David Mamet’s audience-dividing Oleanna follows Carol (Julia Stiles), an academically struggling student, when she comes to her professor, John (Bill Pullman), in a desperate attempt to raise her grade. Carol doesn’t want to simply protect her GPA, but she wants to actually UNDERSTAND the material in order to understand life as a whole, John agrees to re-teach the entire semester to her during private one-one sessions, but,in the midst of doing so, he challenges all that Carol believes about life, authority and power. He refers to higher education as “prolonged hazing” and tells to Carol that all personal issues, financial struggles and sexual prejudices she has overcome to gain acceptance to the institution have been pointless.
John’s intentions are pure. He is working on receiving tenure at the institution and seems to see a bit of himself in Carol. Though they are of different ages, sexes and economic classes, they each have an idealistic sense of achievement they want to fulfill. John repeatedly has private sessions with Carol and says he wants to help her because he “likes” her. Carol then brings a suite against John for sexual harassment. She recalls everything that the audience has seen, but attaches malicious intentions to John’s words, causing the audience to rethink what actually happened.