By Sophia Di Maida, Third Year, English
As the new academic year dawns upon us and university students slowly start to make their way back to Bristol, it’s time to start waving goodbye to summer and embrace the forthcoming term. What better way to slip seamlessly back into your routine than to settle down with a relatable film or comfort television show?
Here are some recommendations for students, whether you’re arriving as a first-year or returning for your final year, who are needing a little bit of extra motivation to get excited for the 2022-23 academic year.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Dir. Peter Weir
A timeless classic. A coming of age, dark academia wonder. Dead Poets Society is perfect for all humanities students (or humanities appreciators). During the film, we see a group of American preparatory schoolboys form a special kind of bond over their uncovering, and subsequent re-grouping, of their new English teacher’s old poetry group.
Robin Williams provides us with some beautifully inspirational quotes throughout the film, from reminding us that we “read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion” to telling us to stand on top of our desks to remind ourselves to “constantly look at things in a different way.”
With a gut-wrenching ending, the film serves the purpose of reminding its viewers of one very important thing: to never take your educational opportunities and ability to choose your own path for granted.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Dir. Gus Van Sant
Young, reckless, troublemaker Will Hunting, a janitor at a leading American University, shocks professors when he solves a graduate-level math problem. A poignant film that follows the boy’s childhood struggles and run-ins with the law, Good Will Hunting encapsulates the fallible nature of humans, the reality of growing up working-class and being neglected by the education system and, most importantly, it breaks down the overwhelming stereotype that people with a low socio-economic status can’t also achieve the great things that more privileged individuals can.
Hunting is encouraged to leave labouring behind for the sake of making a better life for himself, but he finds he doesn’t always fit with the corporate and professional world. Of course, it’s not always easy coming from a working-class background into a middle-class dominated sphere, full of individuals who have had access to better education, and indeed Hunting does struggle fitting in with maths students, professors and professionals alike, but with the help of the university professor that first discovered his genius and a therapist, the viewer gets to watch the young man work towards greatness.
Good Will Hunting is motivational for any student who has also come to university from a disadvantaged background.
Normal People (2020)
Dir. Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald
Based on the 2018 novel by Irish author Sally Rooney, Normal People is a BBC-produced mini-series that follows the complex relationship between two young adults as they transition from high school to undergraduate students at Trinity College Dublin. The bittersweet departures and return to and from their hometown are relatable for anyone who finds themselves moving from busy Bristol during term-time to a much smaller, less exciting home-town over the holidays.
As Marianne Sheridan grows more popular upon arriving in Dublin, high-school heartthrob Connell Waldron finds himself struggling to fit in and make friends. A raw tale of love – not just romantic, but also love for one’s studies, Normal People encapsulates the insignificance of the high-school experience once you arrive at university: a strange yet necessary part of the educational transition. Connell becomes the embodiment of the universal challenge many students face in taking a bit more time to settle into new surroundings.
Normal People normalises the notion that not everyone moves to university and instantly finds their feet – and that’s okay – you will soon enough.
Lady Bird (2017)
Dir. Greta Gerwig
Saoirse Ronan adopts the role of titular, artistically oppressed, senior-year high school student 'Lady Bird', who dreams of getting accepted into a prestigious liberal arts University in New York City. Addressing the realities of the class struggle vs higher education opportunities, Lady Bird depicts how such financial and emotional turbulence can drive a wedge between familial and, in this case, mother-daughter relationships.
Navigating relationships, education, home life, and the unpredictability of the future, Lady Bird becomes a relatable, comfort character for any university student who has worked equally as hard to battle the economic restraints that surround getting into, and being able to afford to stay in, higher-education institutes.
University is an expensive few years, which Lady Bird doesn’t shy away from. Still, it motivates its viewer to really appreciate their education and, like our protagonist, strive for success, even if other people don’t believe you can make it.
Educating Rita (1983)
Dir. Lewis Gilbert
“All I know is that I know absolutely nothing.”
A classic 1980s comedy-drama film adapted from a play, Educating Rita takes us on a journey of a working-class woman trying to better her education and general life opportunities.
Rather than depicting the stereotypical student experience, the movie follows a mature-married student-hair stylist who dreams of reaching her full academic potential by enrolling in an Open University course.
As the film progresses, we see Rita exploring the social side of university culture, feminist independence, and most importantly, self-growth. As she so bravely says at the start of the film, “I don’t want a baby yet – I want to discover myself first.”
Dir. Euros Lyn
Adapted from Alice Oseman’s graphic novels, Heartstopper is a young-adult romance series that recently took Netflix by storm. Following the story of two British schoolboys, Charlie Spring and Nick Nelson, the series is a reminder of the importance of allowing teenagers and young adults to figure out their own sexual identity.
As the viewer sees Nick grow more and more comfortable in his own exploration of sexuality, Heartstopper redefines queerness within popular media – and it’s about time such representation is normalised. The series includes a diverse range of coming-out journeys, from Elle, who moved schools after coming out as transgender, to Tara and Darcy’s lesbian relationship.
It’s no secret that sexuality has often been missed off the education syllabus at secondary school – which is a pivotal time for a lot of teenagers in learning about themselves – but it’s this normalisation of queerness that is well-needed in today’s society as the fight for equal rights, opportunities, and representation of the LGBTQ+ community both in and outside the education system, continues to grow in numbers.
Featured Image: IMDB
Whether September signifies a new start or a return to normality, what comfort films or series will you be watching?