‘You can’t improve upon the classics, man’: Classical allusions in Tim Blake Nelson’s film Leaves of grass (2009)

S. Sharland


In Tim Blake Nelson’s film Leaves of grass (2009), Bill Kincaid
(Edward Norton), a successful professor of Classics at Brown
University is lured back to his native Oklahoma when he receives
word that his identical twin brother Brady (also Edward Norton) has
been murdered. Although he has deliberately distanced himself from
his ‘eccentric’ family for over a decade, Bill dutifully flies home,
only to find his ‘dead’ twin very much alive and planning to use Bill
as his alibi for a murder he and his sidekick Bolger (Tim Blake
Nelson) intend to commit. While Bill has been diligently crafting his
academic career, Brady has instead channelled his genius into
growing marijuana hydroponically — part of the reason for the
film’s title. Brady is in a double bind, having borrowed a substantial
sum of money from a Tulsa drug-lord called Pug Rothbaum (Richard
Dreyfuss), and being at the same time under considerable pressure to
quit the drug business, as his girlfriend is pregnant. This article
explores the numerous allusions to ancient Greek and Latin
literature, philosophy and culture that the film’s director Tim Blake
Nelson, who himself majored in Classics at Brown, has confessed to
putting into almost every scene. A major focus of this ‘tonally
varied’ film is its exploration of the interface between the two main
forms of drama derived from Ancient Greece — tragedy and

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7445/58-0-149


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