The one critical scene we see Barthes read among the detritus and chaos around him. The order of the universe lies in his life of mind instead of the sensory life itself. Embodied in moral imperatives, Mr. Barthes is the essential stoic's "ataraxia", a serene calmness against all the odds yet not detached from the love of life itself.
What marks this movie from any other happier-ending ones is the absolute confidence in the present: The danger lies in the joyful tears of Erica rushing toward him. One fears more pain than joy in the universe however the beautiful sunset in the shaded grove looked at that moment of embrace.
First, in a genius stroke of irony, we get to hear Adrien Brody lecture to a class of kids about how there are more important things in life than looks. Next our hero instantly connects with and rights a few hardened inner-city school kids. Then, and I'm not joking about this, the flawed hero swoops in an rescues a young prostitute from the streets.
This film is about a mile wide and about a millimeter thick. My eyes were literally tired from all the eye rolling. I added a star, however, for superb acting and a great cast, but that's the best I can do.
Detachment doesn't tackle a new subject. Delinquent kids and teachers'
inability to teach or control them has been a theme since the 1950s
(Blackboard Jungle anyone?). However, with each of these sorts of
movies you hope that there is something new to be added. If there are
movies that add to the discussion, Detachment isn't one of them.
Rather than try to present solutions, it just shows the problems. You
would think Adrien Brody's character represents the solution but his
character is too implausible to be true: idealistic and overly
goody-two-shoesy. Plus, is he really the solution? (Any more and
there'd be spoilers). If anything, the movie is telling us: don't be a
teacher and, more broadly, don't have kids.
The plot is quite predictable. Some events are signposted far in
The plot isn't hard to figure out in advance, especially as you have so
much time to work it out, the movie progresses so slowly.
Sure, there's heaps of melodrama, people throwing things, kids being
all aggro, ridiculous dialogue and sub-plots, but it's fairly empty.
Lots of pretense and bluster, but no substance.
I think the screenplay alone is quite beautiful, but the gloomy overpowering tone prevents it from fully spreading it's wings. There was a bit too much unnecessary profanity for my taste and some of the dialogue sounded altogether unnatural.
I don't want to completely put down this movie. I actually enjoyed it and it does pull on the heartstrings. Under another more proficient director, this could've been a four-star movie.
As a successor to what is possibly the greatest social drama of our time, Detachment is comparatively engaged in a discussion largely pre-determined, Kaye's rhetorical flourishes on the importance of an ever diminishing liberal education heavy handed, but restrained by the subtleties afforded in Carl Lund's script and through the deft performances of its exceptional cast. If Kaye is a director's director, than his oeuvre is perhaps most marked by its unrelenting authorial style, Kaye's films less about interpretation than they are about elicited reaction, his films provocative in their engagement with topics already laden with a socially pre-conditioned response. And Detachment is no exception, decidedly brutal and effectively moving, Kaye's dissatisfaction echoing our own resentment towards an ingrained cultural disengagement, America in the twenty-first century remarkably insincere and prone to satire, but without the knowledge of where that insincerity and ridicule stems from, causing further division and turmoil within the culture. While some might find Kaye's stubborn cynicism exhausting, and American History X is nothing if not unmistakably critical, Detachment possesses an empathy for its characters that proves optimistic, even if the battles waged don't always culminate in success. While the film's conclusion leaves its characters in much the same quandary in which it finds them, Kaye's direction imbues a familiarity with his characters that proves empathetic and diagnostic of the lack of concern in public education in America at large, the solution dependent on our response to the film's comprehensively informed satire.
In Henry Barthes, Kaye has seemingly distilled the spirit of Derek Vinyard to his bare essentials, the anger of an upbringing found lacking in proper emotional support and economic stability fostering an adult lacking in social stability, the torments of his past informing his impersonally detached nature in the present. While Henry undoubtedly cares deeply for his fellow teachers and students, his status as a substitute teacher enables him to leave before becoming too emotionally attached to any one school district, classroom, or location, constant motion and change negating the effects of what is a meager and hard earned existence. Like his students, Henry feels the undercurrents of oppression surging forth as anger, a socially propagated affliction of a culture in a state of arrested development engendered by the very lack of education that Henry is actively engaged in instilling into a stagnant national intellect. When Henry says that he understands that his students are angry, or when he takes in a young prostitute off the street out of sheer charity, his own intelligence is temporarily lent to an American youth emotionally and mentally abandoned, the public schools little more than police states, the children put under their care abused, neglected, and ignored. In Kaye's film, all of his characters are dissimilarly detached, their very inability to connect with one another ironically communal, if only they could reach out and see each other in order to transcend the culturally regressive traits that have kept them deaf, dumb, and blind.
Perhaps the most pervasive aspect of Detachment comes in its ability to articulate the incoherence of teenage angst as a symptom of an ephemeral maturity, proffered as a possibility, but with no clear social avenues by which to reach it. If Henry Barthes serves as any indication, adulthood carries the baggage of adolescence around with it, our formative years spent in the American public education system alternatively deleterious or transformative to our own intellectual and emotional growth, our nation's teachers the first line of defense against the violence of racism and social prejudice, so long as we give them the freedom of authority to educate. Without the knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, pure and corrupt, Kaye's film provides the evidence to make it unmistakably clear that the civil turmoil depicted in his American History X will continue, anger the physical manifestation of psychological neglect. It's impossible to come away from any film directed by Tony Kaye in an apathetic manner, his film's provocations immediately familiar in their sources of criticism and indictment, his dissatisfaction echoing our own subconsciously felt grievances, and informing our consciously held complaints. As a social activist, there is no director currently making films quiet as effective in eliciting a volatile response from the tacitly disengaged masses, and Detachment, the spiritual successor to his masterful American History X, is perhaps his greatest achievement yet, diagnostic of the social ills of a lack of a proper public education, else we remain in a culture divided by the color of our skin and the size of our respective bank accounts.
One that's unrelentlessly miserable.