Detachment – Ending Explained & Film Analysis

If T.Kay’s film had been released not in 2011, but during the Soviet era, the reviewers would have no doubt about what the “Detachment” was about: of course, we are facing the exposure of the bourgeois school and the entire education system. At first glance, there is something in this approach – if, of course, the epithet “bourgeois” is excluded. The school in the film appears as the embodiment of the teacher’s nightmares: high school students literally spit in the teachers’ faces, threaten them and categorically refuse to study. Teachers are not much better: some do not know how to keep the class, others sit on tranquilizers, and only the main character is able to find the key to difficult students. But “Detachment” is a film not only about school, but also about the meaning of life. And that’s what makes it so great.

What is the meaning of the opening frames of the film?

At the very beginning, we see Henry Bart, the main character: he offers to close the door, and when he is assured that no one will come in, he agrees to continue. Then a drawing of a growing tree appears on the blackboard, the leaves of which instantly begin to crumble. The crumbling tree turns into an open book with a quote from A. Camus: “And never before have I felt such complete alienation from myself and such a presence in the world”. After that, we see a number of teachers telling how they “came to such a life,” that is, they became teachers. The latter shares his memories of Henry, setting out his credo: to try to make a world in which it is important to have support, better.

These shots, which few critics have paid attention to, are very important. First, they mean that the entire film is Henry’s memories, that we are talking about events that have already happened and are subject to rethinking. Secondly, the reference to Camus hints at the main theme of the film: after all, this French philosopher devoted almost all of his works to the search for the meaning of life in the world of absurdity. And, thirdly, before the deadline, the dead tree and the teachers’ confessions make it clear that existential issues will be revealed in the film using the example of a school, which is a miniature model of society.

What is a Detachment?

Although the original title of Kay’s film sounds like “Detachment”, that is, “Detachment”, the option with a teacher should be considered no less successful: after all, this is not a metaphor, but the status of the protagonist. In the American school system, a “replacement teacher” is a person with a specialized education who belongs to the number of freelance employees of the school and is not in the full sense of the word a member of the teaching staff or occupies a place at the very bottom of the school hierarchy. The task of such a teacher is not to teach (he can tell something to children, but is not obliged), but to be present at the lesson of a sick permanent teacher and make sure that the students do not kill each other. As you can see from the film, in some schools it is really better not to leave high school students unattended.

Why does the film school look so peculiar?

For viewers who are not familiar with American realities, the question may arise: do American schoolchildren really resemble the inhabitants of a juvenile delinquency colony, and teachers – completely overwhelmed with neurasthenics? Or is it hyperbole, artistic exaggeration? Oddly enough, both answers are correct. Not all American schools are like that, but institutions like the one Henry went to are not uncommon. It is no coincidence that at the beginning of the film, the director accuses officials from the local education department that they send bad students from all over the district to her school. The school population in poorer areas is strikingly different from the school population in more affluent areas.

What happened to the protagonist’s mother?

The relationship with his grandfather plays an important role in creating the image of Henry, but this line is not as simple and unambiguous as it seems. The answer to the question of why the dying old man feels guilty before his deceased daughter is very important for understanding the concept of the film. And although the director avoids a direct answer, he scatters enough hints to suspect that Henry’s mother committed suicide because of incest, and she wanted to save her little son from him. Does Henry know about this? The impression is that he does not want to know anything, because such knowledge can crush him. And here we see the first vulnerable trait in the character of the protagonist: with all his clarity of mind, he is inclined to create a psychologically comfortable picture of the world.

Why did Henry pick Erica up?

In the world created in his imagination, Henry is a strong-willed man called to save the humiliated and offended, a kind of thirteenth apostle preaching effective good. The salvation of a prostitute in this context simply suggests itself, because the analogy is so tempting: Christ and Mary Magdalene. But is the act of a substitute teacher so unambiguous? First, he teaches Erica to himself, becomes her only close person, and then transfers it to social services, as a stray dog ​​is given to a shelter. True, in the finale, Henry partly atone for his unintentional cruelty by coming to Erica. Meredith was less fortunate in this regard.

Why did Meredith commit suicide?

Awkward, fat, suffering from parental pressure and boys’ mockery and at the same time creative and intelligent Meredith lived her joyless life, to which she somehow got used to. And when a person gets used to chronic suffering, it becomes almost bearable. The appearance of Henry turned the whole world of Meredith: for the first time she met a person who understood her, who saw in her something more than a loser at the last desk. She reaches out to him, but Meredith’s dreams, as they say, are shot up on takeoff: her relationship with Henry is misinterpreted, and the teacher himself is in no hurry to calm the girl’s troubled soul. For a teenager with his maximalism, everything that happened is a real tragedy, and Meredith tells herself that she was wrong, that life is meaningless and that it would be better for her to leave.

Winner or Loser?

Some critics consider the film’s ending to be ambiguous, although it is difficult to say where this point of view is coming from. Henry’s story is the story of the good intentions that paved the road to hell. Everything ends in failure, and the hero himself admits: “We are obliged to lead our children … We could not. We have let everyone down, including ourselves. ” Henry confesses to Sarah, “I’m empty inside,” and tells the students about the fall of the House of Usher as a state of mind. The shots with an empty school suggest that the tragedy of the finale lies in the inability of the modern pedagogical system to respond to the challenges of the time and win the struggle for the soul of the young generation, but in reality everything is much more serious.

What’s the point of the movie?

Henry is not losing his battle because he is too weak or too kind or too naive. He loses because it is impossible to win: you can put things in order in the classroom, but you cannot come up with a meaning where it no longer exists. School has ceased to be a place where not only the basics of science are taught, but also the soul is formed, because the formation is always based on certain ideals, and this is difficult in the modern world. Alienation is both Henry’s sense of self, and a fundamental feature of modern society: everyone is on his own, everyone talks about their own, everyone has their own faith or, more precisely, their own despair. In this regard, Kay can be likened to a physician who makes an accurate diagnosis of society – a lack of meaning and a higher purpose, but does not offer drugs or treatment programs. Well, thanks for the diagnosis too.

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