Film & TV
The following are a few references to movie and TV shows that have been influenced by Joyce, or have at least been found guilty of name-dropping. (Note – films based on Joyce’s work or life are featured on the “Film” section of The Brazen Head.)


Allen, Woody
From the physical comedy of Bananas to the neurotic satire of Deconstructing Harry, Woody Allen has made a career of making poignant films that combine slapstick, wry intellectual humor, and painful insight into the daily perils of modern life. Though may of his films are touched by an almost Romantic nostalgia, more then a few are stylistically quite postmodern, serving up witty reflections about art, celebrity, memory, and filmmaking itself.
Though none of his movies show any serious Joycean influence, Woody Allen has name-dropped Mr. Joyce a few times, as he has with numerous other “high-brow” authors.

Manhattan (1979)
Chris Lockhart writes: “In Woody Allen’s Manhattan, there is a line similar to ‘I wouldn’t say your novel is too difficult, I’m just saying it makes Finnegans Wake look like an Airplane movie.’” [IMDB /]

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Woody Allen’s character jokingly confesses that he cribbed his love letters from James Joyce, which is “why there’s so much about Dublin in them.” [IMDB /]

Linklater, Richard
Richard Linklater is a promising young American with several wonderful and offbeat films to his credit. Two of these have clear Joycean influences; while the amazing Waking Life has an extended discussion of Philip K. Dick.

Slacker (1991)
A hilarious and extremely clever cult film, Slacker is a low budget masterpiece. Set at a Texas University, it has absolutely no plot. Essentially, a roving camera plays the part of an omniscient eye, following one person until he or she encounters another; the camera then tracks this other person as he or she moves on until it again breaks off and follows the events of a new individual or group of people. A whole web of interactions soon emerges, showing the inter-relatedness of everything, even seemingly random things. All types of people are captured: conspiracy nuts, arguing couples, party-goers, Brian Eno-freaks, criminals, saints . . . and a few who seem to be borderline insane. The camera eye also begins to undergo changes as well, the point of view occasionally leaping into other cameras....
As I was watching this film for the first time, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that it was highly reminiscent of the “Wandering Rocks” episode in Ulysses, where Joyce omnisciently tracks all his characters through Dublin. And then, lo and behold, in the middle of the movie my suspicions of Joyce influence were confirmed – one character reads aloud from Ulysses as he encourages his friend to toss the detritus of a broken relationship off a bridge. [IMDB /]

Before Sunrise (1995)
Another hint that Linklater is a Joyce fan was brought up by J. LeRoy Boison, who pointed out that Before Sunrise is a love story that takes place entirely on one day – June 16, known to Ulysses fans as “Bloomsday.” [IMDB /]

Miscellaneous References in Films

Fingers at the Window (1942)
Ray Davis of Bellona Times writes:

This busy little B is powered by ridiculous story and clever script (sole movie credit of Rose Caylor, Ben Hecht’s collaborator and wife), enthusiastic acting (notably Lew Ayres, about to be interned as a conscientious objector), and gorgeous urban cinematography. Holding special interest is a scene in which Ayres crashes a professional meeting of psychiatrists, quickly slips off his hat and slips on wire-framed glasses (the disguise, I fear, is thin), and introduces himself as “Dr. Stephen Dedalus of Ireland. And this is Mrs. Dedalus.” As far as I know, that throwaway is the first reference to James Joyce in a commercial film. It’s bound to be the first reference to James Joyce in a commercial film about axe murderers.


The Third Man (1949)
In this classic of film noir, a man from an audience asks Holly Martins, a writer of Westerns played by Joseph Cotten, what he thinks of James Joyce. Seeing as Graham Greene co-authored the screenplay, that may not be so surprising! [IMDB /

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Was Frank Sinatra a Joyce fan? As the camera moves across Major Bennet Marco’s apartment, the Modern Library edition of Ulysses is seen on his table amidst a sprawl of other books, including Kafka’s The Trail and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Major Marco later explains that he is a compulsive reader, and a San Francisco bookshop owner periodically mails him packages of random books – all of which he reads, from The Diseases of Horses to the “novels of Joyce Carey.” [IMDB /]

Promise Her Anything (1966)
A Warren Beatty film with a screenplay by novelist William Peter Blatty. From an anonymous post: “A man arrives at Warren Beatty’s flat, and during their conversation, he tells Beatty about a relative who had spent quite some money to make an adaptation of Finnegans Wake, without words. [IMDB/]

The Producers (1968; Musical 2001)
This classic satire, the directorial debut of Mel Brooks, involves a shifty auditor named “Leo Bloom,” played by Gene Wilder. According to “Mel Brooks and the Cinema of Exhaustion,” by Sanford Pinsker:

What Brooks had in mind was a portrait of the artist as part con-man, part artistic genius. Stephen Dedalus proudly boasts that he will “forge the uncreated conscience of his race on the smithy of his soul” while James Joyce relishes the pun. I belabor these Joycean connections because Brooks chose Leopold Bloom (the protagonist of Joyce’s Ulysses) as the name for his nervous accountant-hero. In Brooks’s words: “I don’t know what it meant to James Joyce, but to me Leo Bloom always meant a vulnerable Jew with curly hair. Enter Gene Wilder.”

In 2001, Mel Brooks turned The Producers into a celebrated Broadway musical, setting a record for number of Tony Awards and placing Leo Bloom once again into the spotlight. [IMDB /]

After Hours (1985)
According to one member of the FW-List, there are possible Wakean elements in Martin Scorsese’s bizarre comedy, After Hours:

The film is one of the more Wakean movies I’ve seen. The main character has a everyman sort of job in an office building (I wish I’d paid enough attention to note anything written on that building). On his way home he meets a girl in a cafe, I cannot remember the book she is reading – Tropic of Capricorn or something. Anyway, she gives him her number and they go to their respective homes. At his house, he is watching television or something similar when she calls and asks him to come over to her apartment, which is when the story really starts. The time on the clock: 11:32 pm. Anyway... a lot happens in one night! There are robberies going on that one person blames him for; then rumors spread all over town and eventually there is a mob coming for him. The movie ends back at his office building, the same place it began. I’m certain there is more in the movie that can be perceived as Wake-influenced, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen it.

[IMDB /]

Back to School (1986)
One of Rodney Dangerfield’s more successful comedies, the movie places him back in the college classroom, where one of his instructors (Sally Kellerman) reads the final lines of Molly’s soliloquy from Ulysses. The film also has a cameo by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who plays himself. [IMDB /]

Backfire! (1995)
An “Airplane!” style spoof of the movie Backdraft, the film involves such plot elements as a man struggling to be New York City’s first firewoman, immolating toilets, and The Most Evil Man in, presumedly, the world. You get the picture. Believe it or not, the film contains a surprisingly arcane Joyce reference. According to Kevin Messman:

Towards the end of the film the characters (firefighters) have to race off to some pier somewhere in the city. One character says “What is a pier” and the other pulls out a copy of Ulysses and reads, “‘A thing out in the water. A kind of bridge,’ or perhaps ‘a disappointed bridge.’” (Adapted from the “Nestor” episode.)


American Beauty (1999)
Winner of the 1999 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture, this tale of suburban anxiety was written by Alan Ball. While some critics have noticed similarities between the film and Joyce’s Ulysses – particularly with respect to the hero, Lester Burnham – Ball reported that it was an “unintentional” debt. Susan S. Brown has written a nice article on the similarities for nasty magazine. [IMDB /]

Finding Forrester (2000)
Gus Van Sant’s better-than-average movie about a reclusive writer and his young protégé opens with parallel establishing shots of each character’s book collection. While neither character has yet encountered the other, they have remarkably similar tastes, although the younger writer’s books are all modern paperbacks and used copies, as opposed to the Pulitzer winner’s collection of stately hardcovers and first-edition releases. Joyce features prominently in both collections: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake all appear. Indeed, critic Roger Ebert has this canny observation to make in his Chicago Sun-Times review:

The movie contains at least two insights into writing that are right on target. The first is William’s advice to Jamal that he give up waiting for inspiration and just start writing. My own way of phrasing this rule is: The Muse visits during composition, not before. The other accurate insight is a subtle one. An early shot pans across the books next to Jamal’s bed, and we see that his reading tastes are wide, good and various. All of the books are battered, except one, the paperback of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which looks brand new and has no creases on its spine. That’s the book everyone buys but nobody reads.

[IMDB /]

Enough (2002)
A Jennifer Lopez vehicle, Enough involves a mother who decides to take a violent stand against her aggressive ex. According to Daniel Wenzel of the F-Wake List:

The recent movie with Jennifer Lopez, Enough, has her telling a guy that is flirting with her that she is reading Finnegans Wake. Her friend told her it is the most difficult book in the English language, and she feels if she can get through that one, the rest should be no problem.

[IMDB /]

Past Perfect (2002)
From Joycean professor Michael Groden:

From the Joyce-in-popular-culture beat: A new Canadian film that is opening today called Past Perfect involves a man and woman who meet and, at first, dislike each other (original plot set-up there) when they are seated next to each other on a flight from Halifax to Vancouver. The man is a stuffy linguistics professor, and he is reading a book, which, when she asks what it is, he passes to her, and it is Finnegans Wake. Daniel MacIvor, the director/ writer/ actor, told a reporter that “I really enjoyed the idea of playing a man who’d consider Finnegans Wake airplane reading.”



Law and Order
There have been two Joyce references in this critically acclaimed series. “Kevin” of the FW-List writes:

On the Law and Order episode about the revival of capital punishment in NY, detective Curtiz has a brief affair with a college girl and notes among her books, Finnegans Wake and Moby-Dick. On another episode, Finnegans Wake shows up again on the crowded bookshelves of a rapist; it turns out the he’s retarded and trying to hide that by filling his room with “high-brow” books.

Fellow FW-Lister Jack Kolb corrects:

Actually, the line from Law and Order: “Special Victims Unit” was: “You tell me how many retarded guys read James Joyce.” It’s said off-camera and there is no indication of which Joyce work is indicated.

Mystery Science Theater 3000
D. K. Rathbun writes:

And on the sorely missed Comedy Central television show, Mystery Science Theater 3000, there was a film with a character named Ulysses. One of the show’s hecklers said “Ulysses, I can read you like a book,” and a second heckler piped up with “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan....” Needless to say, I was on the floor.

NBC “The More You Know” PSA
Tim Conley writes:

In its 1997-8 season the NBC television network’s public service announcement campaign entitled “The More You Know” sought to offer counsel on relevant issues to young adults. One of these spots offered advice to young men from sitcom actor David Schwimmer on the problem of date rape. Rather than employ criminal techniques, such as the infamous “date rape drug,” Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam), Schwimmer advises instead, of all things, talking about Finnegans Wake. It cannot be serious advice; and yet the message is obviously serious. Chatting about the Wake is being offered not as a genuine cruiser’s trump card, but as the craziest, furthest-flung yet still socially acceptable pretext for flirtation (could it be that the intoxicating Wake is a more amiable sort of drug?). Silly-sounding, perhaps – but if a television “hunk” suggests it, following here the advertising logic in full swing, it just might work....

Upright Citizen’s Brigade
William Sugrue writes:

The Upright Citizens Brigade, a sketch comedy that used to air on Comedy Central, quoted “The ineluctable modality of the visible” in a recent episode.

Isaac Baker writes:

On a past episode of the sketch comedy Upright Citizens Brigade one of the characters developed a “book gun” that fires books into the head in substitute of reading them, and sure enough, Ulysses was the ammo.

Green Bar

Go To:

Main Page – Back to the Joycean influence main page.

Joycean Fiction – Works of fiction directly inspired by Joyce or using Joyce as a character.

Joycean Authors – Authors and playwrights influenced by Joyce.

Nonfiction – Nonfiction making frequent references to Joyce.

Radio & Miscellaneous – Joycean allusions in radio, spoken word recordings, and other media.

–Allen B. Ruch
31 October 2003

Lash/Your itch and quailing, nude greed of the flesh – Send email to the Great Quail – comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!

Spiral-Bound – Click here for information about Spiral-Bound, The Modern Word’s monthly electronic newsletter. From this page you can read about Spiral-Bound, browse archived past editions, sign up for the Spiral-Bound e-group, and subscribe to the newsletter itself.