Sunday, February 18, 2007

One Who Wrestles With God

Contrary to my penchant for inspirational corny sports movies, I seldom like movies about teachers, probably because I have been one so long myself. I can orient my reader to this genre as honky enters depleted ghetto classroom and tells the students they are somebody. The students resist, they give "the man" (or in one case, an improbably beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer -- note to potential students, teachers do not look like her) a hard time, then finally because they are loved and taught the importance of learning, they rise. The day to day tedium, the low salaries of high school teachers, the wretched and exhausting business of dealing with endless tests scores, certification requirements, and days of eating leftovers out of Tupperware containers are ignored or glamorized. Yawnfest, usually. Last night, I watched Half-Nelson because it had Ryan Gosling in it, who got a nod for best actor for his work in this film. Now everyone knows I'm pulling for Forest Whitaker, but Ryan G. did some excellent work in this film. The plot sounds predictably awful -- dynamic inner-city high school history teacher by day, crack addict by night, caught by one of his students. My resistance was worn down immediately by the preciseness of the detail -- the shitty, ramshackle one bedroom apartment, the exhausted hungover teaching day of Dan Dunn, the character Gosling plays, the broken relationship with a woman with whom he used to do drugs (rehab worked for her, not him), his oblivious family. Gosling as a teacher is passable, certainly no dynamo with circles the size of half-moons under his eyes, curled up in the fetal position in the staff room between classes, and smoking crack in the bathroom as soon as the basketball game he's ill-suited to coach is over. A young female student without a ride home finds him in the bathroom, strung-out and sick, pipe in hand.

You'd think the movie would take a turn -- he'd clean up, change his ways, change her life, become a better teacher. To my great relief, none of this happened. I won't give away the ending, but it's the kind of ending I love. A half-nelson is a hold in which the wrestler applying the hold puts one arm under the arm of their opponent and applies pressure to the back of their opponents head or neck. When Jacob wrestled with the angel, he wrestled for an entire night, a very long time to be engaged in battle. In this movie, we are still in the middle of the night and daylight seems a long way off.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You can read the board. That's a huge relief." Half-Nelson
Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: Half-Nelson
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Chinese New Year! It's my year, the year of the pig, and according to every restaurant menu I've ever read, pigs are incredibly loyal, make great friends, and prone to marital strife. We are also supposed to be incredibly lucky and unlucky all at the same time. This seems very true to me, the queen of the 11th hour save.
50 days until The Sopranos airs!


the walking man said...

I guess it depends on how far north you are that determines how long it is 'til daylight.

Charles Gramlich said...

Kind of like the way I tend to avoid "Psychological" movies.

paul said...


JR's Thumbprints said...

Amen! In my opinion, teachers are not saviors; they cannot save the world. Trust me, I know.

Irene said...

You're prettier than Michelle Pfeiffer! ;P

John Ricci said...

Dear Michelle, lovely post and view as always. Yes you are more beautiful than that other Michelle and I am sure that you are also a star teacher, the star of all the Americas. To good luck in the New Year my dear. Champagne toasts and caviar dreams and to you a vigorous Bravo!

kgb said...

well, my favorite is mr holands opus. there's one inspiring scene where he teaches a black kid how to keep a beat!