Notebooks in movies
Tracing my habit back to movies like Indiana Jones and Se7en
As I mentioned last week, I just don’t feel like this year has begun yet. Maybe the new moon this weekend will get things moving, but for now, I’ve decided to lean into the inertia and enjoy my own retrograde.
This week I was thinking about the origins of my notebook habit. It may sound funny, but I think you could trace it back to watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). The whole plot of that movie is built around a notebook MacGuffin — Henry Jones, Sr.’s diary containing his lifetime of research on the Holy Grail. The book is so valuable that the Nazis will do anything to get ahold of it. Hijinks ensue.
The Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade video game actually contained a replica of the grail diary that served as a form of copy protection — you had to look things up in the booklet to prove you owned the game before you could play it. I loved this little booklet and still have it somewhere in a drawer at my mom’s house. (You can download a PDF of it here. There’s a whole section of the internet dedicated to making grail diary replicas.)
My next significant cinematic encounter with notebooks was in Se7en (1995), David Fincher’s dark noirish thriller about two detectives tracking down a serial killer. At a certain point in the movie they find the killer’s apartment and it contains two thousand composition notebooks, filled with the killer’s scrawlings and clippings. “His mind poured out on paper.”
At some point I got the 2-disc DVD box set (the gatefold was designed to actually look like a composition book) and one of the featurettes focused on the notebooks with commentary by the art director and designer, who was chosen for his calligraphic handwriting. (Beware if you watch — these contain disturbing images and subject matter!)
I’m not sure what it says about me, but I immediately decided to start my own composition book and filled it with song lyrics and clippings and all sorts of stuff. (This is also around the time we started keeping composition books in Mrs. Neff’s English class in seventh grade.)
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Last Crusade and Se7en were the only two movies with notebooks significant to me personally, but lots of movies around the late 1990s and 2000s had their share of plots with notebooks.
In American Pie (1999) one of the characters discovers “The Bible,” a notebook of sex tips compiled by students and hidden in the library. (I have not seen the sequels, but, spoiler alert: it turns out Eugene Levy’s character was the original author!)
In Mean Girls (2004) there’s the “Burn Book,” a scrapbook of rumors and cruelty about the students and faculty at the high school.
I asked Twitter for their favorite notebooks in film. One answer was the films of Christopher Nolan, which often feature various forms of handwriting. My favorite of these is The Prestige (2006) which features an encrypted diary.
Other notable notebooks and diaries in movies (some of these I haven’t seen): Taxi Driver (1976), Heathers (1988), Bottle Rocket (1996), Cruel Intentions (1999), and, of course, Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) and The Notebook (2004).
Okay, now I want to hear about your favorite notebooks in the movies — tell us in the comments! (I’ll also open up a chat thread in the app if y’all want to share screenshots. Some of you already shared some great stuff!)