If you watch a classic film noir like Double Indemnity or Sunset Boulevard and then watch a modern horror movie like Jennifer’s Body, you might not expect to find a lot in common between the two.
Yet Emily El Younsi ‘20 and Molly Murphy ‘20 found themselves at the South Atlantic MLA Conference in Atlanta, Ga. this past November, presenting and discussing the similarities and differences between these two genres.
El Younsi and Murphy are both members of Le Moyne’s Integral Honors Program. As seniors, they are currently researching, writing and revising their Honors theses. The thesis project is intended to serve as a capstone for the program; students spend the final year and a half of their undergraduate careers completing in-depth work on their projects.
For her thesis, El Younsi wrote and directed a short film titled Borderlands. The project adapts the film noir genre in order to tell the story of a young woman’s struggle with mental illness. Murphy deals with a different kind of film for her project: horror. By examining the movies Jennifer’s Body (2009) and Teeth (2007), she tracks the films’ roots back to the Greek myth of Medusa and discusses the significance of this in relation to current social issues, such as the #MeToo movement.
When presenting in front of leading film scholars at the conference, El Younsi and Murphy found a great deal of overlap between their two projects. “There’s this importance of exploring marginal stories in non-traditional ways,” El Younsi says of both projects. “When we think of critical films, it’s not often that we think of Teeth or Jennifer’s Body, and it’s not very often that we think of film noir as a genre that can be used to tell intersectional stories about Dissociative Identity Disorder. So I think there’s this unconventionality that underlies both in an oddly similar way.”
The two Honors students presented on a panel chaired by Julie Grossman, Ph.D, director of film studies at Le Moyne. While they were initially daunted by the task, the young scholars found that their anxieties began to clear up once they started to present. Murphy says, “I personally couldn’t be happier with how my presentation went and how engaged people were. We had such great conversations.”
“To get input from a different community of scholars was really helpful,” El Younsi adds. “The questions at the end were so engaging, and they made me think about my project and her project.”
While El Younsi and Murphy are finishing their last undergraduate semester at Le Moyne, they know that the experience of presenting their own projects at an academic conference will serve them in the future. “Finding different modes of communication to reach an audience that might not know anything about film is a really helpful practice,” says El Younsi. “It pushed me to be able to have a better handle on doing that, and it was extremely helpful, professionally.”
As they continue to fine-tune their theses, both scholars acknowledge that the classes they’ve taken at Le Moyne helped spark the ideas behind their projects. “A really cool and beautiful thing about Le Moyne is the liberal arts, Jesuit tradition that has exposed us to all of these new, weird, interesting, creative ideas that we probably wouldn’t have been exposed to before,” says Murphy.