WHAT THEY LEARNED: Catherine Casem ’15

Catherine Casem is looking towards a career in film production, but for her senior thesis the comparative literature major approached movies from a different angle, comparing the Paul Thomas Anderson film Magnolia with Marcel Proust’s seven-volume In Search of Lost Time.

Catherine Casem is looking towards a career in film production. But for her senior thesis the comparative literature major approached movies from a different angle.

With help from her advisor, Barbara Riley Levin Professor in Comparative Literature Israel Burshatin, the French and English scholar wrote a comparison of the Paul Thomas Anderson film Magnolia and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, titled “There Are Frogs Falling From the Sky: Divining The Essence Of Lived Experience Through Creative Acts In Proust and Magnolia.

“I thought it was pretty funny to write about the two in relation to each other because Proust hated cinema,” says Casem, who is currently in Los Angeles interning for a film distribution company.


What inspired your thesis? 

My work was inspired by my strong personal connection to the seven-volume work In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust and Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia. The reason I wanted to pair them is because they are, in many ways, fundamentally different stories: one has a sole protagonist, and the other has multiple intersecting narratives with multiple protagonists; one is very introspective, and the other is focused on interpersonal relationships; Proust was staunchly anti-cinema, while Magnolia is obviously cinematic.  Because I love both, I was interested to see the commonalities between the texts, especially because their differences are so obvious.

What did you learn from working on your thesis?

I learned more cinematic spectatorship theory than I ever needed to know. I also learned how to write a thesis, which is hilarious to me because I’ll never have to do that again. It was a very personally important project to me, and it was also a very affirming process in terms of how it was received by my advisors. It was really fun for me, in my senior thesis seminar, to hear everyone’s topics and to watch them present on their projects because it became very clear very quickly that everyone’s thesis reflected their personalities. In that sense, I think that the thesis-writing process is deeply personal and deeply personally rewarding for everyone that engages with it.


Photo: New Line Cinema 

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.