Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wednesday Factoid: Sad Movies

Today's Wednesday Factoid is: Name one movie that made you cry.

Well that's easy. I mean, it's not EASY to pick which one I want to write about, but it's very easy to find movies that have made me cry. How about I just go with one that's easy to explain why and name Mr. Holland's Opus?

Mr. Holland's Opus is about a man who finds his strength and his purpose through being a music teacher and touching the lives of all the students who come through his classes, even though he had other plans for his own life all along.

Here's kind of what it's about: Mr. Holland is a young married guy who never wanted to be a teacher. He was sure he wasn't cut out for it, but as being a composer isn't exactly the world's most lucrative career, he opted to take a job as a high school music teacher just until he and his wife could make ends meet. He slowly starts to connect with students here and there, helping the gifted but unmotivated music history student, the determined but struggling clarinet player, and later the amazingly talented show-tune singer who gets a crush on him. Meanwhile, his teaching position keeps dragging on longer and longer because of complications: He has to pay for the house he and his wife move to, and support a son whose congenital deafness makes him feel very estranged--how can he relate to a deaf child when music means so much to him? But even though he suffers all his life from not being able to work on his compositions, he finds that he's been writing another one all those years with every student's life he touched and every sacrifice he made.

Here's why it made me cry: First off, as an artist, I know very well how much it just kills you to be scrabbling for time to yourself to work on your art even as real-life concerns pull at you--and how sometimes those real-life concerns are also the sorts of things we make art about. That was so clear in this film--that Mr. Holland did feel, to a certain extent, a bit trapped by having to be a breadwinner and having to keep sacrificing his love of composing to support his family. But would he have been happier if he hadn't gotten married and had a child? Who knows? He loved them too.

And I loved how the movie showed Mr. Holland getting invested, and how much it paid off in so many ways. How one of the kids who thought she was a loser benefited from a little extra time with him and ended up gaining the confidence that one day had her succeed in city government. How his support of a young girl's talent was balanced by his realistic understanding of the world--and how it was a little messy and not so perfect sometimes the way he dealt with her hero worship. (I think he saw himself in her a little bit, and wanted her to succeed . . . and I'm glad the film didn't do the dipstick thing and show that barreling forward into an immediate success for the girl who chased her passion.) I just loved how realistic the movie was about sacrifice, and how things weren't fair, and how Mr. Holland wasn't a saint.

But my very favorite thing about the film is his relationship with his son. When Mr. Holland finds out his son was born deaf, the time and place they live in encourages them to try to integrate him into hearing society--make him learn to speak with his voice and read lips and not use any gesture-based language--and his wife absorbs most of the struggle with that. There's a powerful scene when the child is trying so hard to tell them what he wants but has no way to do so, and Holland's wife explodes and demands that they accept alternative ways for their child to communicate and let him go to a school for the deaf. And they learn that this is not a loss; this is like opening the world for him, letting him learn sign language and be with other Deaf kids and adults, and even though Mr. Holland has a hard time relating to him because he can't experience his favorite thing, he learns how important it is to share himself (and let his son share himself too), and begins to make more of an effort to learn to sign and adapt his music to be enjoyed by Deaf people too. I love when he sings a song for his son while signing. It's great, even though his kid was a teenager and was probably kind of embarrassed at that point too. (Incidentally, the actors playing his son at different ages were all Deaf too--I like when casting directors do the right thing and hire people who actually have whatever variation they're portraying.)

The film says so much about music and the arts, about the hearts of people, about sacrifice, about finding your "masterpiece" in unexpected ways. Mr. Holland performs a John Lennon song and dedicates it to his son at one point, and he puts special emphasis on this line:
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." --John Lennon

I think it's a good summation of not just his relationship with his son, but the message of the whole film. And I love it in all its bittersweet glory.

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