By Kyler Jones and Jamie Murphy
In 2006 Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck crafted the film Half Nelson. Half Nelson is an American urban drama film with socio-political undertones. Starring Ryan Gosling as “Mr. Dunne”, and Shareeka Epps as “Drey”, this film tells story of a revolutionary minded history teacher with a drug addiction entering an unlikely relationship with a student. Half Nelson is dark, riveting, it’s beautiful. Just the opposite of a teacher student savior film.
The title of the movie, Half Nelson originates from a wrestling move. It’s a hold which is very difficult to escape.
This film has a very dark presentation. The camera work and acting are maturely executed. Ryan Gosling transforms into a marxist driven, system bashing yet drug addicted teacher adding his own grungy and laid back flavor. He makes it clear that the only highlights of his days are getting high and teaching his kids. Drey, played by Shareeka epps, is a 12 year old girl struggling to make it past the eighth grade without falling into the harmful influences of the neighborhood drug dealer.This is when the teach- friendship begins. Drey doesn’t let the teacher/coach title get in the way of wanting a friend. Epps and Gosling both give strong performances where they are completely in sync with one another, earning them both Independent Spirit Awards for best Female and Male Leads, and Ryan his first Oscar nomination.
The soundtrack of this movie was crafted specifically for each scene. Full of ambient, experimental indie Canadian music adding to the atmosphere.The most remarkable song is the ending track composed by Broken Social Scene which beautifully amplifies the melancholy yet inspiring spirit of the movie. The sound production choices of scenes like Mr. Dunne smoking crack in the bathroom, the raised volume of toilets flushing and water moving through pipes help to transport us in to the claustrophobic mind of a coke-head.
The story of Half Nelson is incredibly subtle, with the plot at a constant spiral downward for the characters. But between the cracks there is a light shining through to your soul. Watching this movie is very much a bonding experience. Mr. Dunne is not a hero, and he’s incredibly unlikeable, violent and even creepy at times.He doesn’t see the point in just saving one person if you can’t save them all, but all things change as this wisely crafted plot unfolds as a metaphor for the battle of his ideals versus reality. The story doesn’t leave you hopeful or wanting a nice happy cliché ending at any point . It’s deep immersement into the life of an urban coke-addicted public school history teacher with a coke addiction is incredibly challenging.The plot presents you with an unsuitable situation with multi-dimensional characters so engaging you can’t escape feeling like you’ve walked every yard, court, and classroom in which their drama takes place. Which is why this story is so much more unique that other films.
A great motif of Half Nelson is the color scheme and lighting which catalogs the opposite motives and actions of the character. For example, in scenes which Mr. Dunne seems to be doing nice, sociable things, trying to interact with the world around him in order to make a pseudo-connections, the lighting is always bright, and the color scheme tangy. When the characters are at moments of self-indulgence, or isolation the lighting is always dims or colors blue. Ryan’s acting method is also a motif. It’s scenes like this one in which Ryan Gosling shows his incredible ability to carry out motif of the sniffling, blinky, and rambling loner. He seeks care and comfort from women in this scene because he knows he is self absorbed and isolated by his addiction and ego.
This film is great social commentary piece because it completely incinerates the structural myths of student teacher relationships, that of the super hero teacher1 and the youth that need to play by the rules.What it shows is that actually, students and teachers are not much different at all. Mr. Dunne and Drey are both linked by their disinterested presence, their loneliness, and powerlessness in a failing system.People as a whole all battle daily with conflicting ideals, personalities, and societal projections. The world works through opposing forces, and change occurs when one side becomes the majority. The problem is that many in society fail to live up to the ideals they truly believe, preventing change. As a timepiece, this movie speaks to the era of post-9/11 Bush political outrage. As a film, it brings together intelligent writing and powerful acting to create a s
1Trier, J. n. page. <http://journalofthought.com/Issues/2010vol45issue34pdf/08trier.pdf>.