Ocean’s Eleven and The Heist

I just finished a summer session class on rhetoric and film.

I was quite intrigued with Jean-Louis Baudry’s paradox of forgetting in film. Basically, the real magic of movies is that the film’s production ultimately hides the fact that it is a movie at all. Sitting in a movie theater, presumably, is also meant to trick our minds into forgetting that what we are really doing is watching a bunch of images projected on a screen with sounds synced up.

Seemed like a perfect opportunity to write about Ocean’s Eleven.

I picked this movie for my final paper for two reasons:

1. Because I can.

2. The whole thing is an elaborate inside joke for the actors onscreen.

When the 1960 classic Rat Pack version was in production, the actors filmed on location in Las Vegas during the day so as not to interrupt their actual stage show at the Sands hotel. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop starred in little more than a vehicle for celebrating movie stars onscreen. Much like their stage show movie audiences were essentially paying for the privilege of watching the legendary Rat Pack have a party.

Forty-one years later the 2001 remake , starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt, attempts to capture much of the same essence. With a twist. While there is plenty of movie star sophistication reminiscent of a bygone era, the film carries out like a movie within a movie with the bulk of the plot devoted to the execution of the heist.

My Big Ol’ Thesis: The real heist of the film is not the one onscreen but in its own production. Audience enjoyment stems from witnessing that the movie, much like the characters within it, is getting away with something.

Here’s a few examples to show what I mean.

Check it out man. George Clooney and Brad Pitt are teaching young hollywood how to play poker onscreen. And then they hustle them. And then they walk out of the club barely noticed by the adoring fans outside. The genius of the scene is that it is almost unnoticeable.

And then every great movie wouldn’t be complete without an inspirational monologue.

Pitt asks if Clooney had been rehearsing his lines because the movie is about making a movie. I mean in order to pull off the heist in the film they have to build their own set in order to stage it. The casino can’t even be robbed unless they pretend it is. Theater!

Here’s another fun revelation: The heist successfully completed the cast joins up at the fountain in front of Las Vegas’s Bellagio hotel. One by one they go their separate ways, commemorating a job well done. It’s a visual unfolding of the credits within the film, listing off the names of those who made the “production” possible.

Ocean’s Eleven is, literally, an onscreen heist carried out by the actors.

At least that’s what I think is going on. In watching the film, viewers are secretly reminded of the film’s production. Audiences get to become part of an elaborate inside joke that the actors knew all along: the exhilaration of getting away with something while everyone watches.

You too can get advanced degrees for writing stuff like this.


About Joe Faina

Rhetoric & Media Professor, Writer, Humorist

Posted on 07/13/2010, in Academia and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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