Well, it’s that time of year again! School books, smart-looking stationary, collective groaning from adolescents, and the smell of fearful anticipation for the year ahead. When it comes to counting down the days, the return to school marks the longest time away from the eventual freedom of next year’s summer vacation.
If students spent their holidays watching movies, then it’s no wonder that school is perceived negatively. Stories rarely paint a picture of a positive educational environment. The protagonist frequently struggles, the villain is a bully, classes are boring, and overall the aim of the exercise is to merely survive the experience until that bell rings. Mean Girls, Clueless, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, 10 Things I Hate About You, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, and so many others tend to address more of the social aspects and youthful aspirations of what school and adolescence represents.
These films aren’t necessarily wrong in their depiction of this era of our lives. Apart from the simplicity of hanging out with my friends every day, I know I wouldn’t choose to revisit my adolescence if presented with a time travelling device! Yet what these movies frequently overlook is the simple joy that learning something new can bring. While narratives set within the education system understandably get bogged down with other issues, are there films that have inspired us to return to the classroom?
After contemplating my own life journey while also asking around the GUG team, it turns out that, yes, there are a number of movies that have motivated us to move from passive observers to becoming actively engaged in a new activity…and none of them are the typical stories you might expect! Below are four films that have convinced us to take a class, and one that possibly encourages more of a home-school approach.
#1. A Silent Voice – Compelling Reasons to Learn Sign Language
A Silent Voice is a 2016 anime film that surprisingly hasn’t made its way to the States just yet (it will have a limited release in October). The story is about a young, hearing-impaired schoolgirl, Nishimiya Shoko, and the difficulties she faces as she tries to fit into a new school. Bullied relentlessly for her inability to communicate effectively, the school attempts to remedy the situation by teaching all students sign language. Though, as some of us sadly know first hand, bullying isn’t so easily combated. Years later, as one of the bullies matures and realizes the damage he has caused, he earnestly learns sign language as a way to seek redemption and display the sincerity of his convictions.
Seeing Nishimiya utterly isolated due to her disability was heartbreaking. As a result, A Silent Voice produces a strong case for learning to sign, even if you have perfect hearing. When taking into account that dedicating a few minutes a day to learn a few gestures makes a world of difference for those who are part of a marginalized community, it certainly becomes a case of “Why not?”
Before watching A Silent Voice, it never occurred to me this could be one way I could tick off that pesky ‘learn a language’ entry from my bucket list. It’s also obviously heavily reliant on movement as opposed to speech, and since I’ve done dance, drama, and even mime in the past, I’m hoping it’ll sink in better due to having a personal history of learning through body memory. I started classes at a community college just two weeks ago. As fate would have it, I’ve been struck down with yet another winter cold during this time, rendering my itchy vocal cords rather useless. Oh how I wish everyone knew sign language! It would’ve saved me a coughing fit or two!
But even though I don’t (normally) have any hearing or voice issues, I’m constantly surprised by just how many situations have popped up where knowing sign language would have been a blessing. While it’s still all new to me, it has been wonderful to learn more about the deaf community; to meet and communicate with people I may not have otherwise. I thoroughly recommend giving sign language classes some thoughtful consideration, all thanks to A Silent Voice.
#2. The Animals of Farthing Wood – Fostering a Love for Animals
Well isn’t this a blast from the past! This is straight out of my childhood. There were a lot of ‘talking animal’ stories around when I was growing up, but while many shows and movies were keen to personify nature, The Animals of Farthing Wood certainly didn’t hold back on the brutality of living in the wild.
If you’re not familiar with the franchise, just think along the lines of Bambi and Watership Down; one of those films that seemed wonderful as a kid, but after watching them as an adult you reconsider just how messed up your childhood might have been.
It had a fairly simple premise: A group of animals find themselves banding together in order to survive the long, arduous trek to a new nature reserve, as their current home was being cleared for residential housing. Not all of these European native animals made it, particularly the rodents. At one point, the babies of one of the characters fall victim to a shrike, with their corpses found impaled on the thorns of a nearby bush. I’m still surprised I didn’t have nightmares over this back in the day!
Yet, as disturbing as it was, that was part of the reason why I loved it. It dared to show the gritty reality of the cycle of life, never dumbing down or shying away from the inevitably of death in all things (maybe George RR Martin was a fan as well!). Unlike the other stories where talking animals would live in houses, dress in clothes and do mundane, humanistic things, The Animals of Farthing Wood constantly raised the stakes for its host of characters as everything literally was a life or death situation. It was a world that gripped me, and it intrigued me even more because it wasn’t fiction; rather, it simply commented on the very real environmental issues that plagued wildlife. An animal’s world was so different to my lifestyle filled with comfort, and yet we share the same planet.
What really had me hooked though was how this entire franchise was packaged. It was a novel turned into an animated television series, where the first season was then shortened into a straight-to-DVD release movie (or rather, VHS). There was also a weekly magazine subscription that adapted the show into a comic, and featured informative articles on the various species and environmental issues depicted. Like a class pet, I would bring them to school and my teacher would photocopy some of them as handouts.
While The Animals of Farthing Wood can’t take all the credit, it certainly fostered my interest in the natural world throughout my childhood. As soon as I was old enough, I started volunteering at my local zoo, and I later enrolled into numerous animal care courses. While I eventually decided to leave that career path (alas, I am a night owl, and you kinda need to be a morning person to be a zookeeper), I will always have a soft spot for animals, as The Animals of Farthing Wood made me painfully aware just how harsh their life can be.
#3. The Princess Bride – Wonderful Swordplay
For every sport on earth, there’s no doubt there is a movie that makes it look it cool. Except for scuba diving…on the silver screen, that just seemingly always results in a horrible, horrible death. While that never deterred me from getting a diving licence, it’s the sport-based stories that have inspired me the most to take up classes. The Ninja Turtles were the reason why I took up karate and then ninjutsu; Rambo (not The Hunger Games or Robin Hood, puhleese!) resulted in me becoming an archer; while no one but Rocky could have convinced me to sign up to a running app (to the tune of Gonna Fly Now, of course!). But for one person on the GUG team, it was the Princess Bride that convinced her to make the leap and sign up for classes. As Christina Graham writes:
“The Princess Bride is not just a movie with a fencing scene. It is THE movie with THE fencing scene. This scene is praised as iconic by everyone from professional fencers to people who have never even picked up a blade. I have loved the Princess Bride ever since I was a kid, and because of the epic fight between Inigo and Wesley, I have always had a fascination with sword play.
This obsession finally became reality in high school when my friend introduced me to a teacher that had just opened a club in my town. I was able to learn real French foil fencing with a whole class of other geeks, many who had joined for the same reason I had. We would frequently have watch parties of the Princess Bride and re-enact *the* fencing scene. That one scene was able to bring me together with other sword lovers to learn the skill of fencing, something we will always enjoy.”
#4. Zodiac – Learning How to Track a Killer
As far as film genres go, it’s difficult to find a bad crime drama. While the sins committed are usually nothing but despicable, there’s something intriguing about the mind of a killer. As though we all wonder whether we’d be capable of such crimes depending on the given circumstances. We seek to understand something morally unfathomable.
David Fincher has directed a number of beauties belonging to this genre, though it’s Zodiac that has haunted my mind the longest. It contains a sprawling murder mystery that spans a number of years – it’s to Fincher’s credit that he manages to masterfully rein in such an unruly plot brimming with so many characters. Like most films, the audience is privy to the clues so they can play along as well, but Zodiac doesn’t hold your hand—mainly because there is no neat solution.
Despite its tense atmosphere, Zodiac is an incredibly inviting experience. We travel down the exact same path as the main protagonists, with the movie developing a unique community vibe, as though we all need each other’s assistance to solve the crime. The most fascinating aspect is the role of Robert Graysmith, played wonderfully by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is not your traditional detective, as he is merely just a civilian that enjoys solving puzzles.
Seeing people like Graysmith having a crack at, well, cracking the case, Zodiac removes crime solving from those stereotypical, almost omniscient detectives of near-mythical status normally depicted in fiction, and pushes it into the realm of the everyday person. It made me wonder if I could do it. I was already fascinated with the psychology behind particular crimes, and I found I wasn’t terribly queasy around grisly scenes. So late last year, half a decade from when I finished my previous bachelor degree, I found myself enrolling once again into college, this time to study criminology. Part of me was intrigued by the prospect of a new potential career path, though I was mostly keen on simply learning for the fun of it.
How Good Will Hunting Defeated the System
Criminology really is a fascinating field of study. Unfortunately, the joy of learning also comes with the pain of needing to be assessed. After years of experiencing the freedom of creative writing, it felt incredibly stifling to return to structuring academic essays. One night, while trying to plough through one particularly aggravating assignment, a quote from Good Will Hunting kept preoccupying my mind (admittedly it was a most welcome distraction).
“You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you coulda’ picked up for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library,” Will says, played by a rather young Matt Damon, to a snobby college student.
This interchange occurs during the first act of the film, meaning Will has not yet embarked on his character journey towards embracing a different outlook on life. Good Will Hunting constantly brings up the importance of needing to commit, take risks, and embrace the fullness of life’s opportunities.
Yet…Will does still have a point. Was this a subject I needed to learn at a formal educational level, or would my curiosity be satiated by simply reading the textbook? I quickly discovered in this particular case it was the latter, and it was ironic this film ended up convincing me to do the exact opposite of the message it preached!
It feels like I’m cheating by listing a film that actively had a role in my decision to drop out of class, but Good Will Hunting does encourage learning and the earnest pursuit of goals, and sometimes the classroom just isn’t the right environment. Thanks to this film, I now have a number of criminology textbooks sitting in my bookcase to read at my leisure, as opposed to a qualification…but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If this mismatched list of films demonstrates anything, it’s that inspiration can come from the most unlikely of sources, with even a single scene permeating our outlook on life. Sometimes it lasts a lifetime, and sometimes it’s merely an interesting phase, but one worth exploring all the same. Has there been a film that has impacted you greatly? Have some compelled you enough to want to try a different pathway, course, or career in life? If you have a similar story, feel free to share in the comments section below! Let us know what would send you back to school.
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