Darkness in the light of day,
Silence in the loudest noise.
Close and also faraway,
Vacant at the gladdest joys,
Only feeling with the hand,
Needing, taking in the dark,
Slow to know or understand
And lacking means to try till hark!
A firmer hand arrives to guide,
A stronger arm, both cruel and kind,
To teach the words she’d been denied
And show them all love isn’t blind.
MPAA rating: the equivalent of G
True life stories are often the most inspiring, and one of the most incredible is the life of Helen Keller. Born healthy but struck deaf and blind by a childhood infection, she grew up in total darkness, knowing the world solely through touch. She had no concept of light or love or even that objects had names, and yet she grew to be an accomplished author and lecturer (and apparently introduced the Akita dog to the U.S. Who knew?). As I read her autobiography The Story of My Life, her diction and facility of language make it hard to believe that she once had no understanding of it whatsoever. Her story is and has been a true inspiration for the handicapped, and The Miracle Worker brilliantly presents her difficult early years.
Both Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft won Oscars for their surprisingly physical roles, Duke as the young Keller and Bancroft as her tenacious teacher Anne Sullivan. The film very much reflects Keller’s memoirs, focusing solely on her tumultuous childhood and initial relationship with Sullivan. Duke acts convincingly detached as she gropes her way along, oblivious to the significance of what she touches yet petulant and violent when annoyed. She grabs food from others’ plates and locks people in rooms, while her parents cite her handicaps as a good reason to tolerate her behavior. Enter Ms. Sullivan. Her history with blindness gives her a special sympathy, yet her Irish temperament puts her at odds with Helen’s surliness and her parents’ enabling. Bancroft in particular deserved her Oscar; she exhibits the patience of Job as she reins Helen in, wrestles with her just to get her to hold a spoon, and deals with the uncertainty of teaching a seemingly unteachable pupil.
Boasting a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Miracle Worker depicts quite the extraordinary relationship between a student who doesn’t know how to be taught and a teacher who sees potential no one else can. After an initially overacted introduction, everyone slips into perfectly natural roles from Helen’s antagonistic father (Victor Jory) to her concerned mother (Inga Swenson), all dwarfed by the two lead performances. When that “ah-ha” moment finally arrives with the hard-won breakthrough, the celebration feels genuine and earned and meant as only the beginning of Helen’s progress. It’s interesting to note that while Patty Duke won an Oscar playing Keller, she later won an Emmy playing Ms. Sullivan, opposite Little House on the Prairie’s Melissa Gilbert. Whenever an uninformed viewer wonders who that woman on the Alabama state quarter was, The Miracle Worker will give them a new appreciation for Helen Keller and the educator who opened the world to her.
Best line: (Anne) “It’s less trouble to feel sorry for her than it is to teach her anything better.”
© 2015 S. G. Liput
344 Followers and Counting