9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever

This movie's core plot is an expert student teaching a freshman how to survive, and its lessons are still good.
9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever

A new school year begins with swarms of students descending on an academic land of milk and honey. And like any swarm diving into a region made entirely of viscous fluids, most will end up lying together in sticky piles instead of realizing their full potential. University dumps first-year students into a deep end made entirely of adrenaline, booze, and all the other fun-causing liquids that can go into or come out of a human body.

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
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We recommend both beer goggles and regular goggles.

High school trained you only to sit still, go where you're told, and sleep with your eyes open. That's training for prison. College students are newly gifted with freedom, legal authority, and access to random strangers. That's the exact opposite. College movies are an even worse education. They're the pornographic fantasies of middle-aged scriptwriters, the misadventures of students so stupid, they disprove the basic theory of education, or both. The only exception is Animal House, but that's a party movie, not a college movie. It's worse educational advice than "receive a high-heel trepanation from Jenny McCarthy."

There is one educational movie for new students, and I watched it annually for over a decade. Because I was in university for over a decade. It's called Real Genius, its core plot is an expert student teaching a freshman how to survive, and its lessons are still good.

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Including final proof of the "CRAZY HAIR = SCIENCE" hypothesis.

University Is a Social Accelerator

Many new students are scared about losing all their old friends, but your hometown group was defined entirely by whose parents decided to have unprotected sex at the same time as yours. Something you never, ever want to think about is not the best foundation for friendship. That's a basis for escape committees, an unspoken bond between people who just have to survive the current situation until they get the hell out of there.

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
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"So we dig a tunnel to Australia, where I'm fairly sure parents are too busy fighting spiders to screw."

The movie's main character, Mitch Taylor, escapes his backward hometown to go to Pacific Tech, which pre-empts the Internet by two decades by creating a world where everyone is a nerd. The good guys, the love interest, even the jock-style bully with the car and the posse is an advanced ultra-geek, whose evil schemes involve hacking the phone system and a secret phase-conjugate tracking system. It was so awesomely nerdy that it was the first movie to be promoted online with a computerized press conference.

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
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Now every movie has an online discussion, usually about how much Daredevil would suck as Batman.

It was and is brilliantly suitable because university is a real-life Internet: loads of new people, many with similar interests to yours, organized into groups so that it's easy to find them, and absolutely full of sex. Choosing a course automatically surrounds you with people with similar interests and cuts them off from their old networks at the same time. It will never be easier to meet new people.

You'll learn a lot wherever you go after leaving home, but going to university is like transplanting a shrub from a tiny pot to a jungle made entirely of sunlight and fertilizer. And not just because some of the dorms will smell like that.

Think About What You're Doing

The students break their backs to complete the project, which they find is a secret military plot to vaporize world leaders with a beam of spacedeath.

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
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Your deadlines won't be quite so literal.

Your courses won't solve problems quite so quickly, but the same lesson applies: You need to think about what you're doing. You'd hope that people in learning institutions wouldn't have to be told that. But after a couple of years, you'll learn that academic facilities are called "institutions" for a reason.

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
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"I can't live in the outside world because of how my brain works!"

You're not a schoolkid, and "because a grown-up said so" is no longer a good enough reason to automatically do something. Likewise, it's no longer the grown-ups' job to wipe your ass for you. You and you alone are responsible for your progress. This means finding out what you need to do, deciding how much you need to do it, and then getting it done.

For the rest of your life, you're going to have people making demands of you: employers, the government, family, friends, everyone. And just like the evil Professor Hathaway, they're going to bust into the pool party where you're experimenting with a willing lady and rebreathing apparatus to guilt you into working instead. (This might be an analogy in your life, unless you're living as brilliantly as the characters in the movie.) University lets you practice prioritization with an array of tasks that are all fun, worthwhile, and things you care about. The rest of life won't be like that!

Don't Spend All Your Time on Computers

Advising people not to sit in front of computers all day? As an Internet writer, that should make me a hypocrite, unemployed, and -- if applied to its logical conclusion -- someone who sits bored and wondering why no one updates their sites anymore.

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
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Except Felix Clay, but he needs to stop and remember how to work the butt-tons every five minutes anyway.

Real Genius features the finest computer nerd stereotype in '80s movie history: Lazlo Hollyfeld. This is a movie with so many super-nerds that the Asian kid isn't the smartest one, or even the most beglassesed, and this computer geek is still the nerdiest and most believable. He lives in the steam tunnels under the university he never left, spends all his time online, and is based on a true story.

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TriStar Pictures

It doesn't matter if you're studying aromatherapy, every college has at least one guy like this.

Back then, being online meant dial-up and terminal fonts, and it was still possible to get addicted. Modern computers are so accessible, we have people complaining about their grandparents sharing too many kitten pictures.

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
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She just asked him to search for some "nice pussies."

This will never be more important: The Internet will still be there when you're not surrounded by other people equally eager to make new friends and try new things with them. The most important lesson I learned in college was saying I was too tired to go out, going home, loading up Civilization instead of sleeping, then realizing what the hell I was doing. No one has destroyed a computer program and run to his human friends so fast outside of the Terminator franchise.

Enjoy Your Youth

I'm not going to mock Val Kilmer's current physical condition. In part out of respect, in part out of a desire for original jokes, and in increasingly large part because a non-zero number of pies seem to have recently stowed away aboard the good ship Luke McKinney.

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever

A little lower in the water than previously, but the sex drive is still at full power.

I will say that back in 1985 Val was a Model Gorgeous Sex Machine.

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
TriStar Pictures

This was or now is at least three fetishes.

University is the tail end of your metabolic free lunch, as in you're free from the effects of lunch shifting your center of gravity without working at it. The word "sag" simply hasn't happened to you yet, and you need to appreciate that fact as firmly as you can.

Carry Protection

If you're going to university, carry protection. Any reasons you think you might have for not doing so are wrong. The only college where people aren't getting laid is one where they study the effects of being cryogenically frozen for four years.

Even the nerdiest kids can get their shit together, relax, and unexpectedly find themselves getting lucky beyond their wildest dreams. That's both the plot of the movie and my life experience. In the movie, Mitch meets Jordan, an insomniac hyperkinetic love interest, two adjectives that really add a lot to that job description. She was so nerdily perfect that she was apparently the inspiration for Gadget Hackwrench. Which still doesn't justify why so many Internet users have such terrible feelings for the character, but does at least partly explain them.

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This makes Pandora's box look like a packet of Smarties.

At university, I also met my most perfect sexual fantasy: a girl who wanted to. With me!

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
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More "WOOHOO!" than the World Orgasm Organization's Highfiving Overjoy Occasion.

Get Involved

This isn't just the movie's lesson of taking part in life or taking responsibility for your own work, it's my experience with free happiness. Get involved in clubs and societies, because you would be amazed at how many of them will give you hundreds of dollars to fill a pub with pizzas and beer so that people can watch Real Genius if you offer to organize the event. Watching this movie was my annual contribution to the physics syllabus.

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
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Mainly fluid mechanics.

Make sure to invite the club treasurer. It's much easier to get a budget extension when their pint glass is empty.

Every Problem Can Be Solved With Sufficient Application of Laser

The evil government is trying to resolve foreign problems with flying death laser, and the students strike back with even more flying death laser that's also on fire. In the end, it's a classic teenage tale, with Chris learning how to take responsibility. Take responsibility for his FLYING DEATH LASER. I cannot overstress how much more attention you pay to simple morality lessons when they're about coherent light setting things on fire.

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
TriStar Pictures

"... and then that punk-ass stepmother ate five megawatts of light amplified by the stimulated emission of radiation."

Life Is as Important as Work

The whole point of university is to avoid wearing a suit as long as possible. First by avoiding getting a job for four years, then (hopefully) by becoming good enough at something that you're hired for your skills instead of your uniform compliance. The movie masterfully shows suits as Faraday cages for the soul, portraying suit wearers as sinister men who'll kill an old friend the instant he steps out of line and watch films on blinding techniques before breaking for lunch. They subtly establish this in the first scene, where sinister suit men kill an old friend the instant he steps out of line and say "Let's watch that film on blinding techniques and then break for lunch."

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
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"I'm Suity McOldman, welcome to Evil Lifedraining Incorporated."

Mitch undergoes the same process. He arrives at college fully besuited and has about as much fun as a fully armored knight in a pool party. As the film wears on, his clothing relaxes until he's a fully adjusted human being, and also having much more fun in a pool party.

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
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College movies don't bother with subtlety. Which is also good advice for college.

The most important line in the film explains the error of "All science, no philosophy." You need to do the work, but you need to have reasons for it.

Work Is as Important as Life

This is the bit the other movies screw up. Most college movie "solutions" would saddle the students with more debt and criminal records than breaking into a bank to set fire to the cash.

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"Wacky hijinks" is not a sound legal defense.

In those movies, a montage is more magical effort-skipping than a genie. In Real Genius, the first montage is super-genius Mitch embracing university and immediately being buried under a workload he's never experienced before in his life. That is totally going to happen! Remember when high school made elementary look easy? Now the first year of university will make high school look easy, and that process has not even nearly finished -- that workload will escalate every year until you find a job, and then you'll find out what work really is. University is about becoming a useful person. The earlier you get ahead of that curve, the more you'll enjoy the rest of your life.

The scientific movie thus completes the key equation: if life >= work and work >= life, then work = life. Which is true. Work is a giant part of your life. You'll spend at least a third of your grown existence doing something on a daily eight-hour schedule that makes regular brainwashing look like a light suggestive rinse. If you treat work as something you have to get over with as quickly as possible without doing anything, that's an attitude that will spill over into your entire life.

This isn't saying everyone should love their job no matter what. Lots of jobs suck. That's why you're going to university in the first place. The university's function is to find your function, to help you find something better, and then help you do it better. If your degree won't start helping you the instant you leave, then you need to sit down and think very, very carefully about why you're doing it.

But take a couple hours to watch teenagers blow up a house with popcorn first!

9 Lessons From the Greatest College Movie Ever
TriStar Pictures

There's probably a good analogy here, but I'm going with "popcorn is great" and another "WOOHOO!"

Luke also looks at science fiction escaped into reality with The Incredible Z Machine, tumbles, and responds to every tweet.

Avoid your classes for longer with 7 Tips for Not Screwing Up College, The 7 Dumbest Things Students Do When Studying for Exams, and (for the lifers) 6 Important Things Nobody Tells You About Grad School.

Enjoy more fun things by finding out what would happen If Every Game Was Like Saint's Row, or read the opposite in The Worst Video Game Reviews Ever.


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