What You Need To Know:
LIBERAL ARTS is an intelligent, fairly entertaining movie. It stresses the value of high art and decries the garbage that passes for popular culture these days. More importantly, it shows the bad consequences of promiscuous sex. However, while LIBERAL ARTS has some moral elements, it also has Romantic ones. It pulls back from making specific points about God or religion. This creates a mixed worldview. There are some sexual references, but few obscenities and profanities. Caution is advised for LIBERAL ARTS.
(Pa, RoRo, B, L, S, AA, DD, M) Mixed pagan worldview with strong Romantic elements mixed with light moral elements, including a reference to Ecclesiastes 1:18 opens the movie and a reference to getting in touch with the divine through classical music, but the divine is explicitly not defined and left up to the viewer to define it; two obscenities and two strong profanities, plus two obscene gestures; 19-year-old girl offers to let 35-year-old man be her “first time,” but he turns her down, saying such a thing would have bad consequences and make it immoral, girl is upset about this so she goes to a party and gets drunk and starts heavily kissing another boy but nothing else is shown happening, implied fornication with sounds between man and older woman, passionate kissing; no nudity; alcohol use and drunkenness; male college student is seen smoking casually in a couple of scenes and in a hospital later talks about overdosing on prescription medications because of his depression; and, protagonist advises male college student who almost overdosed because of depression to throw away depressing modern “classics” that he’s reading and read works that are positive and uplifting.
LIBERAL ARTS is a different kind of romantic comedy. It’s a touching movie with a mixed worldview that puts a surprising emphasis on the value of high culture in a world filled with crassness.
The story follows a 35-year-old man named Jesse, played by Writer/Direct Josh Radnor. Jesse is drifting through life in New York City. He gets an invitation from his favorite college professor in Ohio to pay tribute to him at a retirement party. While visiting the college, he meets a luminous 19-year-old sophomore named Zibby. Zibby is filled with a joy for learning, particularly espousing a passion for classical music. After they bond through long conversations, Josh promises to write her handwritten letters from New York City while she sends him classical music mixtapes.
Soon, Jesse is walking through the city transformed by the music Zibby sent him, feeling a sense of “the Divine – however you choose to define it” – in everyone and everything around him. As they fall for each other, Zibby invites him to visit her. He wrestles with the propriety of their age difference, but winds up going to see her. Yet, when she makes it clear she’s in love and wants him to be her first sexual experience, he’s filled with moral objections and says that sex has consequences both emotional and otherwise. He tells her he has to follow his morality, which is thinking of the consequences before acting on their desires.
Zibby’s heartbroken by this decision and orders him to leave. He winds up being seduced in a bar by an older female professor to whom he used to be attracted. After this one-night stand, however, the woman callously throws him out of her house, making Jesse realize he broke his own rules.
Meanwhile, Jesse befriends a troubled male student given to reading a depressing author that Jesse also liked while in college. When the young student attempts to overdose on his prescription medication, Jesse overcomes his aversion to flying and flies out to visit him in the hospital. He advises the young student to throw away depressing books and read books that will uplift and inspire him in life.
[SPOILERS FOLLOW] Ultimately, Jesse meets a bookstore owner who’s “age appropriate” and falls in true love with her. He writes Zibby once again, sending her good books to read, and convinces her he has her best interests at heart. She is seen smiling at this letter. In the end, he’s holding his new girlfriend as they talk about growing old together, implying he’s found lifelong love after all.
LIBERAL ARTS is an intelligent, fairly entertaining movie. It stresses the value of high art and culture with regards to the human spirit, decries the garbage that passes for popular art these days, and, more importantly and impressively, shows the emotional consequences and bad impact of promiscuous sex. Writer-director Josh Radnor, a star on the popular CBS sitcom HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER does a great job with his well-drawn characters, terrific performances, and the balance between the comical and dramatic moments in life. While the movie never explicitly draws God or Jesus into the decisions, the movie quotes and is built around the theme of Ecclesiastes 1:18: “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” At one point, the protagonist (played by the director) says that art, especially music, can give people “a sense of the divine,” but he leaves it up to individual people to define that word.
Thus, while LIBERAL ARTS has some moral elements, it also has some Romantic ones and it pulls back from making any specific points about God or religion. This creates a mixed worldview. There are some sexual references in the movie, but few obscenities and profanities. Caution is advised.