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- Children of a Lesser God
- Runtime:119 min
- Release Date:2014-09-20 11:53:53
- Director: Randa Haines
- Genres: Drama, Romance
MOVIE REVIEW:Children of a Lesser God
Boy meets girl; boy (unfairly) loses girl; and after assorted trials
and tribulations the two are blissfully reunited. The standard romantic
formula hasn't changed, but here it benefits from a unique perspective:
he can hear, she can't. William Hurt is the overconfident teacher of
deaf students trying to convince Marlee Matlin (against her better
judgment) that silence isn't golden, and the tensions of attraction
between them make for an often absorbing romantic drama. Oddly enough
the film, so otherwise sympathetic to the needs of the hearing
impaired, is top heavy with verbal rather than visual expression.
Notable exceptions (disregarding the obvious aquatic sex sequence: only
in a movie can people undress with such ease and grace underwater)
include the scene in which Hurt becomes the odd man out at a party
conducted in sign language, and a later moment when he unwinds to the
music of Bach while Matlin site alone and oblivious in the background.
Considering the logistical problems of the scenario (for example how to
communicate to an uneducated audience a conversation held entirely in
sign language) the film is nevertheless an uncomplicated tearjerker
that hides its stage origins well. The partially deaf Matlin is
impressive in her debut, while Hurt performs like an actor
self-consciously aware of the camera's presence, affecting an
artificial naturalness which he drops only during the more fiery
lover's quarrels, when the couple shows just how passionate and
expressive hands and faces can be.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Directed by Randa Haines,Children Of A Lesser God is based on the stage
play by Mark Medoff.Medoff along with Hesper Anderson wrote the
screenplay resulting in one of the most beautiful films of the 1980's.
It deals frankly with the complexities and frustrations associated with
deafness and looks at how some deaf people are happy as they are and
don't want to use their voices to speak.
Sign language teacher James Leeds(William Hurt)travels to a fishing
town in America,to take up a teaching position at their school for deaf
youngsters.He encounters opposition with some students,because he
encourages them to use their voices as well as just signing.He meets
the school cleaner,Sarah Norman(Marlee Matlin who is hearing impaired
herself)who used to be one of the schools brightest and most promising
Trying to figure out why she didn't go on to better things,James
realises he is falling in love with her.At first resistant and hostile
towards him,Sarah soon shares his feelings.So begins an emotional
journey,as they try to find a way to live together unhindered by both
speech and deafness.
Highlights include James teaching his students to speak and sing(they
eventually put on a musical show),James and Sarah dancing in a
restaurant and the famous swimming pool scene,which allows James to get
a feel of what the world is like for Sarah on a daily basis.
Marlee won(and completely deserved it)the best actress Oscar for her
breathtaking performance as Sarah.At times Hurts translation of her
ferocious signing is not needed,because we clearly understand her
meaning as it's conveyed with so much emotion in her face.
Hurt who I find to be a very subtle actor,is simply brilliant.His love
and desperation conveyed perfectly without ever going over the
top.There's also fine support from Philip Bosco as Sarah's former
teacher and Piper Laurie as Sarah's mother.An uplifting and beautiful
love story with a highly spirited main character who is
unforgettable.Powerful performances and a haunting score by Michael
Convertino all add to the power of the film.
This is an experience that can't be easily explained,it's a film you
have to see for yourself and become wrapped up in,you won't be
So, this movie has been hailed, glorified, and carried to incredible
heights. But in the end what is it really? Many of the ways in which it
has been made to work for a hearing audience on the screen do not work.
The fairly academic camera work keeps the signing obfuscated, and
scenes that are in ASL are hard to follow as a result even for someone
who is relatively fluent. The voice interpretation of Matlin's
dialogue, under the excuse that Hurt's character "likes the sound of
his voice", turns her more and more into a weird distant object as the
film goes on. Matlin does shine in the few scenes where her signing is
not partially hidden from view. But nonetheless, most of the movie,
when this is a love story, is only showed from a single point of view,
that of the man. As Ebert said, "If a story is about the battle of two
people over the common ground on which they will communicate, it's not
fair to make the whole movie on the terms of only one of them."
The idea that an oralist teacher who uses methods that have been
imposed in many deaf schools for decades would be presented as
"revolutionary" is fairly insulting in itself. His character becomes
weakened as a credible teacher as the movie goes on. Drawing comedy
from a deaf accent is, quite honestly, rather low. And his attitude
towards the male students of his class is pretty symptomatic of how he
seems to act with women: as an entitled man. A party scene involving a
number of deaf people including a few academics meeting together leaves
him seemingly isolated, in a way that's fairly inconsistent with his
credentials: I have seen interpreters spontaneously switch to asl
between each other even when they weren't aware of a deaf person being
in the area, and yet somehow he feels like a fish out of the water in
an environment his education should have made him perfectly used to. As
a lover, he seems like a typical dogged nice guy, including his
tendency to act possessively afterwards. And yet the movie is, indeed,
only really seen through him, as everything his lover says is filtered
through his voice.
The scenes involving the other deaf kids are, in general, wallbangers.
The broken symbolism fails, the dance scene, the pool scene, even the
initial sleep scene which is supposed to carry some of it – all these
scenes that try to hint at the isolation of the deaf main character are
broken metaphors, at best: many hearing people I know do dance on the
bass beats that deaf people feel (instead of squirming like copulating
chihuahuas), and going to take an evening dive for a hearing person is
rarely an excuse to make a deep statement on the isolation of deafness
(no, seriously, when I go swim, I go swim)…
It also fails at carrying the end of the play, instead making it a
story of a deaf woman who submits to a strong man. Even though the
original play ended with a more equal ground, where both have to accept
each other as they are, and where he has to finally recognize her real
voice is the movement of her hands, not the vibrations in her throat.
And for all the breakthrough that it may have seemed to be, Marlee
Matlin remains Hollywood's token deaf woman to this day.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Children of a Lesser God is a sensitive love story about James, a
speech teacher who moves to a new deaf school and falls for introverted
Sarah, a former student who decided to stay in the school because she
can't relate with people.
This movie is basically a story about overcoming the difficulties of
communication between two people, but it's never that simple since
Sarah has one of the strongest and most defensive personalities ever
seen in a movie.
As a deaf person, Sarah decided to rely on sex to gain men's affections
and so can't commit to a meaningful relationship. She also fears James
will treat her like everyone else always has. It's up to him to prove
William Hurt and Marlee Matlin are both perfect in this movie. The '80s
were a great decade for Hurt, and he was already riding on the success
of his previous Oscar victory. One could only expect a great
performance from him. It's Matlin who's the revelation here, conveying
her personality through body language and sign language. She proved
that acting has nothing to do with words and deserve the Oscar for this
This movie is slow, sometimes dull, but for those with patience, it'll
be quite rewarding on an emotional level.
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