Crappy but strangely interesting film about the secret society Skull & Bones.

The biggest flaw is not that it's not New Haven (although Toronto does a good job of looking New Haven-like), but that the film never quite knows whether it's supposed to be a "serious" thriller (that is, on the level of say, Tom Clancy) or a teen-frightener set in a fantasy university. Real Yale has a varied student body, who are sartorially half trying to be "real Ivy League" and half experimenting with hair dye and the more advanced forms of body piercing, a progressive political bent, gorgeous music (clubs of all kinds, aside from regular choruses, sing together at least once per meeting), awe-inspiring ceremonies, and residential "colleges" that resemble palaces on the outside, and monks' cells (complete with kicked-around Mission and International-style furniture) inside. The fictional "Y" University, on the other hand, is a college almost entirely inhabited by sosh Aryan Youth, who live in palatial dorm suites complete with priceless antiques, and totally diss anyone not of their blue-blood grandeur. At the real Mory's, the architecture and furnishings are Federalist, the membership is staid, and the food, the apotheosis of American blue-blood bland. In the film's version kids dance on tables after the Big Win, eat tofu pizza (say what?) and get to take the loving cup home to keep.

In real Yale, Skull and Bones, "Bones", or as it's more properly named, The Knights of Demosthenes, is a secret society (one of several -- Berzelius, Scroll and Key, Wolf's Head, Book and Snake, and one or two minor players) based in a stone tomb-like American Neoclassical building whose rites involve a mandatory two-day grilling about one's public life and private life, including sexual details. The twelve members are selected, as well as is humanly possible, to reflect in miniature the diversity of the senior class, and though it's been rumored that the society gives their kind a graduation present in the form of a lavish check, no such check has ever been awarded. (That some members have gone on to become powerful and famous, and some have either come from or achieved great wealth is indisputable.) "The Skulls" are about as secret as a society can be in a big, spooky Victorian house, with a large, illuminated skull on the rooftop and laser-cut skulls on everything and anything in sight. The Skulls also brand their members on the wrist (a brand-concealing watch is thoughtfully provided), and provide them with vintage cars, tailcoats, escorts, and various other perks. Ivy League living, according to the hero's mentor, the tony Caleb Mandrake (hm, not even a GOOD Lovecraftian pastiche...), is one of genteel violence, with war being the highest ideal (the word is thoughtfully written in large letters in the "Ritual Room", just in case we don't get the point) -- he, himself is a skilled boxer, and a favorite Thanksgiving ritual is going out in the morning to shoot the evening's dinner.

The feeling I get from all of this is a post-Vietnam Southern Californian progressive Jewish fantasy of what the Ivy League is like without having dealt that much with it. This is (at least) odd, since much has been made of the screenwriter's stint at Yale and his fascination with the Secret Societies. The real-life Yale audience I shared the theater with found the movie hilarious. Oh, the plot. Well, apparently, the hero, who has distinguished himself in crew, and is secretly an orphan whose closest "family" is a ring of 20nothing car thieves, who wear the kind of expensive punk finery Hollywood likes to put on the "poor" folks in cyberpunk stories. (We're supposed to think Good Will Hunting, here, I suppose.) His only real friend on campus is his cox, a gentle Black kid who wants to be a journalist, and the girlfriend, who's pretty nondescript, except that we're given that she's supposed to be a bit of a rebel, since she likes Jackson Pollock and hangs out with these guys. The Skulls want the hero, the cox wants to score a journalistic coup by describing the hush-hush Ritual Room, and of course, Caleb kills him, leading to one of the silliest lines I've ever heard in a movie, as he cell-phones his dad, "Hey, Dad, I think I just killed a guy in the Ritual Room.", to which all I can say is "Don't you just hate when that happens?" There is the predictable conflict between wanting- to- fit- in- and- doing- what's- right, the quaint notion that a gang of juvenile delinquents can bamboozle the CIA's top operatives (right...) and a few other B-movie flourishes and misconceptions (Caleb intimates that at the age of 18, he's used to wearing a tailcoat--in "proper" society, he would have worn one at most, once, since they're not properly worn by men under 21, except at coming out parties, and it's highly unlikely that even Caleb Mandrake would have attended more than one of these).

For all that the film is full of gorgeous moments...trying to get the serpent from the Book and Snake's rooftop, waking up in the coffin in a misty room full of similar gentlemen, all on their own little islands in a large pool, the Skull's party and duel...Watch the video with one finger on ff. Oh, yes, and the web site was broken to start with...

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