Detachment, a P.E.T (Possible Education Tomorrow) movie

Apt literature quotes for a starter and a dessert, interesting animated blackboard doodling, modern plot and strong social messages about high school education relating to parallel attitudes embedded in society; except for the brilliant and promising name of Adrien Brody, Tony Kaye’s “Detachment” is a movie that approaches the educational big “Question Mark”. What has to be done in education today? Let’s focus on the detachment value. The answer of the script is clear. Only if the spirit is pervaded by an idea can a teenager proceed to the next chapters of life, with a degree of critical detachment. 

As to the plot, the movie features Adrien Brody as a substitute teacher. However, Henry Barthes is not an ordinary teacher but someone different –by comparison with his colleagues- and endowed with a vision to inspire his class. Thus, he tries to show his students that their life can be altered by making efforts and reading literature such as Camus or Poe so as not to suffer desperately. Although pain is inevitable, considered as the key feature of maturity, the way we experience it can be viewed through a variety of options. In a nutshell, Barthes is the teacher who feels his students and asks them to write compositions instead of being strictly judgmental. His surname is “B a r t h e s” after all… 

So, what is the counterbalance of Brody? If it hadn’t been for any, the movie would have become dreary. So, Erica, the prostitute-street girl (Sami Gayle) taken care by Henry at his home becomes his strong counterbalance. Actually, she symbolizes his agitated soul. As Henry has been beaten by fate and has already undergone personal mishaps so that it is logical to be in a somber mood. Therefore, Erica of the streets is the most interesting person-persona of the present for Henry. Her impact comes in juxtaposition with his bleak past, his mother’s suicide. Anyway, the orange red images of the mother face and her long wavy hair like an autumn on the move create a poetic language of film polysemy that cuts the reality in flashbacks in order to see the expansive concepts of it through memory. 

Relating to the issue of memory, the movie also features Louis Zorich as the aged grandfather of Henry who is about to die in a clinic facing Alzheimer's. So, the school scenes of the movie are interspersed with those taken place in another institutional background, where the notion of the patient could be regarded as the final outcome after having been a life student. By the way, it suffices to remember the “Castle of Usher” as a “state of being”, according to Poe’s excerpt mentioned by Henry. 

In conclusion, this dramatic movie implies on the disaster emerged from the ubiquitous teaching methods at high school level, illustrates the gap of communication between parents and teachers, whereas stresses on the importance of moral support towards students so that they develop their sense of detachment and avoid putting their head in the noose like Tony Kaye’s daughter (Betty Kaye as Meredith) did concerning the script. Interesting approach but it lacks in originality. It is easy to write a script with teachers of a nervous breakdown opposed to the so called Henry’s performance so as to mark him as masterful and different. Would be better-to avoid the banalities- if the movie illustrated more developed relations and reactions. On second thoughts, I think that this reaction made recipe did not help the movie-goers travel in the filmic mood. Of course there is a story, there is aesthetics, but there is a part missing: relations in-between. That’s why the movie is poor in serendipity discoveries...

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