Tribeca: “Detachment” – a bleak look on today’s schools in the United States

This entry was posted on 28.04.2011

Detachment with Adrien Brody

Detachment with Adrien Brody

Is this really the state of the education system in the United States? Children don’t care, parents blame teachers for their own failures, and government officials care more about business than helping children, while teachers are burning down. Tony Kaye definitely paints a bleak picture of schools in his movie “Detachment” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Tony Kaye loves movies about social issues. After “American History X” the British director shot the documentary “Lake of Fire” about abortion, his next movie “Black Water Transit” will deal with environmental issues. And when the opening credits of “Detachment” are over, we know hat director wanted this to be a realistic movie. Kaye lets teachers talk about how they got into their profession.

Whatever enthusiasm and dedication it once was, being a teacher seems like a quick way into depression, substance abuse and cynicism these days. In one scene, which is probably not too far off the truth, a government official explains why he needs the school children to succeed in their next test exams: A low test score brings the market value of the real estate in the area down, while better results could help the business. Did you hear the children being mentioned in this argument? No, you didn’t. And of course there’s no money to help kids reach better results. But of course children and their parents are responsible too: Kids these days are disrespectful, and when in doubt, parents stand by the children, threaten to sue teachers.

But don’t get it wrong: “Detachment” is not an essay on the education. It’s a feature Film with Adrien Brody in the lead role as substitute teacher Henry Barthes and an impressive ensemble (Christina Hendricks, James Caan, Lucy Liu, Marica Gay Harden, etc) in the supporting rolling. And Tony Kaye’s movie is more about a person who is detached from the world than about the school system.

Henry is a substitute teacher – somebody who shows up at a school for a month to teach while the permanent educator is sick or gone for other reasons. It reflects his personality: Henry actually is a person who gives a shit about other people, but he just doesn’t want to commit. He tries to help an over-weight, artistic girl in his English class, he even takes an underage prostitute home to help her (a move that rarely works out). But he also backs off when somebody gets to close to him – and eventually hurts people even more because of this.

There is a sense of loneliness around him which people notice – even his grandfather in a nursery home. A lot of this has to do with the dying man, as we will see. One of the most intense scenes in “Detachment” is the dialogue between Henry and his grandfather in their last scenes – it is as touching as it is disgusting.

“Detachment” is probably one of the most impressive feature-films at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The whole cast is amazing – Lucy Liu as the doctor who just had enough of the students, James Caan as the teacher who is still funny, but only because he pops pills on a regular basis. And the main young actresses, the 15 year old Sami Gayle (as the prostitute) and Betty Kaye (as the outcast girl), should both have a promising career. But of course it is Adrien Brodi who impresses the most in this movie which hopefully will be in the theaters soon.

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