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Archive for September, 2012


Basically the portrait Tony Kaye’s film Detachment presents of an American public school. Adrian Brody plays the central character, a substitute teacher, struggling through environs nearly bereft of hope. There is a sprinkling of positive student-teacher interactions throughout the film – sometimes a shaft of the light of education appears on the canvass. But overall, the picture Kaye paints is bleak. Not giving anything away, but the film closes with a passage from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”,

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was — but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit….

In music the term tessitura refers to the range where the bulk of the notes reside, I imagine films have a kind of emotional tessitura. So films like Up, Wall-E, or Madagascar are properly placed in the feel-good category, their highs are high and their lows aren’t so low – or if low, fleetingly so. Well, Detachment is the inverse, a kind of feel-bad category, highs are few and far between and lows are quite low indeed. Perhaps more importantly, and in keeping with the tessitura loan word, the bulk of the emotions elicited occupy a much lower range of the spectrum. Altogether, Detachment pretty much fits where you’d put a film that opens with an Albert Camus quote and closes with a passage of Poe.

Like Stephen Holden writing in the Times, I too was reminded of Requiem for a Dream, and I think Holden draws interesting connections with Kids. To me Requiem is a more apt partner to Detachment in that they both deliver a kind of emotional pummeling – Requiem with a memorable climactic relentlessness at the end punctuated by brilliantly matched music. Detachment delivers less explosively, but the emotional terrain is littered with the same desolation.

I think I’ll conclude with a point that’s the reverse of what I’ve seen in many film reviews, oftentimes I’ve read critics say that a film is too long. This or that scene could’ve been tightened up or cut entirely. With Detachment, I kind of wanted to see more. There are quite a few strands to the story that we only get glimpses of, the school principal, the guidance counselor, several students. Perhaps its just another way of complimenting the film, that a kind of universe was constructed that I wished to see much more of.

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