Thursday, June 23, 2011

Children of a Lesser God - Movie Review

Children of a Lesser God is a 1986 romantic drama, telling the story of James (a speech therapist at a deaf school) and Sarah (a former star student who is now the school's janitor).  Marlee Matlin, who is actually deaf, won a well-deserved Oscar for her role in the film.  She is both the youngest actress ever to win and the only deaf actress ever to win.
James is a passionate, effective, innovative, nomadic speech teacher.  Some of the best scenes of the movie are when he is helping his students reach beyond their hearing deficits.  He helps them engage pop music through "feeling" the music in their bodies.  When one student curses at him, James corrects his pronunciation - which leads to repeated greetings with newly learned (but accurately pronounced) profanity.
Sarah's fiery attitude and good looks draw James's attention, and he soon discovers that she is basically hiding from the world by serving as a janitor at the safe deaf school.  The hearing world represents mocking and danger and failure for her.  She persistently refuses to read lips or to speak as an intentional effort to isolate herself to people who are safe.  She rebuffs James' efforts to teach her to use her voice.
Eventually, as one might expect, the two fall in love.  However, the path forward is complex as they each learn to accept each others' weaknesses and strengths.  They must both give the other person space to change or not to change. 
This is a beautiful and poignant film.  The only major downside is the borderline (from behind) nudity, which does serve an artistic point, but nonetheless detracts from the film for me.  (Also, be warned.  For those who are sensitive to profanity, this film has a lot.)
The Josh rating: JJJJ.

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