Professor Norman Cornett Alanis Obomsawin
Published May 05, 2009Acting as a secondary title and focusing statement is the question: "since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest one?," which has an obvious and easy reply: since inception. As Angela Chase once said within the landmark academic text My So Called Life, "It's such a lie that you should do what's in your heart. If we all did what was in our hearts, the world would grind to a halt." These ideas, along with the nature of market culture and disposable human wealth, drive Alanis Obomsawin's thoughtful and intelligent, if hagiographic, documentary about McGill University's decision to shit-can Dr. Norman Cornett.
With a framing device of Pink Floyd's The Wall — since we are, indeed, just another brick in the wall, or at least another locust in the plague — the doc covers Dr. Cornett's unorthodox but much admired teaching style, which encouraged free-form thought, as opposed to quotidian academic principals and proof via regurgitation and arbitrary quotation. The students love it, as it allows them to bring out and embrace their inner-pretence, while the faculty can do little more than wrinkle their noses as they glance scornfully over their horn-rimmed glasses. It's the classic struggle of antiquated ideals versus modern idealism.
Initially objective, giving a background of the professor via taped lectures and student interviews, Norman Corbett eventually shifts to a subjective stance, detailing Corbett's fight against McGill, while his wife copes with chemotherapy and the horrors of cancer.
It's all quite effectively handled and engaging to watch throughout but is perhaps less severe than it thinks it is, as these "injustices" are a daily occurrence in the real world outside of the sheltered walls of a university. Cultures systemically claim to "value diversity," which as we all know is little more than a blanket promise not to violate women in the office lunchroom and burn rainbow flags during pride week.
It sucks and it can be fought but it typically results only in acceptance through the unspoken modification and assimilation of subjugated peoples to the dominant ideologue, regardless of the many liberal soapbox rants that suggest otherwise. It's simply how society maintains its unintentionally amusing order. (NFB)