Jacqueline Oud - Culture

To change or not to change ..... "Mona Lisa Smile"

To change or not to change that’s the question...

Though not a subtitle at all this is what stayed in my mind after having seen the movie "Mona Lisa Smile". To draw the picture, it takes place at the 1950’s - school year 1953/1954 - at one of the best graduate schools for girls in the United States. An arts history teacher, played by Julia Roberts, dreamed of teaching at this very elite school will have to face the society in which the students live in. Both sides do not share the same ideas of live and what to make of it. On one there is the school with its rules, traditions and rituals that are not to be changed. On the other there is Catherine, who believes in her ideas of everyone able to change and do what you want as long as you fight for yourself. It’s obvious that both will not get along and since one will have to let go, it’s Catherine who will do the changing among the young and brilliant students as not to have them loose the future that can be in their hands.


Some reviews stated that the film looked very much alike the "Dead poets society". Others stated that the story was very easy: nice woman wants to change the world within a girls school. It doesn’t need a lot of imagination to state "Oh another film with Julia Roberts" that will attract, the rest doesn’t matter. Yes she is still one of the best paid actresses in the world. (Cameron Diaz seems to have gained more in 2003 with her films though but she doesn’t reflect the same image yet...). Any how many reviews state that the film is not that much of a intellectual level. The fact of a story being already told or not doesn’t make it less relevant though, but maybe I’m not intellectual enough neither.

A never ending story?

The story of some believing in changing the world, especially where the place of women is concerned, and the place one can obtain is indeed not new. But even when one puts the film in the moment where it takes place I think that one should be willing to side both sides. The school director - a woman herself and very keen on the schools traditions - retorks to Catherine’s arguments that one cannot change the world over the night. For women, having the possibility to follow school of graduating is not that recent. She’s right. The business school I attended in France - an elite one too - only states girls graduates as from the 70’s. I looked it up some time ago and I was surprised at first. It was open for women before but it was not in the mentality yet. Nevertheless, women still don’t hold many managerial places. A lot is still to be done. Especially when one reckons that many ambitious women are looked upon as feminists and loosing their femininity in the eyes of many men.

Changes are slow everywhere

Not only in the place women held in society but almost everywhere change is hardly ever welcomed. Let’s be honest, the place where we could like to see changes and what would be a good example to all is politics. How slowly do changes take place in politics? It can be very quickly if there is a lot of lobbying or pressure or when the commun opinion is clearly defined and there is no risk. Otherwise it can take a very long time.
Reorganisations in companies is the same. None is looking forward to them, mistrust reigns, and as long as people don’t know what the changes will result in they are not very eager with them.

Nomads or security?

Since quite some time the mayority of humans are no longer nomads. The era that followed, that of argriculture, seems to change also but the "wandering around part" seems to have left most of us. Mankind has become settled and lost gradually its appetite for changes and new worlds. Those who are looking forward to travel are often happy when coming back home and they always compare with what they have and that is how it should be. We become risk averse since we loose contact with other situations, other environments. We are all the same, the exceptions confirm the rule. "Mona Lisa" can try to teach us a lesson by insiting on the importance to change. Though she may keep a good point she is being trapped herself since she only compares with her life and reckons one should life like her example. We will have to let changes take place slowly if we really want them. It will then seem as if they were asked for. But keep in mind the risk averseness of others and your own point of view that might not always be the best. It seems as a struggle that is not easy to solve. Maybe that was what Leonard da Vinci thought of too when he gave his Mona Lisa her intriguing smile....

[2 February 2004]

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