Detachment

Oh, before anyone gets upset, if you are, about what I mentioned in an earlier post about me not feeling sorry for people who lament about missing meals and stuff, there is a specific example in my mind as I typed that. It isn’t meant to mean anyone who happens to let off a rant about having to skip breakfast and suffering because of it, so just in case there, I should put a small disclaimer. I am generally quite a nice person who empathises, or so I would like to think.

Anyway, on my flight back from Taipei, since there were some hours on the plane and I didn’t want to sleep or rather, I cannot really get proper sleep anyway, I thought I’d catch a movie. As I browsed the rather long list of movies, I was quite clueless as to what to watch because nothing really caught my eye. I settled eventually on this show starring Adrien Brody. It’s called Detachment. The synopsis provided on the Krisworld magazine didn’t appeal to me at all but as I was running out of choices, and after all I had enjoyed watching Adrien Brody so much in the Pianist back then, I decided to hit the play button anyhow.

The movie is all of 97 minutes, seemingly short in comparison with most of the other Hollywood movies of the drama genre; however, the 97 minutes seemed much longer even if it did not feel exactly that long. The subject matter of the film was heavy, and the use of dialogue and monologue interspersed with silence frames lent a very sombre mood to it. Adrien Brody was perfect in his role as the substitute teacher, with his vacant expression, the one who is detached from his surroundings by virtue of his job of moving from school to school, class to class, and to quote his character Henry Barthes, “to maintain order, make sure nobody kills anybody in your classroom, and then they get to their next period.” In one scene where he entered a classroom for the first time and a student menacingly threatened to beat the living daylights out of him and even picked up his bag to throw it against the door, he didn’t even blink an eye. Instead, he replied nonchalantly “That bag is empty. It has no feelings. You can’t hurt it. I’m just like that bag.”

As I was googling for the quotes above, I came across some rather negative reviews of the film for the bleak portrayal of the American education system and life in general, as seen through the eyes of this very substitute teacher. I don’t know if it indeed represents the entirety of what the system is like and if that is what life is about, I suppose it is just an avenue for the film-maker to explore a facet of life and how some sees it. Maybe in a different time, I would have had different thoughts about it and watching this film may jolly well be the final nail on the coffin for me to succumb to depression. But I know that a film is a film, it is something in a two-dimensional world that I view on screen, in a cinema, on TV or in the plane. Sometimes, we connect and identify with subjects protagonised in films and other times we feel that it is just a waste of time and money. It is something real I believe, something that does happen in our world today, how there are empty lives screaming for help, faceless people dragging their shackled feet through an endless journey of corridors and walkways, and for some of these unfortunate beings who don’t receive the help they need, they find solace in hurting themselves, sometimes even choosing to end their existence to terminate the pain.

Back to the movie, Henry Barthes was the perfect representation of detachment, or so he appears to be. As the film went on, we saw that he wasn’t as detached as his expressionless face showed. His interactions with his grandfather, one of his students, a fellow teacher, and a street walker, betrayed his emotions and propensity for attachment, and at the end we saw that none of them are capable of removing themselves from feeling for someone else. We can choose to be detached and appear to be so, but honestly at the end of the day, can we really do it?

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