SUBTEXT: Staking Claims in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948) (Part 1)

It’s considered the definitive film on greed, a demonstration of just what the lust for gold can do to a man’s heart. Fred C. Dobbs starts out as a down-on-his-luck panhandler in a poor Mexican town and comes into a fortune of over $100,000 before the film’s end. Yet, in more ways than one, Dobbs never stops panhandling, never stops being subject to the vagaries of fate, to  Continue Reading …

SUBTEXT: Psychedelic Regrets in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”(Part 1)

The ancient Mariner kills his Albatross with a carelessness that stands in stark contrast to his impulse for confession. For several days he and his shipmates feed the albatross, play with it, and treat it as if it were inhabited by a “Christian soul.” The mariner never tells the wedding guest why it is that he kills the bird, but the casual and seemingly unmotivated act is  Continue Reading …

SUBTEXT: Sins of Omission in “On the Waterfront” (1954) (Part 1)

Terry Malloy and his fellow longshoremen on the New York docks are witnesses to union corruption under labor boss Johnny Friendly, but won’t testify against him because of his violent intimidation tactics, which ensure that union members remain “D and D”—that is, deaf and dumb—to any illegal activity. When Terry’s collaboration with Friendly results in the death of his friend  Continue Reading …

(SUB)TEXT: Identity and Infamy in “Citizen Kane” (1941) (Part 1)

It’s a film bursting with objects—the treasure troves of Xanadu, a snowglobe, jigsaw puzzles, a winner’s cup, the famous sled. Even the conceptual elements of the film’s plot are expressed tangibly. Kane’s mind-boggling wealth isn’t an abstraction, but a list of concrete holdings—gold mines, oil wells, real estate. And the news Kane controls and manipulates, when yoked to  Continue Reading …

(sub)TEXT: The Emptiness of Signification in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” (Part 1)

When King Leontes accuses his pregnant wife of adultery, the nobleman Antigonus assumes that Leontes has been “abused and by some putter-on”—in other words, some Iago-like villain has been putting malevolent ideas into his head. In fact, Leontes is the father of his own misconceptions, just as he is the father of his wife’s children. But unlike his children, his ideas might be  Continue Reading …

(sub)TEXT: The Tyranny of the Good in Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters”

Hannah supports her sisters. She’s a source of money, encouragement, and advice, and seems to ask for nothing in return. In fact, she’s so giving and self-reliant that her husband Eliott begins to believe that she has no needs. This seems to be the spark that ignites his infatuation with Hannah’s sister Lee. It also leads her sister Holly to rebel against what might be called  Continue Reading …

(SUB)TEXT: Terminal Wooings in “The Odyssey” (Part 3 of 3)

Wes & Erin discuss the final 12 books of “The Odyssey.” Thanks to our sponsors for this episode St. John’s College, and Füm. Learn more about undergraduate–and graduate–Great Books programs at St. John’s in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Annapolis, Maryland at sjc.edu/subtext. Head to TryFum.com and use code SUBTEXT to save 10 percent off when you get the  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Foolish Adventures in “The Odyssey” (Part 2 of 3)

Wes & Erin continue their discussion of the Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson. In this episode, part 2 of our 3-part series, they look closely at the heart of the poem, books 5-12, in which Odysseus arrives in Phaeacia and provides the tale-within-the-tale of his adventures after the Trojan War. They discuss the significance of Odysseus’s fantastical encounters and asking  Continue Reading …

(SUB)TEXT: Foolish Adventures in “The Odyssey” (Part Two of Three)

Wes & Erin continue their discussion of the Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson. In this episode, part 2 of our 3-part series, they look closely at the heart of the poem, books 5-12, in which Odysseus arrives in Phaeacia and provides the tale-within-the-tale of his adventures after the Trojan War. They discuss the significance of Odysseus’s fantastical encounters and asking  Continue Reading …

(SUB)TEXT: Home as Identity in “The Odyssey” (Part One of Three)

He was famously a man of many ways, whether we interpret these as abilities or norms; designs or deceptions; reasons or identities. Yet despite such resources, he was also famously stuck, making a 10-year odyssey of his attempt to return home from a 10-year war. What keeps the man of master plans from homecoming and domestic bliss? In the first of a three part discussion of  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Competing Affections in “The Lion in Winter”

Before Henry VIII changed history for lack of a son, Henry II had too many. His eldest, Richard, a fierce soldier who controls the wealthy Aquitaine, is the favorite of his mother, Eleanor. The youngest, John, is immature and dull, but his father’s favorite. And the middle son, scheming Geoffrey, is, quite dangerously, no one’s favorite. In the end, there are no winners;  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Friendship and Honor in “Becket” (1964)

In Jean Anouilh’s 1959 play “Becket,” the titular character seems at first to be a Saxon collaborationist to the Norman rule of England, and a man who has sacrificed his personal honor to his friendship with King Henry II and, as he puts it, “good living.” This will change when he becomes Archbishop of Canterbury, only to realize that he is enchanted by the “honor of God,”  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Losing Your Head in Alice Munro’s “Carried Away”

Jack, a Canadian soldier recuperating in a European hospital during World War I, begins a correspondence with Louisa, the librarian in his hometown whom he has only seen and loved from afar. Their letters turn romantic. But when the war ends and he returns home, Jack never shows his face to Louisa and marries another woman, leaving Louisa to wonder if she’s been the victim of  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Time and Taboo in “Back to the Future” (1985)

In the parking lot of the Twin Pines Mall, Doc Brown plans to use his Delorean time machine to head 25 years into the future and see, as he puts it, “the progress of mankind.” But like the license plate on the Delorean, Doc is out of time. Through his absent-mindedness—and angering some terrorists—Doc has failed to provide a future into which he or his friend Marty McFly can  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: The Violence of Redemption in John Donne’s “Batter My Heart” (Holy Sonnet 14)

In “Holy Sonnet 14,” John Donne would like his “three person’d God” to break instead of knock, blow instead of breathe, and burn instead of shine. This vision of redemption is about remaking rather than reform. And it seems to be motivated by a sense that neither reason nor the typical rhetoric of faith are not enough to bridge the mortal and the divine—what’s needed is God’s  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Mortal Pretensions in John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” (Holy Sonnet 10)

A recusant Catholic turned Protestant, a rake turned priest, a scholar, lawyer, politician, soldier, secretary, sermonizer, and of course, a poet— John Donne’s biography contains so many scuttled identities and discrete lives, perhaps its no wonder that his great subjects were mortality and death. His Holy Sonnets, likely composed between 1609 and 1610, and published  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Trauma and Repetition in Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” (1974)

Roman Polanksi’s 1974 film “Chinatown” seems to have little to do with its titular neighborhood, which is the setting for only one horrible and final scene. Chinatown functions instead to represent the traumatic moment that drives this story just because it is hidden from view—a place indecipherable even to the hard-boiled private investigator who has seen it all … the place he  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Better and Bested in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

It’s a play full of contradictions, secrets, lies, and unspoken rules. It’s a play decidedly for adults, but about a child—an imaginary one, no less. It takes place on a college campus, but it is absent of students. And it’s about “fun and games” and “playing pretend,” but its games are harsh and shocking, and playing pretend involves vengeance and even murder. Wes & Erin  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Pagan Poetics in “Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens was an ungainly insurance executive, but his poetry is serene and secularly reverential. In particular, his poem “Sunday Morning” seems to suggest that the rhythm of the natural world—if we give it enough rapt attention—is as good as any chant or prayer. But can a return to nature worship solve the problem of nihilism, once monotheism has been eclipsed by  Continue Reading …

(sub)Text: Production for Use in “His Girl Friday”

Before she settles down to life of homemaking, security, and insurance policies with Bruce Baldwin in Albany, star reporter Hildy Johnson has one more story to write for her ex-husband and ex-boss Walter Burns, editor of the Morning Post. Hildy must write up an interview with convicted killer Earl Williams that will grant him a last-minute reprieve on the basis of insanity. The  Continue Reading …