Imagine that you’re in bed one night, in the same bed you’ve been sleeping in for what feels like an eternity – your dorm bed, your bed at home – and it’s your pad of comfort. This is the spot your body and your mind know so well and you can drift into dream mode securely. But then, you wake up the next morning, and you’re not in the place you expected to be. Nothing around you is familiar. The people are different. The aura is different. How do you respond? How do you get out of this situation?
This is the spot that Elle Woods, the famed and seemingly blasé about life main character of Legally Blonde, found herself in after her boyfriend, Warner, broke up with her at the moment she expected him to get down on one knee. At that split second, her vision of her future was wiped out, almost as if she had become blind. Her high-pitched and heated reaction could make an objective viewer of this scene roll their eyes and switch the movie off, but you have to give it a chance – that’s only 10 minutes in. 10 minutes later, Elle Woods makes a full 180.
If someone were to ask me who my favorite fictional character was, I wouldn’t say Elle Woods (if I’m being honest, I don’t know who I would say). Elle Woods is not a fictional character. She’s present in all of us. The Elle Woods in each of us wants to be a loyal woman, but we also each want to be a well-respected woman. In Legally Blonde, it may have taken the motivation to win back her ex-boyfriend to do so, but in the end, she achieved this.
I have three favorite scenes from this movie. In the beginning of Elle’s studies at Harvard Law School, when her initial intention was to recapture Warner’s affection, Elle fell to the prank of dressing up for a costume party that never actually was a costume party. She honorably entered the affair and made the most of it, especially when she ran into Warner. But this moment was a turning point for her as a woman. He said to her, “You should do something more valuable with her time.” She stepped out of her hypnotic state, responding, “Am I on glue, or did we not get into the same law school?” Elle immediately stormed out, realizing that she was at Harvard not for Warner, but for her own personal and professional advancement.
The morning after her exit presented one of my favorite film quotes of all time when she visited her manicurist, Paulette, at the nail salon to break the news. From behind, one of Elle’s toughest educational critics, Professor Stromwell, happened to be at the salon and overheard the conversation. What she said to Elle not only stuck with her, but still resonates with me: “If you’re going to let one stupid prick ruin your life, you’re not the girl I thought you were.” Inspired immediately, Elle turned around and ran back to the courthouse to single-handedly win the trial for Brooke.
I get chills (and sometimes cry) every time the Harvard Law graduation scene appears on my TV screen. Elected as the student speaker, Elle quoted Aristotle’s “The law is reason free from passion” and then argued it:
“I have come to find that passion is a key ingredient to the study and practice of law – and of life. It is with passion, courage of conviction, and strong sense of self that we take our next steps into the world. Remembering that first impressions are not always correct, you must always have faith in people, and most importantly, you must always have faith in yourself.”
After expressing these key lessons, Elle did become one of my role models. Before I had even watched that last scene of the movie, passion, conviction, and sense of self were three qualities that I made sure I presented. If I say something, I say it like I mean it, I know my worth, and I believe if you’re going to do something or some project, you must do it with passion or not at all. It’s all or nothing.