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Museums in the Movies – The Maiden Heist

Very few movie plots completely revolve around museums, so it is exciting when Hollywood pays attention to the field. The Maiden Heist is best described as a quirky comedy where Night at the Museum meets The Thomas Crowne Affair, minus exhibits that come to life and a perfect crime.

Three security guards, played by Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman and William H. Macy, are horrified to learn that their beloved artwork is being shipped out to a museum in Denmark. A new modern exhibition will replace the traditional paintings and sculptures that have been on view for decades.

The stereotypical snooty curator makes it clear that a mere security guard’s opinion is irrelevant, even though they spend more time with the artwork than any of the museum staff. In one scene early in the movie, Christopher Walken corrects just about every fact in a docent’s spiel about “his” painting, illustrating the true depth of his knowledge.

None of the security guards can bear the thought of losing their favorite pieces. This unlikely trio hatches a plan to steal the original paintings and statue and replace them with fakes during the move. Of course, it doesn’t go smoothly. Comedy ensues.

In spite of the lightheartedness of the film, one scene in particular sends a strong message about the individual’s relationship to art. Morgan Freeman’s character is an amateur artist, so he volunteers to make copies of the two paintings. He has spent many years studying and drawing his favorite painting. He captures every nuance of it in a near-perfect copy.

Christopher Walken is quite impressed with Freeman’s artistic ability and is eager to see the copy of his favorite painting. Instead he is horrified! The “glow” is missing. The detail isn’t there. It just doesn’t look like “his” painting.

Freeman explains that he can only paint the painting “as he sees it.” And that is how he sees it. He isn’t enamored with it the way Walken is, so he can’t quite capture its essence.

The message is quite clear: the same piece of art means different things to different people. What resonates with one person may not ignite a spark at all in someone else. Art appreciation is extremely subjective. The Maiden Heist drives that point home in a very accessible way.

The movie is filled with peculiar scenes that are fresh and original. William H. Macy’s penchant for viewing his favorite bronze statue in the buff gets him into trouble more than once, and provides all of the nudity that gave this movie a PG-13 rating. Christopher Walken’s daydreams about “his” painting are both amusing and endearing. The security guards’ passion for their favorite art reminds museum professionals why we do what we do.

The Maiden Heist is a fun movie that gives you just enough to think about afterward, without being too “heavy.” Add it to your museum movie list. It’s worth it!



The author obtained a copy of the DVD of The Maiden Heist from the public library.

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