Even a Brick Wants to Be Something

I caught Indecent Proposal (1993) the other night right at this masterful part. Though this film focuses on infidelity, honesty, and forgiveness Woody Harrelson’s turn as an architect is unforgettable because of this scene. Suddenly, the narrative shifts from a one-night stand to one of the best musings on creativity in any film I’ve seen.

Great architecture is only gonna come from your passion. And even that won’t assure you a job. Louis Kahn died in a men’s room in Penn Station and for days no one claimed the body. Look at that. Is that beautiful? The money men did not weep because the great ones are impossible to deal with. They’re a pain in the ass because they know that if they do their jobs properly, if they just this once get it right, they can actually lift the human spirit, take it to a higher place.

What is this? / A brick.
Good. What else?/ A weapon.

Louis Kahn said, “even a brick wants to be something.” A brick wants to be something. It aspires. Even a common, ordinary brick wants to be something more than it is. It wants to be something better than it is. That is what we must be.

Unfortunately, the You Tube clip cuts out the clincher: “See you on Friday.” Every graduate student dreams of the day they can utter such an inspirational lecture, leave their students on the edge of their seats, and tell them to wait for the next class for the rest. Within my discipline, the closest rah-rah moment comes in Mona Lisa Smile (2003) when Julia Roberts awkwardly wades through the waters of modern art.

Though the writers cram in all the key questions and issues within connoisseurship and taste, the lesson falls flat. Perhaps because nearly a century later modern art remains a hard sell.

But as Harrelson’s monologue demonstrates, any worthwhile lecture depends on a charismatic speaker. And no one is cooler than Mr. Racine (Roger Rees) from My So-Called Life (1994).

He is the substitute we all hope to encounter and the educator we all dream to become.

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