The English Teacher

September 6, 2014


The English Teacher tries to feign an explication of one woman’s idiosyncrasy in a vanilla Pennsylvania world. The idea that she is a lover of words and has always been “different” because of that in general is nice. But the execution of that idea is much harder to pull off. The effort shown in the film depicts an off-tangent concentration on the dramatic arts versus actual literature.


Or is playwriting not considered literature? Well of course it is, as Shakespeare is read for this very reason. Of course dramatic constructions of written language can differ, which enables further creativity to be geneated outside of the confines of ink on mutilated and mashed wood. So it is not inconsistent then for the English Teacher to involve herself so deeply in a play written by a former student of hers who has now retreated from the world after failing to make it so easily as a playwright in New York City.


To pause for a moment and leave aside the intensity the teacher has for words, let us contemplate how frequently such a failure persists in life and how infrequent it is to overcome such failure. Expectations and reality are almost consistently misaligned. It is rare then that creating a life worth living can be done so effortlessly. And yes, simply showing up is not enough. One must show up indefinitely to get what one wants. That is how one becomes what they are – by being it consistently.


So the retreat by the former pupil to suburbia to then be redirected to Law School by his upper proletariat father is actually rather common. Despite the fact that his writing may be transcendent, we can see that it may only be potentially transcendental because the former student’s will disallows him from making it a reality. This is a very controversial claim, because it places the responsibility of being heard and known as an artist strictly on the artist’s shoulders. That, if the artist has any quality, he will be heard and that this is to disregard any superstitious belief in a world that is too inferior to appreciate his quality, and instead is moved by corrupt cogs versus beauty.


I touched on this before with Inside Llewyn Davis, about how an artist is at his highest by evolving his creativity, and thereby necessarily perfecting it. We can see the indignation of the struggling pupil in this film to adapt his play, perfectly demonstrating the double-edged sword of artistry. That such spiritual individuality which makes him so attractive to the cultured teacher is also his undoing. He did not see the need to perfect his own play for instance. However, whether or not the ending of his play needed to be rewritten is a different story.


This is supposed to be about a teacher, but the entire theme is shifted away from her. She becomes a supporting actor versus the title character. The technique of a voice-over and brief biography of her life go wasted because she does not carry as much water as the center of gravity in the film, which can be seen as the struggle of creating art in the world. Not just with the playwright, but with the hilarious director who treats his high school domain of oblivion as his own theatre company and has to deal with the obstacles of the un-educated leaders of public education. What is the point of making such an emphasis if we do not see a celebration of her metamorphosis, from indulging in art to actually making it? The title suggests a character study, where there is none.


Grade: B



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