Gordon in the News: last updated 03/30/2009

Oscar Talk: Gordon College Media Professor Says Top 2008 Films Explore Theme of Guilt

February 16, 2009
Jo Kadlecek
Office of College Communications

WENHAM, MA-When the 81st Academy Awards air from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre on February 22, Rini Cobbey, Gordon College associate professor of communication arts and chair of the department, will be watching with interest. In some ways, it's part of her job. And yes, she'll make predictions.

Of the ten films nominated in the top four categories, Cobbey--who has worked for Warner Brothers and Polygram Filmed Entertainment as well as film critic Michael Medved in Los Angeles--believes each explores some aspect of guilt as a primary theme, prevalent in the story line and characters. The films all have resonance and staying power with contemporary audiences, she says, and explore the subthemes of guilt  (i.e., blame, culpability, fault) in a variety of ways.

"When you look at each of these films--Doubt, Milk, Frost/Nixon, and the others--the theme of guilt is prominent, and with that comes questions of forgiveness and dialogue and faith," she says. "This year's nominated films all come at this theme (of guilt) from many styles and angles. I'm not sure why, just like I'm not sure why 1998 was the year of World War II films, but the issue is certainly present in each film."

Cobbey--who teaches media criticism and specializes in Indian and Middle Eastern film--has also fielded many questions about Slumdog Millionaire because it is set in modern India.

"Slumdog Millionaire is big on hope and provides a glimpse into a way of life and part of the world that most mainstream American filmgoers aren't usually exposed to," Cobbey says. "It's even more interesting because (India) is in the midst of a globalization and cultural transformation that we all share. The film provides a taste of Bollywood style, but without the integrated song and dance numbers or the three-hour length."

Will Slumdog win best picture? "If Oscar goes with an Oscar-type movie--like Forrest Gump or Titanic--I think the winner will be The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Cobbey says. "If Oscar goes with an outsider--like Fargo or Little Miss Sunshine--I think Slumdog will win. But if they cancel each other out, then we can look to Frost/Nixon to win."

As to the best director, Cobbey predicts the Oscar would go to Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionare. "It's an attractive, creative and different style of film that owes hugely to his directing," Cobbey says. "There's a sparkle in his work, in dealing with the hardness of life. Yes, we get the slums of India, but we get them with lighting, pacing, music and movement. He almost makes the slums look stylish, but he needed to in order to accomplish what he did in that film."

For best performance by an actor in a leading role, Cobbey sees Mickey Rourke taking the Oscar for his role in The Wrestler. "The role is a best-actor type of role because it's the most physically demanding while he also fights his inner demons. It allows him to show his acting chops and, considering no one expected to see Rourke again, the movie's character is almost a mirror of his life as well, struggling to make the right choice to overcome the demons," she says. "I think Sean Penn (in Milk) is the second most likely to win because he embodies Milk's voice, face and mannerisms. The Oscar often goes to the actor who is the most physical."

For best performance by an actress in a leading role, Cobbey isn't so sure. All five actresses gave what she called "Oscar-type performances in Oscar-type roles."

"I didn't see the actresses in these films; I saw their characters," Cobbey says. "Still, I'll go with Kate Winslet in The Reader because she played a character over a range of many ages and showed the changes in how she worked to control her inner torment."

In the long run, why will audiences bother at all with the Academy Awards? "Because it's the entertainment industry telling itself--and us--what it values and what they celebrate," Cobbey says. "Yes, there's glitz and glamour and celebrities. But the Oscars help us understand culturally important movies--those that leave us thinking and feeling about themes we might not have otherwise." 

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Gordon College is a Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences on Boston's North Shore. The College offers majors in 37 fields and has graduate programs in education and music education. Leading the way in Christian college merit, Gordon is nationally ranked for its excellence in academics and its role in character building. These achievements recognize Gordon as one of the nation's top Christian colleges.