With Honors, a movie about Harvard student life and life


First of all I must make the disclaimer that I was a graduate student at Harvard in the 1980’s. This movie portrays 4 roommates from the Class of 1994 in their senior year. It brought back lots of memories, and hopes, as my son wants to follow his mom, dad, and other relatives in going to Harvard someday. Brendan Fraser is our protagonist and his advisor is played by Gore Vidal. He experiences a computer crash as he is trying to write his senior thesis. He runs out at night to photocopy the ten chapters he had already written, trips, and the thesis falls through a grate into the boiler room of the Widener Library. A homeless man is living in there and as the student enters, he is burning the pages to keep warm. They strike up an uneasy bargin that for each thing the student brings him, he will give him one of the 83 pages of the thesis. He wants clean underwear and an unblemished glazed donut. As things progress, he moves into an old van in the driveway, gets a hot bubble bath in the house, and eventually becomes the four students’ house mate. He interrupts Gore Vidal’s lecture on the US Constitution and gets an ovation at the end.

One of the most important things is that he wants people to see him as a person, not as just a homeless person. There are poignant and funny scenes. Before he dies he wants to see the son he abandoned when he joined the Merchant Marine. The students drive him to a beautiful colonial house in the countryside and a young man comes to the door. Brendan convinces him to just come to the van to see his dad and say hi. The young man is obviously holding a lot of anger in check. When his little daughter runs out of the house and asks who the man is, the son picks her up and carries her away, saying, “It is nobody. Nobody.”

At one point Brendan says his paper is his life. The homeless man encourages him to be happy and live life in the moment. At the end in his eulogy he wrote himself he says Brendan will graduate life “with honor,” more important than the “honors” he would have gotten by turning in his thesis on time. I think this is an important movie with some really great lessons.

I have been having a bit of trouble getting my son to see it. I think I will have to sneak it in on a “family film night.” There is almost no violence, one brief scene of two of the students in bed, and almost no swearing. Definitely PG-13. And I highly recommend it, up there with another similar favorite, “Pay It Forward.”

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About KLevenson

I am Teacher Librarian at Piedmont High School in the San Francisco East Bay. I am a part time reference Librarian I for the San Francisco Public Library. I have a Masters in Library and Information Sciences from San Jose State and a Teacher Librarian credential in addition to my teaching credential in Science. My first MA was from Harvard in Archaeology. My students teach me something new every time I am with them!
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