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Film / Julia

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"I think I have always known about my memory. I know when the truth is distorted by some drama or fantasy. But I trust absolutely what I remember about Julia."

Julia is a 1977 film directed by Fred Zinnemann and adapted from one chapter of playwright Lillian Hellman's 1973 memoir Pentimento.

Set in the 1930s, the film stars Jane Fonda as Lillian Hellman and Vanessa Redgrave as the enigmatic title character. An old childhood friend of Lillian, Julia has grown up to become a part of the "Popular Front" against fascism in Europe. The centerpiece of the film occurs when Lillian, following instructions sent by Julia, goes on a mission to deliver aid to the anti-fascist resistance in Nazi Germany — not a small deal considering Lillian is Jewish!

The accuracy of Pentimento is questionable to say the least, but the film version was a success; it received eleven Academy Award nominations, winning three of them. Also appearing in the cast are Jason Robards (as Lillian Hellman's mentor/lover Dashiell Hammett), Rosemary Murphy (as Dorothy Parker), Maximilian Schell, Hal Holbrook, John Glover, and some unknown named Meryl Streep making her big-screen debut in a minor role — whatever became of her, anyway?


Tropes associated with this film include:

  • Based on a Great Big Lie: As noted above, the film is based on a memoir of dubious accuracy. There is no evidence that Julia ever existed or that Hellman's secret mission in Germany ever happened. However, Muriel Gardiner certainly existed and her life story bears a striking resemblance to that of Julia. Hellman never met Gardiner, though she could have heard about her as they shared a lawyer for many years. This would seem to suggest that Hellman fictionalized someone else's life without permission and then inserted herself into the story for good measure. For the rest of her life, Lillian Hellman would maintain that the story was true and that Muriel Gardiner was not the inspiration for Julia.
  • Flashback: A number of these are used to illustrate Lillian and Julia's long friendship. Julia doesn't actually make a lot of appearances in the main storyline, so the audience gets to know her mainly through these flashbacks. Since the whole film is a flashback, this is also technically a case of Flashback Within a Flashback.
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  • The Great Depression: The movie is set in the 1930s, but the Depression doesn't really come up as the focus is on the rise of fascism in Europe. The numerous flashbacks featuring Lillian and Julia probably take place sometime around the late 1910s and early 1920s.
  • La Résistance: Julia is a leader in it. Lillian delivers some money to help it out.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Justified, since the movie was taken from Lillian Hellman's memoirs.
  • No Name Given: Julia's last name is never mentioned, either in the movie or in Hellman's memoir. Hellman claimed that she could not disclose Julia's identity because Julia's mother was still alive and likely to be litigious.
  • Hero's Muse: Julia essentially fulfills this trope, although she and Lillian are both female and presumably hetrosexual.
  • Real Person Cameo: The movie is narrated by Lillian, with us seeing her in the "present" as a silhouetted figure in a fishing boat. Although Jane Fonda is doing the voice-over, the person in the fishing boat is actually the real Lillian Hellman.
  • Rich Kid Turned Social Activist: Julia comes a wealthy family, but hates living with them due to her belief in social justice. Later, she drops out of university, forgoing a medical career, in order to join the anti-fascist movement.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Julia as a girl. She grows up to become an anti-fascist activist.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Lillian Hellman was a chain smoker in real life and the movie faithfully includes this detail. Since she's obviously a good character and the smoking is never condemned, it's fair to say this trope is in effect.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The bad guys, of course. Most of the Nazis we meet are just Punch Clock Villains, though. An exception to that are the Gestapo agents who murder Julia at the end.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Susan Jones and Lisa Pelikan play younger versions of Lillian and Julia respectively.
  • Writer's Block Montage: Lillian goes through one while struggling to write The Children's Hour.


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