Office Hours: 5 Provocative Films about the American Dream

Julie Levinson
Professor Julie Levinson. Photo: Webb Chappell
Babson Magazine

Spring 2020

Julie Levinson, professor of film and the chair of Arts and Humanities, has been exploring themes related to the American dream her entire career, and she wrote The American Success Myth on Film in 2012. “The American dream is an individualistic notion that claims all Americans—on our own steam, if we’re good enough and we work hard enough—can make it,” she said. Here, Levinson recounts five films about those who made it, those who didn’t, and those who lost it or opted out of the quest.

1. THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS / 2006

“This is a very conventional film about success in America that says even if you start with strikes against you, you have a shot at making it. Will Smith plays a guy who has bad things going on at home and his job is going nowhere, but because he’s so determined and so inspired and wants success so much, he gets it. It’s a feel-good movie that fulfills our deep need to believe that success is possible for anyone who tries hard enough.”

2. THE HUDSUCKER PROXY / 1994

“A deeply ironic and cynical rags-to-riches story by the Coen brothers. This is a movie that takes the wish-fulfillment story and wreaks havoc with it. The film ends up being a blackly comic critique of corporate culture, of the young striver character, and of entrepreneurial invention.”

3. HOLIDAY / 1938

“A marvelous movie from the screwball-comedy era. It’s a great American dream story, because we have a young achiever who is making it. Cary Grant’s character is a poor boy who made good, but he decides to chuck it all. It’s a story in which he turns his back on success and material fulfillment and wealth in favor of finding himself through spiritual fulfillment.”

4. A FACE IN THE CROWD / 1957

“A brilliant movie that demonstrates the rise-and-fall pattern. The main character becomes unbelievably rich and extraordinarily famous, and then we see his downfall. Like a lot of movies about the American dream, it tells us it’s lonely at the top, to quote the cliché. This is an extraordinarily powerful and timely movie that still resonates.”

5. I, TONYA / 2017

“Here, we have a wildly talented and ambitious figure in Tonya Harding, who is fabulous at what she does but still doesn’t achieve her dream. The film doesn’t let her off the hook for her moral failings, but it also doesn’t let the culture off the hook for the hurdles it puts up for people who don’t conform to American ideals of how we want to see ourselves reflected.”


BOOK SHELF

Good Reads by Babson Faculty

The Ideate Method: Identifying High- Potential Entrepreneurial Ideas

The Ideate Method: Identifying High-Potential Entrepreneurial Ideas by Dan Cohen, Greg Pool and Heidi Neck. SAGE Publications Inc., 2020. Professor of Entrepreneurship Heidi Neck and her co-authors illustrate an empirically proven method to identify problems, develop solutions, and pursue the most entrepreneurial ideas.


Night: A Philosophy of the After-Dark

Night: A Philosophy of the After-Dark by Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh. Zero Books, 2020. Associate Professor of Comparative Literature Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh explores the human experience of the after-dark through ancient rituals, medieval storytelling, modern philosophy, and futuristic images.


Go-To-Market Strategies for Women Entrepreneurs: Creating and Exploring Success

Go-To-Market Strategies for Women Entrepreneurs: Creating and Exploring Success edited by Victoria L. Crittenden. Emerald Publishing, Ltd., 2019. Professor of Marketing Victoria L. Crittenden and a cast of global contributors examine the power, the challenges, and the inspiration of women entrepreneurship.


Posted in Campus & Community, Research & Insights

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