Director: Tony Kaye
Synopsis: During the course of a month, experiences from students, teachers, and staff administration are documented from the perspective of a substitute teacher, Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody). Barthes is a shut-in (as the title implies), and emotionally detached, but his free-floating, simple lifestyle is interrupted when he meets three women. In each instance hangs the implication of attachment to some degree, but how Barthes confronts or avoids each and every risk with these women is something that becomes concrete in his malleable lifestyle.
Overview: I was left breathless from the beginning to the end. Not that sort of breath-knocked-out-of-you sort of way, but rather kept away from you. The film is the equivalent of sitting in a locked room filled with stagnant air, in fear of breathing in too deeply, only to find you have already taken your final breath. It leaves a noticeable pressure in your chest. It’s ironic, as although Barthes stays completely emotionally removed, the introspective thoughts that the film conveys carry a sentimentality which he could never portray openly.
Detachment is not one of the Freedom Writers or Stand and Deliver movie standards in which a member of the faculty inspires the students to become greater than who they thought they were. The movie sets the stage for such a false impression, however, with a story of hope and overcoming the odds. Inevitably, Barthes’ class does end up liking him, yet that aspect of the script is but a modest fortification of Barthes’ basic character, a temporary stand-in, forever uprooting himself. The three women, Erica (Sami Gayle), a young, teenage prostitute, Sarah (Christina Hendricks), a fellow colleague and permanent high school teacher, and Meredith (Betty Kaye), a troubled, artistic student, encroach on his fleeting nature. As each relationship begins to take root, Barthes’ childhood memories intensify, and only when these featured relationships fully manifest do these memories fully form.
Thematically across the course of the film, these three women cause disturbances in Barthes’s secluded life. Despite the waves they create, however, Barthes is not the central affair of the film itself. There are two different conflicts: Barthes’s own internal demons, and the demons of the world surrouning him. The events of the plot bring matters to the surface that are all too often than not brushed under the rug, including rape, fair and unfair treatment of women, homophobia, negligent nursing homes, animal cruelty, bullying, broken education systems, and more. Director and writer Tony Kaye brings all of these disparate societal elements together in order to make a statement without the use of aestheticized flourishes, implementing only the haunting rawness of a hardened realism. The crest amongst the waves is Barthes’ monologue in the classroom., when he references George Orwell’s 1984, in order to release both himself and his students from the encroaching evils of doublethink, social discourse that otherwise threatens these characters’ sanity and well being.
The movie borrows a documentary-style, interview set up, with the key difference in this movie being that no boundaries exist between drama and fact. The camera zooms uncomfortably close to each subject when they are speaking, breaking whatever barrier or filter they may have been trying to put up. It acts as an intrusion into their personal accounts. At times, scenes in movies are shot at eye-level, completing an entire picture of a depicted subject. Here, the cinematography is comprised of pieces, and collectively, these pieces create a whole image of a given subject. Probably the most unflattering angle are those shots aimed from below, and looking upward, as this sort of shot circles back to capturing a defenselessness of imposition in any given character at any particular moment.
Throughout the movie, Barthes narrates. His thoughts and explanations are interlaced with his own lyrical prose, taken from those words otherwise silent, recorded only in his countless journals. The cadence and quietness of Barthes’s internal voice contrasts with the harshness of his audible testimony delivered to the camera. All of this makes for a heavy movie, though maybe that explains the breathlessness and pressure held within my chest when watching it.