The first day I stepped on the University of Oregon campus, I remember falling in love with the lush green trees and the brick-red buildings. I remember feeling an immediate and overwhelming sense of belonging.
I also remember my dad, who had accompanied me that day, repeatedly stopping during our campus tour to show me the places where a movie called “Animal House” was filmed.
“Maggie, look! That was a building where they put a horse in the dean’s office. Let me get your picture in front of it.”
To my dad, the movie brings him back to his early 20s, back to nights where he stayed up late to watch John Belushi on "Saturday Night Live."
To me, it was always just another movie that I was told I should, or shouldn’t, watch. John Belushi this, toga party that.
I’ll admit that over the course of my first three years at the UO, I never got around to watching the movie. So, in preparation for the movie’s 40th anniversary, and soon beginning my senior year at the UO, I decided that now was as good a time as ever to see what this movie was all about.
I was born almost 20 years after the film’s release in 1978. So it didn’t come as a surprise that some scenes felt a little outdated, while others felt refreshing. Yet, after all the hype I got from friends and coworkers praising the movie, I was honestly left a little underwhelmed by the time the final credits rolled.
Like most people who live in Eugene, I thought it was intriguing to see the different landscapes of the UO campus back in the '70s.
“Oh wow, that’s the EMU fishbowl? ... Haha, Johnson Hall looks the same … Wait, isn’t that Gerlinger?”
Starting college in the fall of 2015, I have only ever known the more-modern buildings like the Matthew Knight Arena and the more recent remodels of the Erb Memorial Union and the Recreation Center. This made seeing former versions of these iconic campus locations incredibly eye-opening and fascinating.
Where Starbucks and Chipotle now stand in the EMU, a cafeteria buffet line once was. The sitting booths where a handful of characters watch Bluto’s zit impression are booths I’ve sat in many times to study, eat and laugh with friends. Seeing the glimpses of Hayward’s West Grandstand tugged on my heartstrings, as its current form of a pile of razed dirt stains my more recent memories.
Bits and pieces of the movie's more-than-exaggerated fraternity life felt congruent to my college experience. While a part of me wishes there were more elaborate pranks on campus, there were a few behaviors from the men of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity that sat a little uncomfortable with me.
The only scene where I actually cringed was during the Delta toga party when Pinto has an internal debate with himself on whether or not to have sex with his topless and unconscious date. I understand this movie is nowhere near to be taken seriously and that it was filmed during a completely different time. However, rape in college is unfortunately something very real, and something just as common. I know too many women who have been victims to scenarios like the one portrayed to find the scene any bit humorous. I honestly think that if Pinto had listened to the devil on his shoulder, I most likely would have turned off the movie.
The movie did get right the rambunctious, laid-back and beer-filled frat-party environment.
When Larry Kroger and Kent Dorfman walk into the Delta house party, people are running around, playing card games, drinking, smoking and all around just having fun. From my experience of going to frat parties (yes Mom, I avoided the punch bowls), they’re very similar to such Delta parties, where people dance, drink and just let loose.
A reason why I didn’t find too many scenes in “Animal House” uncomfortable or, on the other hand, extremely funny, might be because I wasn't new to the rowdy, and sometimes explicit, humor of National Lampoon. (My family had a tradition of watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” every Thanksgiving with friends.)
Don’t get me wrong, I still almost spat out popcorn during Bluto’s zit impression or when the janitor brought in a chainsaw to remove the dead horse from the dean’s office.
And so, come fall when the school year starts and "Shout" not only fills UO sporting arenas but also gets stuck in thousands of heads, I know I will have more appreciation for these iconic references.
“Animal House” may not be a movie I would suggest for a movie night, nor would it be anywhere near my list of top 20 favorite movies.
Yet, even though I don’t consider myself a part of its cult-like following, after finally watching the movie, that feeling of belonging I once felt walking the UO campus for the first time comes back.
But now, it’s a sense of belonging to Eugene, its history and its people.
Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter @maggie_vanoni. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org