Six movies that don't get life at university quite right
For most freshers arriving at university for the first time, the experience is a pretty bewildering one.
Sorting out somewhere to live, navigating your way around a huge campus, as well as meeting a whole group of (equally confused) new friends is all exciting and new, but more than a bit intimidating.
Thankfully there are plenty of people around to help. But whatever you do, these movies might not be the most realistic guide to what college life is really like…
Whiplash (2014) - Your teacher won’t make your life hell
In Whiplash, J.K. Simmons plays an obsessed music teacher who drives his talented young pupil (Miles Teller) almost to the verge of a nervous breakdown in his pursuit of excellence, a role for which Simmons got an Oscar.
But thankfully it’s not very realistic. While your tutors at uni will definitely be clever, and possibly even a bit eccentric, they’re unlikely to be demanding geniuses who want to push you to the limit. It’s more likely that they’ll be a bit worried if you don’t turn in an essay on time (it happens), rather than throwing chairs at your head. And they’ll be your first port of call if you’re having problems with the work, or anything else for that matter.
Educating Rita (1983) - No dating the staff
Classic British film Educating Rita has Julie Walters as a working-class, mature student who becomes friends with jaded, alcoholic English tutor Frank, played by Michael Caine. Out of place at university, she develops a passion for English literature, but Frank’s cynicism and Rita’s background threaten to get in the way.
It’s a great film, but forming more personal relationships with your tutor is probably not such a good idea in real life. First of all, it's likely to lead to awkward moments in seminars. On top of that, if the relationship becomes romantic, which Frank and Rita’s threatens to, it is illegal if you’re under the age of 18, as teachers are defined as being in a position of trust according to the Sexual Offences Act. And most universities have strict guidelines discouraging such relationships.
Animal House (1978) - Fraternities are an American thing
Films set at university are quite often American, and so uni life in the UK doesn’t get a lot of on-screen representation. One of the things we don’t have over here is fraternities or sororities, or at least to the same extent as the US. These single-sex college clubs are a feature of American campus life. Many are highly exclusive, with prospective members or ‘pledges’ undergoing difficult and sometimes embarrassing initiation rituals. The fraternities (male clubs) in particular are notorious for their out-of-control, often dangerous drunken antics.
Animal House is the acknowledged classic of the fraternity movies. The late John Belushi plays John ‘Bluto’ Blutarsky who, along with his Delta Tau Chi - fraternities have names made up of Greek letters - brothers, goes to war with college principal Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon). It’s very funny, but you’re unlikely to come across anything like it in the UK.
The Social Network (2010) - You might not change the world (yet)
Jesse Eisenberg stars as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in this true story about the founding of the instantly popular website. Director David Fincher is famed for his technical skill, so the beautiful quads of Harvard (The United States’s equivalent to Oxford or Cambridge) where ‘Zuck’ and pals changed the world are beautifully invoked.
But the story really is a one-off. Even though Zuckerberg struck gold, the chances of you launching a multi-billion dollar business while trying to get your coursework done are fairly slim. Probably best to concentrate on turning up to lectures and writing essays, to pave the way for the world-changing website development once you've graduated.
Bad Neighbours (2014) - You won’t be partying (at least not all the time)
If you believe the movies, attending lectures, essay writing and sitting in the library come a distant ninth to university’s real purpose: the party.
Bad Neighbours has Zac Efron as the ultimate college party monster, throwing wild bashes that upset the next-door neighbours, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne.
But in fact parties are only a small part of university life, and for the most part they’re much less wild than the ones you see in on-screen. In reality, the average student party will more likely involve a dozen people standing around awkwardly, clutching warm cans of beer in someone’s pokey digs, and talking about how much work they have to do. And a huge queue for the loo. Enjoy!
Revenge of the Nerds (1984) - Cliques are so last week
Revenge of the Nerds is a typical 1980s college comedy about the battle between a group of ‘nerds’ and ‘jocks', who go to war over a fraternity house when the jocks manage to burn their own down by accident.
The main thing that’s wrong with it, apart from things having changed quite a bit since the 1980s, is that cliques like ‘nerds’ and ‘jocks’ aren’t really that well-defined, particularly at British unis. Sure, there are people who are into sports, and those who like their technology. But universities are so big, and people’s interests so diverse, that there’s not much room for that kind of tribalism.
It’s all a bit more grown up than school. Which is kind of the point, really.