Popcorn and Pretty Architects

Typically movie writers use “architect” as code for intelligent-and-creative-but-still-well-off-enough-to-live-a-life-appropriate-to-the-product-placement-standards-of-the-advertisers or, more rarely, megalomaniac (think Howard Roark).

I’ll now test this theory (in a totally un-scientific manner) by listing off a bunch of movies with architects (off the top of my head) and seeing if it holds.  Here were the first few to pop into my mind.  I did a bit of internet browsing and found that many other people have made lists of architect-y movies before me.  I’ve included links below.

Inception (2010)

Architects played by: Ellen Page, Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine and Lucas Haas

This movie is ALL ABOUT architecture in the most theoretical and intellectual sense; both the architecture the mind can create and  the architecture.  And better yet, when they say “architect” in this movie they mean “future criminal mastermind.”  Incidentally, it took me about 20 minutes into this movie to realize that when they said they needed an “architect” they also meant a person who was trained to design buildings in architecture school rather than some sci fi equivalent.  But its pretty clear by the time Leonardo DiCaprio’s character approaches his father-in-law in a classroom in Paris looking for another architect, that we’re talking bricks and mortar.

(I always get distracted from the scene in this screen shot because I’m trying to check out Ellen Page’s models and drawings in the background.)

Quote: You create the world of the dream. We bring the subject into that dream and fill it with their subconscious.”
How could I ever acquire enough detail to make them think that it’s reality?”

500 Days of Summer (2009)

Architect played by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

This one is a love story about architecture.  I also love that its also accurate in its portrayal of the difficulty of making it through the whole become-an-architect process.  At the start of the movie (is there such a thing actually) Gordon-Levitt is working not as an architect but as a greeting card designer … and not enjoying it much.  By the end of it he finally gets his life on track by interviewing for architecture jobs again.  For him, the size of the role architecture plays in his life correlates to his emotional success.

Quote: “This is not a love story.  This is a story about love.”

It could just as easily be said that it is a story about love of architecture based on the ending.

The Lake House (2006)

“Architect” played by: Keanu Reeves

This movie casts a building in a lead role – although I think Keanu’s character might be just a contractor while his dad was the architect who designed the eponymous Lake House … honestly I wasn’t paying that much attention to this movie. This movie in a nutshell: fun with time-traveling-mail and modernist architecture.

Moral: People who live in glass houses … are easy targets for wandering film crews.

Its Complicated (2006)

Architect played by: Steve Martin

This is just one of those movies where a character is an architect because it means they can be both successful and artistic (read: sensitive) at the same time.  Although architecture is the source of our meet cute and provides a few reasons for them to get together and get to know each other, Steve Martin could just as well have been Meryl Streep’s dentist or dog walker.  I actually did like this movie though (was it entirely due to John Krasinski being adorable?) but I was consistently bugged by the unnecessary level of opulent lifestyle led by EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER.  Seriously.  If Streep had lived in a tiny bungalow I could have understood her desperate need to renovate but she already a ridiculously over sized kitchen.  Why was she adding to it?

Quote: “No his and hers sinks.”
“Don’t you think, in the future, there might be a his.”
“OK.  So now we’re talking in code about my life!”

Three Men and a Baby (1987)

Architect played by: Tom Selleck

In this the fact that Selleck is an architect is at least appropriate.  Selleck is a poster child for modernist order and detachment from the world until he gets landed with some real life in the form of a baby (for which his modern steel and glass house is completely un-suited). Hi-jinks ensue.

Quote: “I’m an architect, for Christ’s sake: I build 50-story skyscrapers, I assemble cities of the future. I can certainly put together a goddamn diaper!”

The Towering Inferno (1974)

Architect played by: Paul Newman

This one is totally about the architect as an architect … and as a hero – he’s being played by Paul Newman isn’t he?  The world’s newest, tallest building catches fire.  Drama! Newman and fire chief, Steve McQueen, go floor to floor to clear the building in heroic architect fashion.

Quote: McQueen: [sighs] “Architects.”
Newman: “Yeah, it’s all our fault.”

The list goes on and on but I won’t.

Most of the time movies just include an architect like they would include a blonde – for color basically. As Robert Osborne, of Turner Classic Movies,puts it at sfgate.com,

‘Dating back to the silents, when screenwriters seek a profession to connote an artistic bent and a degree of elan, they often as not turn to architecture. Unlike a painter or poet — to which the adjective “starving” is, for good reason, attached — architects are assumed to have an earning capacity that would allow them to live large on the screen.’

“With architects, you have an image of someone above reproach and not damaged, the way lawyers and judges and even doctors have been.”

There are SO MANY that I won’t bother to compile a full listing here but there are many other websites which have addressed the task.  The most complete list I’ve found is at architechnophilia.com.  Here are some other more selective approaches as well:

from buildingdiy.com

from archdaily.com

from the Wonder Sphere

from mckayarchitecture.com

this one from outsideleft.com breaks each role down by firmness commodity and delight in a truly “delightful” way.  For example:

“1. The TOWERING INFERNO (1974)
Commodity: Paul Newman as Doug Roberts. Could there be a cooler architect?
Firmness: Steve McQueen rejecting the Roberts role to play Fire Chief O’Hallorhan (and insisting that he has the exact same number of lines as Newman).
Delight: Too many to list. But how about the following laconic exchange between two great cinematic icons:
McQueen: “Architects.”
Newman: “Yeah, it’s all our fault.”

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2 responses to “Popcorn and Pretty Architects

    • I haven’t actually seen that one but it certainly sounds appropriate based on the title. (Does Kevin Kline play the architect or the house?)

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