Well, this movie is depressing.
Detachment, starring Adrien Brody as a substitute teacher who tries to avoid close human relationships and has pretty much shunned having feelings at all, takes a month-long position at a troubled school, where the staff and students are burned out. Here, despite still being a lost soul, he is able to make some semblance of connections with the people he works with and some of the students. At the same time, outside of the school, he takes in a young runaway prostitute, also lost in the world, and they manage to form a deep connection, based on their mutual sense of being lost.
The film provides us with an all-star cast, including many of the small roles, and this manages to add depth and credibility to the entire film. The focus is clearly on Henry Barthes (Brody), but some of the other characters are provided with their brief times to shine, and reveal their characters. Their stories definitely remain secondary, but they provide a renewed sense of hopelessness to the entire story, as they are in their own versions of troubled lives, centered around the endless issues at the school.
Detachment provides a view of the workings of a poor American school, stuck in a system that demands results without providing the opportunities for success, and the people that are being run down by these expectations. Violent students, an uncaring generation, a lack of funds or proper leadership, a staff of teachers who have long given up the dream of actually helping people and going into survival mode, all contribute to the dark tone of the film.
The story itself is quite engrossing, and despite knowing better, we can’t help but hope that things work out for the characters that we get to know and understand. But the problem with a cycle of incompetence is that it is a cycle, and it will keep on moving, regardless if the film has ended or not.
I did not love the direction by Tony Kaye in this film, however, despite it remaining a strong story. Many scenes felt as though he was trying too hard to make it artsy, and often the interviews with the teachers were unneeded and somewhat clunky, providing a little bit too much melodrama for my taste. But that is simply my opinion, and it didn’t really take away from what is a powerful story of lost souls finding one another in a time and place where they probably shouldn’t find one another.
Detachment is an excellent film, and one that should be viewed, especially by teachers. While it may crush the remaining ounce of hope they may have that they are able to make a difference in the lives of their students, it is still an interesting study of the educational system that is undoubtedly broken, and dragging people down with it.