Detachment tells the story of a month in a corrupt public school, following various students and teachers, but mainly following Henry (played by Adrien Brody). He’s a substitute teacher who tries to keep stability in the apathetic classroom, as well as take care of his dying grandfather in the hospital and taking in a teenage prostitute named Erica. Soon Henry inadvertently becomes a role model to Erica and to his students.
I’m gonna make this short so that it doesn’t take up too much of the review: the performances are great, especially Adrien Brody who acts as a man who seems to know how to handle the situation pretty well to an extent, but is just as damaged and troubled as the other characters. Moving on.
Through Henry’s eyes, we see that even though most of the high school kids in this film are very misbehaved and rebellious, we see that the teachers are almost as bad as the students. If there’s something wrong with the way they teach, then it’s not the education system’s fault or the teacher’s fault, but the student’s fault for not caring. They’ll refuse to pass the blame on themselves.
I’ve read a lot of reviews saying that this was a major problem. They don’t believe that adults are the only ones responsible for this kind of behavior and that it really isn’t realistic. The kids themselves are raised in a society where they believe they should rebel against adults. That’s a good point, but I will say this: someone has to take responsibility for these kids. It’s either the parents, the teachers or both who need to take responsibility for them. In this film, it seems as if the best way to deal with problems is to ignore them, to run away from them and pass them on to someone else. In any bad situation, their answer is to either run away (like walking out of the room), get angry or go to Henry for help. Sometimes the only reason for the parents in this film to throw their kids into school is to pass on their kids (their responsibilities and problems) to the teachers, which is hinted at once in a while. Henry realizes this and says that these kids need their attention. If the parents aren’t gonna deal with them or even talk to their own children, then it’s up to him to give attention to them.
We all have problems, he says. Even in their own homes (a place of comfort and care) there’s something dysfunctional in their lives and almost nowhere to escape.
I could sorta understand what they mean with this film. Here everyone’s corrupt some way and somehow. Yes, there are people like this, but it’s a bit hard to buy that EVERY SINGLE person is like this in this film. To be fair I don’t think that it’s about making the film realistic. I think it’s about showing to what extreme the school can go to, so I do understand why they’d exaggerate something like this.
Some people in this film aren’t corrupt, but just have their own method of trying to make things better, but failing to see what Henry can see in the education system. Instead of allowing their minds to absorb information or to expand their creativity, this school is trying to prepare these students for what they should be in a society. One moment in the film, a staff meeting is prepared for someone to propose his method of preparing students for their state exams: teaching them real estate. Although this man has a good intention, that really isn’t a subject which will allow the students to think. This is a subject preparing them for what they would do in society. The adults believe that more discipline is needed in a school, when what they should do is give them mental-freedom, one of these ways is by allowing them to explore their creativity. Even one student in Henry’s classroom explores her creative skills with photography and art, even though her father tells her otherwise. This is something I really liked, and is highlighted in the scene when Henry makes a discussion about “Doublethink” with the class (referenced from Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four). So I might be wrong, but maybe there’s sort of this dystopian angle that this film takes on education.
So is this film really exaggerating public education systems in America right now, or is this all something that people don’t want to see in their schools? I don’t know how the education system in America works, so I can’t really tell. I think this film is more about presenting the extreme of what schools can become if they take this kind of route. This film has the decency to show that people can change for the better, such as the runaway teen Erica who starts out as a prostitute, but soon grows a father-daughter bond with Henry.
On the technical side, the cinematography… were hit and miss for me. We often cut to flashbacks using film instead of digital, and I didn’t like how they were shot. This made the film look like it’s more concerned with having an artsy look. The big-close ups and the slightly shaky camera were a bit too much for me, but I think that’s just nitpicking. The rest, however, is very clever with good use of camera-focus in key scenes. I also liked the animations on the chalkboard; they became interesting metaphors during other key scenes.
Overall it’s an interesting film, and I thought it was pretty good. It presents a very harsh and cynical side of the education system in America, but at the same time presents the optimistic value of teaching. This is a film with themes about redemption, taking responsibility, finding hope within chaos, identity, and I think learning about your own values in life. I liked it.
Oh yeah, and James Caan made me laugh a lot in one scene.