Detachment (2011)

One big fact about me is I will sit down and watch just about ANYTHING that stars Adrien Brody in it. There are two actors I can say that about, the other being Karl Urban. I won’t even look to see what a film is about as long as it has one of two of them in it I’ll watch it.

Detachment was one of those films that I didn’t even bother to read about.

And you really don’t need to bother reading about it because from the moment it starts you get hooked in on such a interesting and bleak story.

Now this was the first time I watched this film and it was the first time I’d actually heard of it and it surprises me a lot because it was such a strong performance for everyone involved. I mean Adrien Brody was phenomenal, I’m not sure how I could ever NOT have heard about it.

The film is about a substitute teacher, he comes to a troubled school and we get to see the troubled life of not only some of his students but the teachers around him and a young girl he meets on the streets.

It is a truly touching story, Brody’s character Henry Barthes has cut ties with a emotional world and just looks out of it (as it were) detached from everything. He see’s the struggles, he see’s the lost chances, the wasting of talents and lives and just shrugs it off.

Through his character we see two very important characters. Meredith and Erica.

Meredith played by Betty Kaye doesn’t seem to have a friend, her artistic talent is not appreciated even by her family. She’s a good kid, doesn’t do anything wrong but there is nothing special about her. She is pretty much the majority of children in the world. There is nothing that other people think makes her fabulous and nothing that makes her a wreck either. Because her grades are all just “OK” she’s not going to be top of class but somewhere in the middle. Her parents obviously don’t care that much about her.

She’s a wonderful character that I really did connect with. Barthes words speak a thousand to her and she reaches out to him in a world that scares her and doesn’t understand. When fellow teacher Ms Sarah Madison takes it the wrong way and accuses Barthes of wrong doing it signals the end of the line for Meredith who decides to get the attention she seeks the only way she feels is left for her.

Erica played by Sami Gayle is a lost kid, she’s a prostitute that has hit the bottom of the ladder. After a hard day with his Grampa Barthes meets her on a bus, he later takes her home, cleans her up and tries to make her see that she’s worth more then this. Erica clings to Barthes as the only person who truly see’s her and cares about her. The problem is Barthes wants no part to play in any kind of emotional relationship so even though they kind of build a brother/sister relationship he shuns her and sends her away to get help.

These two characters were so well thought out and so well acted that even though the story really is about Barthes you can see how these two very different young people shape his life (without having to have anything funny going on) and how they both are so individual. They aren’t there just to develop Barthes as a character but as their own individual characters. Not only that but EVERY side character to this story is important. James Caan as Mr Charles Seaboldt who tries his hardest to face the day (medicated) with a smile on his face and help kids, Lucy Liu as Dr Doris Parker who has no one to talk to but Seaboldt and who tries to make the kids see there is more to life then what they are heading to, Marcia Gay Harden as Principal Carol Dearden on the cusp of losing her job because of failing grades with a family life she hates and the job of making kids that don’t want to learn pass exams they don’t want to take. The one that really hit home was Tim Blake Nelson as Mr Wiatt, his class don’t listen to him, his wife and kid don’t even look up from what they are doing when he comes home. He is the invisible man and is seriously unnerved by Barthes actually noticing he was there.

A very big character piece with so many developing stories and so much to think about.

But it doesn’t lose any story by it. Barthes story is fully realised in a ever bleaker universe. A man who is hiding from his past, who wants no emotional contact with people who in the end is forced to remember he does care and he shouldn’t stand around and shrug others away because then he’ll lose people.

The whole thing worked so well for me. By the end of the episode I don’t know whether I was crying because it was truly sad, because I was happy that Henry didn’t give totally up on Erica and went to visit her, because Meredith who echo’d my life experience so well didn’t make it or because I just generally felt so upset by the whole experience.

For me the whole thing was topped off by a wonderful narration from Barthes, not just because I’m a fan of his but I truly think that Brody’s voice haunted the whole film. The emotion the man can throw at you at a glance, at a pause or just with a change of expression.  You spend the whole movie with his words ringing in your ears, his passion, his sorrow all filling the silence. The silence is still there, its still powerful on its own but the story being told is never lost to you.

Just like how Barthes is haunted by what happened to him when he was a kid you spend the whole movie haunted by the crushing hollow depression felt by every character. Nearly every single character is indeed detached from emotions, detached from the world. Every student and every teacher.

But the seeds of hope are planted along the way.

The class genuinely being upset that Barthes was leaving them, him returning to Erica, small moments between Seaboldt and Parker especially when he says thank you to her for her work.

For me the story really was about finding the positive out of life. It is easy to become detached from what is around you, not caring about people because you don’t feel that anyone cares about you. But there is always hope. Sometimes bad things happen but if you try and make the world a better place you might just get a better place, even if it is only making a better place for one person.


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