: When You Graduate You Will 100% Throw Your Hat In The Air 

Throwing your graduation cap in the air is another iconic moment recreated in many university-centred films. In reality, there is no right moment to do this in the ceremony unless you plan for it afterwards in a controlled environment and have notified air traffic control. Also, your hair goes absolutely crazy underneath so keep that thing flat on your head till you get home.

I hope that this has cleared up some movie myths as some of you head back into the tertiary trenches armed only with togas and textbooks. But I want to know what else the movies have got wrong. What movie myths were quickly busted when you started studying? Or were they right? Are you party liaising as we speak?

And hey, hope you have a wonderful and productive start to the academic year.