On the Road
Many of us may be hesitant to travel at the moment, or even to go to the movies. But we can gather together at this free film discussion series to explore great films that are set on the highways and byways.
As the recent theatrical release of Nomadland testifies, the American road movie has enduring appeal and seems almost endlessly adaptable to different cultural circumstances. In this series, we take a quick survey of the genre. We start with a Hollywood studio classic that establishes the heterosexual couple as the central protagonist and self-determination as a defining force. It concludes with contemporary entry that confronts us with an urgent new perspective on the forces and forms of travel and escape.
This series is designed to offer an interwoven vantage point from which to analyze “on the road” films. While we encourage participants to join us for each meeting, our discussions will focus on individual movies. Participants are welcome to join us for all or any of the sessions.
How it Works
Participants are asked to watch the assigned film in advance, using the guiding questions to help prepare for the conversation. At the start of each session, which will meet remotely via Zoom, Ms. Fernandez will explain the format for the evening, provide some additional context, and offer a brief introduction of the film. Participants will then be broken out into smaller breakout groups, and Ms. Fernandez will rotate through those rooms. The entire group will then reconvene for a final discussion. Ms. Fernandez will conclude the evening with the entire group and provide some final commentary and points of reflection.
- Guiding questions will be provided at least two weeks in advance, and posted to the individual film registration pages.
- Allow yourself time to watch and think about the movie in advance of the meeting. The films are widely available on popular streaming services, such as AmazonPrime, Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, YouTube, Vudu, Google Play, and iTunes. Check the registration page for recommendations on where to find each movie.
- Engage your fellow participants in friendly, respectful discourse. We reserve the right to bar from conversation and participation anyone whose conduct is offensive or disruptive.
- Registration is required to participate in the group discussions
On a bus, hitch-hiking, on foot, and in a stolen car, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert make their way from Florida to New York City, and from antipathy to a meeting of the minds. It Happened One Night is a pioneering screwball comedy, as well as one of the first American road movies. Filmed and set during the Great Depression, it explores the distance its characters need to travel, and over what kind of ground, to encounter each other.
This iconic “on the lam” movie changed the genre forever. Fusing romance and crime drama, the heavily fictionalized story of the infamous outlaw couple explicitly frames their life on the road as an escape from conventional morality, laying the groundwork for a long string of counter-culture films, such as Easy Rider. The spectacular violence of the finale also pushed the road movie, and the motion picture code, into new territory; and the Great Depression setting helped to develop a topic nascent in It Happened One Night: the production of folk hero icons who speak to the needs of a particular cultural moment.
Responding to the couple-on-the-run subgenre, as well as the (male) buddy road movie that followed in its wake, Thelma & Louise was simultaneously celebrated and denigrated as “feminist manifesto” when it was first released. Thirty years later, some of the terms of that critical debate may be dated, but the enduring relevance of the film seem hardly diminished at all. Friends Thelma and Louise set out on a low-stakes weekend vacation from their constricted lives, only to find themselves committed to a radical rejection of the oppressive confines they have accepted as normal or inevitable for so long.
Although Queen’s uncle refers to them as “the black Bonnie and Clyde,” the protagonists in this re-working of the genre are neither self-defining criminals like the famous outlaw pair, nor self-liberating buddies who “just take to it” (to quote Thelma’s gleeful identification with transgression). After an unpromising Tinder date, Queen and Slim are thrown together when a traffic stop results in the death of a white police officer. Forced to run, they become, as Queen puts it, “accidental activists” and ambivalent icons, whose freedom to choose a life together is cut short by structures that define their very survival as criminal.
Basic Program Instructor
Eva Fernandez holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in English literature. She has been an instructor in the Basic Program since 1999 and has also taught at Kalamazoo College, Denver Free University, and the University of Chicago. The major focus of her graduate work at the University of Chicago was late medieval literature, especially Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in the context of classical and medieval philosophy. Other enthusiasms include classical literature, Old English poetry, seventeenth century English literature, nineteenth century American literature, nineteenth and twentieth century philosophy, and modern and contemporary poetry. She also loves the movies, especially horror and science fiction. She is the 2011 recipient of the Graham School’s Excellence in Teaching Award for the Basic Program.