(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to write a description poem with a seemingly abstract ending. It’s not exactly abstract, but the final lines are a bit of a twist on what comes before.)
Welcome to hell, but you knew that, of course.
I thought I’d warn you about joining the force.
In this job, you’ll witness both folly and filth
And other things many find bad for their health.
The hoodlums round here are a menacing bunch,
Who’ll likely have mugged your coworkers by lunch.
If one pulls a knife or a gun or an axe,
Just pay and be grateful he doesn’t charge tax.
First day on the job, I saw somebody shot,
And three cars were stolen from our parking lot,
And years before Tyson changed boxing frontiers,
Our district was famed for the biting of ears.
I’m off to warn your fellow teaching recruits.
Good thing the school managed to find substitutes.
MPAA rating: R
Few movies make me grateful that I did not attend public school like 1984’s Teachers. This dark comedy gives a comprehensive look at everything that can and does go wrong in the public school system, from exaggerated ruckus like two teachers starting a fight to surprisingly earnest true-to-life situations like a pregnant student seeking an abortion. At the heart of the film is Nick Nolte as slacker social studies teacher Alex Jurel, who floats through his job earning admiration from his students while never giving a thought to his responsibility for their futures. A lawsuit headed by a former student and crush (JoBeth Williams) forces him to take stock of his duty to his students, particularly one delinquent (Ralph Macchio) with a troubled family life and an even more troubled friend (Crispin Glover). Nolte is especially good as everyone’s favorite teacher who just needs a rekindling of his zeal for teaching, although I still find it weird watching him before his more recent transformation into a grizzled old man. The highlight of the film, though, is Richard Mulligan as a substitute teacher with greater eccentricities than usual.
Somehow I expected Teachers to be more comedic in tone, and certain parts are drolly wacky in depicting the excesses of public school life, from the apathy of teachers to the rowdiness of students. Yet most of the film’s satire is grounded in seriousness. The brief abortion section with Laura Dern avoids treating the matter flippantly and parallels the desensitizing of Alex and his peers to everything wrong at the school. In addition to the lawsuit that challenges Alex to play along with his bosses (Judd Hirsch, Lee Grant) or take a stand, several of the minor plotlines are cynically insightful in their lessons, such as how a crazy man can teach better than the sane or how lazy indifference can be hard to distinguish from death.
The message of teachers taking more responsibility for their students reminded me of similar ideals in films like Won’t Back Down and Here Comes the Boom, but though it ends on a triumphant note, the details of how to fix the problem are left rather vague. Aside from the frequent language, I also felt one climactic scene was taken too literally in order to throw in some nudity. Despite this, Teachers views its educational themes through a bleak but incisive lens that still acknowledges humor and hope.
Best line: (Alex) “There’s nothing worse than a female lawyer with a cause.” (Lisa) “Except a male teacher without one.”
Rank: List-Worthy (tied with Won’t Back Down)
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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