Tag: suicide

Monsieur Lazhar


Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

It looks like any other Thursday in a Montreal elementary school. Just before the bell summons the children to go inside, Simon (Émilien Néron) collects a crateful of milk for his class. He is supposed to deliver it to his homeroom but the door happens to be locked. He finds this unusual so he peers inside and sees his teacher’s lifeless body hanging from the ceiling.

A week later, the principal (Danielle Proulx) still hasn’t found a replacement for Ms. Lachance. Hearing about the terrible the news, Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag), an Algerian immigrant with teaching experience of nineteen years, drops by and offers to take on the position.

Written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, “Monsieur Lazhar” is most impressive because of its ability to present the topic of grief and explore it with exacting honesty and without ostentatiousness simply designed to wring an emotion out of us.

Almost immediately, the film communicates that students laying eyes on or hearing about their dead teacher is not like seeing or hearing about a dead person on television or the movies. The psychic scar is lasting and has a feral bite because it has happened to someone they knew, interacted with on a daily basis, who offered them support, laughter, discipline, and a different kind of love that perhaps even parents were not able to provide.

The picture also functions on another level by making it apparent that Ms. Lachance’s death does not affect her students the same way. Some are more overt in their comparison between Ms. Lachance and Monsieur Lazhar’s methods of teaching. Naturally, there is some kind of resistance when it comes to the necessary changes that have to be implemented to facilitate the class’ recovery, but Falardeau has a knack for highlighting the experience, the in-the-moment reactions of every child who is willing to speak his or her mind, that not once does the material feel like an after school special.

Having an experience of working with kids, I appreciated that the film is able to distinguish between thought and thinking process. In comparison, thoughts are interesting most often on the surface level. A child’s thinking process, how they attempt to make sense of a nonsensical thing, like a suicide, on the other hand, provides a backbone and emotional center to the story. We want to hear these children speak, to express their confusion, to admit to their anger, and to question why.

It is interesting how the screenplay consistently respects how sensitive children really are to something they don’t quite understand, while at the same time respecting their intelligence by not having them all respond in a manner that most of us might expect.

Unfortunately, when the film steps outside the schoolyard, its power diminishes slightly. While it is necessary that we come to know Monsieur Lazhar outside of teaching, at times the strand about him seeking political asylum in Canada feels forced, his sad story another way for us to identify with him. Also, the possible romantic spark between he and a fellow teacher (Brigitte Poupart) lacks a parabola. It seems to start and end without an arc that feels right for them.

Nevertheless, “Monsieur Lazhar” remains an achievement that the writer-director should be proud of. Despite the fact that it tackles realities that may be difficult to swallow, it’s the kind of film that parents should see with their children because it is real and encourages healthy lines of discussion.

The Hanging Garden


The Hanging Garden (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

William (Chris Leavins) returned to his hometown for his sister’s wedding (Kerry Fox) after leaving without a word and not visiting for ten years. William used to be an obese teen with a low self-esteem. His father’s (Peter MacNeill) expectations, if not met, often led to physical abuse while his mother (Seana McKenna) kept herself at bay. What I found so effective about the film was the situations that the characters had to deal with were as realistic as possible but there were some bizarre elements that forced us to think about the possible reasons behind the odd images thrown on our laps. For example, in the first scene, it was amusing and refreshing to see people who attended the wedding as bored and impatient, maybe even angry and stressed, during the ceremony. It was a familiar feeling but it was nice to see that on screen because it was a complete opposite from movies that showcase weddings as always exciting and fun. It’s not fun when you’re forced to sit in silence for about an hour. You look forward to the food and perhaps the bottomless wine (if you’re lucky). Then the realism was countered with fantastic elements. That is, there was an alternative universe in which William hung himself in the garden where the wedding occurred. The characters were able to see William as an obese (as he was in the past) dead teen. They were able to touch him, cry in front of him, miss him. William was able to see and grieve for his former self, too. Perhaps it was a metaphor for the lost time William didn’t get to share with his family and vice-versa. Maybe the family felt that the William that returned was not the William that left them. The William that they knew wasn’t skinny, confident, and strong. He was weak, insecure, fat. William tried to forget his past but his family kept holding on to it. There was another strand in the plot which involved William’s homosexuality and love for his best friend (Joel S. Keller). Coincidentally, Fletcher, William’s best friend, married William’s sister. The sister was aware of her husband’s possible bisexuality but she didn’t seem to mind. In fact, it was almost as if she encouraged her brother and husband to get together. Most would probably label her as having a liberal perspective, but I think her actions were more meaningful than what was shown. I thought she had a deep understanding of the pain and trauma her brother went through when they were young. She felt that her brother needed and deserved some sort of closure. Written and directed by Thom Fitzgerald, “The Hanging Garden” was a simple but beautiful film about two worlds moving away from each other and the tension building from the divide. Some characters were given little time to develop but I was surprised they were complex regardless.

I, Robot


I, Robot (2004)
★ / ★★★★

Detective Spooner (Will Smith) was assigned to investigate the suicide of Dr. Lanning, the main scientist in charge of commercialization of robots on 2035. Spooner suspected that the murder was staged to look as a suicide by a robot named Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and it was only the first step of the robots’ plan to take over the world. “I, Robot” completely missed the mark to make an intelligent film about humans’ increasing dependence on technology. Much of the movie was a predictable set-up to make the main character run after or shoot at something. The uninspired false alarms were transparent. For instance, early in the movie, Spooner saw a robot running with a purse. He thought it was trying to steal the purse. Naturally, smart audiences would most likely surmise it was simply delivering the purse to its rightful owner because no tension was established regarding rogue robots yet. Spooner looked like a fool because his fear was only in his mind. The scene would have been more effective if placed after the murder of the prominent scientist to serve as a small rising action, regardless of the pettiness of the crime, to make us believe that perhaps the robot was up to something more devious than it seemed. Another scientist that jumped into the mix of the mystery was Dr. Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) who, despite all the reasonable doubt placed in front of her, could not seem to make up her mind where to place her loyalty. For a character who was supposed to be the voice of reason regarding the advantages of having robots in the home or at work, her logic was flawed. Her character was tantamount to those horror movie characters who decided to look for something in a dark room during the most inopportune times. Her eventual acknowledgement that the detective was right to be suspicious of the robots felt too forced. Granted, I did admire the special and visual effects. There were two action sequences that I thought were exciting to watch. The first was when Spooner had to face about a hundred robots in an underground freeway while going about 125 miles per hour. The second was when the robots climbed on their manufacturer’s building in an attempt to stop Spooner and Dr. Calvin from ruining their revolution. I do have to say, however, that there was another glaring inconsistency concerning those two scenes. In the first, the detective had a very difficult time destroying the robots. He had to use his car, gun, and high speed to survive. But in the latter, he was able to use his hands to rip the robots apart. Finding out that Alex Proyas, who directed the slightly brilliant “Dark City,” directed this film was all the more disappointing. If the film’s special and visual effects had been stripped away, not a thing would have kept it afloat because it lacked heart and intelligence. I found it ironic that Haley Joel Osment in Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” and Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron’s “The Terminator” were far more convincing robots despite the fact that they were played by actual humans.

Pump Up the Volume


Pump Up the Volume (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mark Hunter (Christian Slater) moved to Arizona from the East Coast and started his own radio broadcast–under the pseudonym Hard Harry–because he didn’t fit in at his new school. The topics he talked about while on the air ranged from silly (sexual jokes) to serious (fellow classmates expressing they wanted to end their lives). Students from all social strata found a connection with Hard Harry even though they didn’t know his face; they all shared the unhappiness of being a teenager. As the students began to express their thoughts and feelings, school officials, led by the tyrannical principal (Annie Ross), expelled students who chose not to abide by the rules and those who did not maintain an excellent academic record. This film might have been an instant favorite if I had seen it back in high school. I had my “moody rebel” phase and I thought it managed to capture teenage angst perfectly. While it successfully balanced humor and real issues, I admired that it always respected its characters. The screenplay did not result to template clichés common to John Hughes’ movies. The majority of the picture was dedicated to Hard Harry ranting to his listeners how the system essentially limited the potential of young minds and the hypocrisy of the rules imposed on students. Such scenes became all the more magnetic because the camera would cut to different teenagers who felt like they had no voice. Via participation in the ritual of listening to the nightly 10 o’clock broadcast, they felt like they had a voice, like they belonged. Like the many colorful listeners, I did not always agree with the opinion being broadcasted but the voice had enough insight to challenge our own beliefs. Moreover, there were some truly moving scenes like the student who wanted to kill himself and the bullied homosexual who was comfortable with who he was but just needed someone to talk to. Unfortunately, the second half of the film spun out of control. The romance between Mark and Nora (Samantha Mathis) felt a bit forced–which resembled her bad poetry–and the silliness of students acting like wild monkeys at school did not feel at all believable. In some ways, the scenes that depicted too much rebellion took away some of the power from the real message Mark wanted to share with his fellow students. “Pump Up the Volume,” written and directed by Allan Moyle, is an inspiring film especially for the disaffected youth and those who feel alone. Specific scenes designed to inspire someone to live one’s life will most likely remind viewers of the current surge of tragic pre-teen and teen suicides. Perhaps they, too, felt like they didn’t have a voice.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story


It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Craig (Keir Gilchrist) was feeling suicidal so he decided to check himself into a mental clinic. He hoped that the doctors would give him a magical quick fix for the troubles that plagued his mind. After meeting Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) and several patients, he decided that it wasn’t the right place for him. But tough luck because the hospital, led by Dr. Minerva (Viola Davis), had a policy of keeping voluntary check-ins for at least five days. “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, was a strangely moving coming-of-age film. We weren’t always sure whether Craig was truly clinically depressed or he was just going through the motions of being a teenager. We have different emotional tunings but we all went through a time in our lives when every single challenge seemed insurmountable, that our parents (Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan) cared more about their jobs or our siblings than they did about us, and that our friends (Zoë Kravitz , Thomas Mann) didn’t always have our backs. It was a sensitive time and we had a tendency to interpret every opportunity as a chance for failure. The hyperboles felt painful and real. The film was aware of all those factors. It had a sense of humor but it remained respectful of its subjects. Instead of going for the easy laughs like making fun of a person who happened to have schizophrenia or had suicidal tendencies, it remained focused on Craig struggles and discovery that maybe he should be thankful for being smart, talented and, indeed, even cool and charming without losing his sensitive nature. More importantly, especially since the rate of teenagers being on medication is on the rise, the movie had an important message. That is, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed once in a while. It’s better that we care about our future than to simply ride the tide. We may not like where the tide takes us. I found Gilchrist’s acting to be quite effective. In the first ten minutes, he convinced me that his character was miltidimensional without resulting to being quirky. I saw a lot of myself in him because of his proclivity to internalize everything and interpret that as some sort of strength. Both of us can at times be blind to the fact that turning to a support system is a sign of strength, too. I also enjoyed watching Galifianakis because he played a new character. Instead of being a manic five-year-old, he was solemn and more controlled yet capable of expressing devastating rage. But his bouts of rage weren’t played for laughs because the material wanted to take institutionalization and recuperation seriously. Based on Ned Vizzini’s novel, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” took its audiences through a humanistic approach in understanding Craig. His troubles may seem small to us adults (like the pressure he felt from his father’s insistence that he applied for a summer program) but we all have days when we feel like we can’t go on. But one day we just wake up and it turns out we can.

Heathers


Heathers (1989)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann, “Heathers” was an addictively delicious dark comedy starring Winona Ryder as Veronica, one of the four most popular girls in school (Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker–all named Heather), who suddenly began to question her friends’ actions toward the less popular and less accepted. She eventually met the appropriately named J.D. (Christian Slater), a charming rebel who I thought represented Veronica’s id. During their time together, they came up with ways to murder those who made everyone’s life in high school a living hell. What they did not expect was, due to the poignant suicide notes they wrote, the dead teenagers became more popular than ever. My favorite element that defined the film was the laugh-out-loud one-liners. I just couldn’t help but laugh after hearing them because, despite the lines spelling out some gruesome imagery, they sounded natural (especially if they’re being spewed out by mean girls) and we remember them over time because we don’t hear anyone normally talking like the way they did. I admired the writer and director’s audacity to show the stupidities of all students (including our protagonist) and how unprepared/insensitive the faculties were when a student committed suicide. I thought “Heathers” was honest despite its histrionics. In high school, when someone from our school died, we held discussions in classrooms after morning announcements and sometimes acknowledged “the situation” during assemblies. But in the end, only a handful of people genuinely cared while others just couldn’t wait for the bell to ring so they (or we) would be dismissed. Talks of how “sad” the majority of students were about “what happened” was just something we felt we had to do either to pass the time or we felt as if it was the appropriate social response. However, my main problem with “Heathers” was it eventually began to lose focus of the big picture. Doherty’s boldness to eventually capture the newly available throne (even the “Heathers” clique had a hierarchy) was a little too late for me. I would have liked to have seen more scenes of her demonstrating how toxic and vile she could be especially to those who she considered her “friends.” Nevertheless, the movie managed to regain its focus toward the end when our protagonist finally decided to face (but not necessarily correct) her mistakes. I concur when others claim that “Heathers” is one of the best dark comedies about high school. Teen movies that aimed to copy its success could only admire from afar the essence of its vitriolic dialogues and metaphorical imageries.

Remember Me


Remember Me (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Robert Pattinson stars as Tyler who had issues with dad (Pierce Brosnan) because Tyler still blamed him for his older brother’s suicide. Tyler also believed that dad did not spend enough time with his daughter (Ruby Jerins), a very gifted budding artist who was often bullied by other girls in her class. However, life started to get a little brighter when Tyler met Ally (Emilie de Ravin), the daughter of a cop (Chris Cooper) who unfairly arrested Tyler the night before. I would have liked this film more if it had stuck to being a typical romantic drama about finding, losing and regaining romance. Instead, it pulled a ridiculous “twist” in the end that was totally unnecessary which, I have to admit, made me feel angry and emotionally cheated. I’ve read other reviews and others seem to have been moved by the final act because they claimed it was “shocking” or “revelatory.” I thought it was pretentious and it was done for mere shock value. It was unfortunate because I actually enjoyed this picture in parts. I loved how Tyler was an active role model in his sister’s life. He always gave her support and I felt his pain for losing his older brother who he obviously looked up to. He was often histrionic whenever his father was around but I understood where the anger came from because the father was a workaholic and it seemed like he did not want to spend time with his children. Tyler was blind to the fact that the job was his father’s defense mechanism. The personal struggles of the characters interested me even though at times the story was somewhat unfocused. It had too many subplots which was comparable to a pretty good two-hour pilot of a television show. I know that the shocker of an ending aimed to comment on the consequences of reconnection happening too late in the game and that we should be willing to forgive others but it was too heavy-handed for my liking. The performances were fine: Pattinson, unsurprisingly, was good at brooding and was able to deliver intensity (accompanied by glares) when required, I felt Brosnan’s coldness and charm at the same time, and de Ravin was precocious. The only one I found to be truly annoying was Tate Ellington as Pattinson’s roommate. His voice was not the kind of voice I would like to wake up to in the morning. In the end, “Remember Me,” written by Will Fetters and directed by Allen Coulter, was crushed by its own ambition. It was not aware of the line between true emotional impact and exploitation. The former is earned while the latter is not.