Monday, October 16, 2006

 
Opposing Forces

By Susan Thea Posnock

Something strange has been happening to me lately. Mysterious forces are at work and I'm gripped with the kind of anxiety I haven't felt on a regular basis since college.

This feeling has been prompted by recent screenings of Half Nelson and Little Children. Rather than my typical "light and breezy" column, it seems only a properly researched term paper will suffice in dissecting these films.

That’s not a knock on either--in fact in many ways it’s praise. Returning to the student mindset raises questions and can be a thrilling exercise. At the same time, heady themes can either make a story soar, or drop like a lead balloon.

Half Nelson, (definitely not to be confused with 1985's short-lived Joe Pesci series of the same name), the independent feature from director/writer Ryan Fleck and producer/co-writer Anna Boden is arguably the more ambitious of the two because of its underlying philosophy. It's an unconventional classroom drama in which the "hero" is a white, crack-addicted teacher named Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling), who uses dialectics to teach history to his mostly black students. The theory, from German philosopher Georg Hegel, says the clashing of opposing forces leads to change. The film demonstrates this simply through an arm wrestling match between Dan and one of his eighth-graders. He tells the kids how when one force overtakes the other (in this case he overcomes the strength of his student) it leads to a turning point. On a larger scale, dialectics can be applied to movements like Civil Rights or wars.

Read the rest at Oscarwatch.

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