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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Children of a Lesser God is a sensitive love story about James, a
speech teacher who moves to a new deaf school and falls for introverted
Sarah, a former student who decided to stay in the school because she
can't relate with people.
This movie is basically a story about overcoming the difficulties of communication between two people, but it's never that simple since Sarah has one of the strongest and most defensive personalities ever seen in a movie.
As a deaf person, Sarah decided to rely on sex to gain men's affections and so can't commit to a meaningful relationship. She also fears James will treat her like everyone else always has. It's up to him to prove her wrong.
William Hurt and Marlee Matlin are both perfect in this movie. The '80s were a great decade for Hurt, and he was already riding on the success of his previous Oscar victory. One could only expect a great performance from him. It's Matlin who's the revelation here, conveying her personality through body language and sign language. She proved that acting has nothing to do with words and deserve the Oscar for this performance.
This movie is slow, sometimes dull, but for those with patience, it'll be quite rewarding on an emotional level.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The worst thing about "Children of a Lesser God" is its title, which
sounds impressive but has no real meaning and is never explained in the
film itself. I presume that the implication is that because handicapped
people are often discriminated against in society they must be the
creations of a lesser god rather than of a greater one. (Some very odd
theology involved there). I preferred the German title, "Gottes
Vergessene Kinder" ("God's Forgotten Children").
In form the film is a simple love story; boy meets girl, boy and girl (after an initial period of dislike) fall in love, girl leaves boy, boy and girl get back together again. The setting is a specialist school for the deaf in New Brunswick, Canada. The boy and girl involved are James Leeds, one of the teachers, and Sarah Norman, a former pupil who now works as a janitor at the school. Unlike some of the other pupils, who have some residual hearing, Sarah is profoundly deaf; she has never learnt to speak or to read lips, and relies on sign language as her only method of communication.
Sarah is obviously intelligent, and James cannot understand why she chooses to remain in such a humble job. He believes that if he can teach her to speak and to lip-read she will be able to compete in the hearing world. Sarah, however, does not want to be a part of that world, from which she feels isolated behind a wall of silence. The hearing world will not deal with her on her terms, so she will not deal with it on its terms. She knows she will never be able to speak as well as a hearing person, and her pride will not allow her to attempt anything unless she knows she will be able to do it well. The story tells of James's attempts to break through that wall of silence into Sarah's world, and also to overcome his own preconceptions about deaf people.
William Hurt- who had to learn sign language for his role- is very good as James, but the real star of the film, and the reason why I have given it such a high mark, is the beautiful Marlee Matlin. Marlee is herself deaf, and speaks only very briefly in the film. Virtually the whole of her performance is delivered in American Sign Language. Sign languages are sometimes wrongly thought of as being codes for spoken languages, with every sign corresponding to a spoken word, but this is not the case. According to those linguists who have studied them, they are fully-fledged languages in their own right, with their own vocabulary and complex rules of grammar. American Sign Language, for example, is quite different from, and not mutually intelligible with, British Sign Language, even though the two countries share a single spoken language.
The film does not use subtitles to translate Sarah's signs; instead, James provides a spoken interpretation for her and for some of the other students. I cannot understand American Sign Language, but it was obvious from watching Marlee's wonderfully fluent gestures that it is a language capable of conveying not only basic meanings but also feelings and emotions. Her performance is something unique in the history of the cinema; the only thing I can compare it to is Jodie Foster's equally remarkable performance in "Nell" from a few years later, in which she plays a young woman who is unable to speak English and can only speak an unknown, private, language. Marlee won an Oscar for this, her first film; she was, and remains, the youngest-ever winner of the "Best Actress" award.
The film itself was nominated for "Best Film" but did not win; 1986 was a good year in the cinema, and it was up against some very strong opposition. ("Platoon", which did win, is probably my least favourite of the five films that were nominated). It is, however, an excellent film; I have always been surprised that Randa Haines made so few films subsequently. 9/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Despite its apparent incursion into the groundbreaking and the unusual, CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD (and its God-awful title) is just another way of telling a story that is as perfunctory as the oldest love story you would find in any category romance section. The addition of a disability and the doctor's verve in introducing a New Way into a stagnant school is really no more than salad dressing -- by avoiding the real situation, Marlee Matlin's disability, and having William Hurt verbalize her emotions and her needs, we get only a fifty per cent of the picture and the story loses all of its punch. A much different picture, BABEL, presented a girl, Chieko, who was also a deaf-mute and needed to connect with Someone. With limited screen time, her story was the most memorable of the quartet, her lone cry as she let loose her pent-up feelings in front of a young detective who seemed to understand her loneliness as he recoiled in horror at the fact that she was a girl, plain and simple, and he couldn't take advantage of her, was something that has haunted me since. In CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, Matlin also screams in rage, but by then, her emotions, her language -- everything about her -- has been spelled out to the public by Hurt's condescending manner that it muddles her own suffering. Yes, she goes through a lot; yes, she's so bottled up in her own baggage that any letting go, any real trust, becomes a litmus test. I think that the main problem with this badly titled movie is the time when it was made. Had it been done today, with today's production values, it would have been a much more rewarding experience, and the love story, as nearly impossible and daunting, would have really resonated. However, it's an okay movie that even with the large amount of faults within its fabric, should be seen.
Everyone agrees that the acting, directing and photography In Children of
Lesser God was superb. One fatal flaw prevented it from being one of the
best big-screen love stories ever: it is that we understand Sarah's
through James' convenient habit of repeating aloud everything she says.
This may work (and is, of course, absolutely necessary on the stage) but in the film it is often awkward and strained. More importantly, the dynamic between Sarah's silence and James' sound is the central element of the story. The screen being a visual medium, this could have been developed powerfully through subtitles. The interplay between Matlin's eloquent signing and Hurt's resonant voice would have been a stunning cinematic effect. The silver screen could have told the story better than the stage because it allows the artists to tell the story of two characters with different modes of communication, without having to restrict itself to one mode only.
The main disadvantage of this strategy would have been commercial. American audiences don't like subtitles. Thus it would have gotten bad reviews and performed poorly at the box office--but would have been spectacular as art, and possibly cleaned up at the Academy Awards.
From an artistic perspective, the disadvantage would have been our need to glance at subtitles, which would distract us somewhat from the fluent signing and facial histrionics that earned Matlin an Academy Award. But this deficit would be minimized by the fact that in many exchanges, subtitles were not necessary, and Hurt's vocal translation would have been acceptable in others.
I think the story would have been far more convincing if Sarah had been allowed to speak for herself.
So, this movie has been hailed, glorified, and carried to incredible
heights. But in the end what is it really? Many of the ways in which it
has been made to work for a hearing audience on the screen do not work.
The fairly academic camera work keeps the signing obfuscated, and
scenes that are in ASL are hard to follow as a result even for someone
who is relatively fluent. The voice interpretation of Matlin's
dialogue, under the excuse that Hurt's character "likes the sound of
his voice", turns her more and more into a weird distant object as the
film goes on. Matlin does shine in the few scenes where her signing is
not partially hidden from view. But nonetheless, most of the movie,
when this is a love story, is only showed from a single point of view,
that of the man. As Ebert said, "If a story is about the battle of two
people over the common ground on which they will communicate, it's not
fair to make the whole movie on the terms of only one of them."
The idea that an oralist teacher who uses methods that have been imposed in many deaf schools for decades would be presented as "revolutionary" is fairly insulting in itself. His character becomes weakened as a credible teacher as the movie goes on. Drawing comedy from a deaf accent is, quite honestly, rather low. And his attitude towards the male students of his class is pretty symptomatic of how he seems to act with women: as an entitled man. A party scene involving a number of deaf people including a few academics meeting together leaves him seemingly isolated, in a way that's fairly inconsistent with his credentials: I have seen interpreters spontaneously switch to asl between each other even when they weren't aware of a deaf person being in the area, and yet somehow he feels like a fish out of the water in an environment his education should have made him perfectly used to. As a lover, he seems like a typical dogged nice guy, including his tendency to act possessively afterwards. And yet the movie is, indeed, only really seen through him, as everything his lover says is filtered through his voice.
The scenes involving the other deaf kids are, in general, wallbangers. The broken symbolism fails, the dance scene, the pool scene, even the initial sleep scene which is supposed to carry some of it - all these scenes that try to hint at the isolation of the deaf main character are broken metaphors, at best: many hearing people I know do dance on the bass beats that deaf people feel (instead of squirming like copulating chihuahuas), and going to take an evening dive for a hearing person is rarely an excuse to make a deep statement on the isolation of deafness (no, seriously, when I go swim, I go swim)...
It also fails at carrying the end of the play, instead making it a story of a deaf woman who submits to a strong man. Even though the original play ended with a more equal ground, where both have to accept each other as they are, and where he has to finally recognize her real voice is the movement of her hands, not the vibrations in her throat.
And for all the breakthrough that it may have seemed to be, Marlee Matlin remains Hollywood's token deaf woman to this day.
When I saw this movie; Children of a Lesser God in 1986. I didn't watch
in 1986, I watch later, like in the early 1990's to 2000. The movie
itself has produced when I was not born. Naturally, u know obviously
I'm a teenage. It is really unbelievable of how the first deaf female
actor has won the awards, whom named Marlee Matlin. Myself, I already
met Marlee Matlin in one of the deaf school in the United States.
So when I watched the movie the actress, Marlee Matlin has struck me very hard, because it is hard to believe that Marlee has the led of opens to deaf world that kind of opportunity for all deaf people to access to turn to an actor or actress. Her acting in the Children of a Lesser God were surely very excellent and beautiful sign language. As all of people know that Sign Language is the most beautiful language of all language. Marlee Matlin has really show me that she work hard into the movie, it would be definitely hard to communication other actors. But she made it, that really show how courage she is.
It was shocking that she took place for movies at one of the deaf school in the United States, probably in Chicago, Illinois. I could see other deaf actors and actress really involved in the movie and they act really outstanding. It is unbelievable explanation into the movie. I can tell that William Hurt; the actor who was interpreted the sign language from Marlee Matlin is a lot of work. He has to understand sign language and talk all the signs that Marlee has signed. I am sure that William Hurt would lost his mouth, when he talk a lot, I can't talk that long. I think it is wonderful that he does the work, it seems like he has a lot of respect to deaf community. It is really struck, when William Hurt tried to force Marlee Matlin to speak. I can understand of how deaf people, who has no idea how to talk, they will get forced to speak, they will be definitely like Marlee Matlin, they will be like speechless. I have that kind of feeling sometimes.
Myself, I have watch it again and again, the movie really hits me bad, it is too good movie. I will say to this movie an rate between 1 to 10. I will give this movie an 10. I would like to watch it again, yo u all too..the movie really show how deaf people are like. Deaf people can do anything, except hear.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For its first hour, the cleverly titled "Children of a Lesser God" is a
strong drama. It stars William Hurt as a maverick teacher at a school
for the hearing impaired. He falls in love with a character played by
Marlee Matlin, a young woman with a severe inferiority complex wrought
by abuses faced as a deaf child. Hurt tries to teach Matlin sign
language, but she's stubborn and refuses; she associates sign, and the
world of speech itself, with all those who've wronged her.
This is where the film becomes most interesting. Hurt and Matlin essentially engage in a sadomasochistic language game, both attempting to have their subjectivity, and language, affirmed as universal truth. "You want to talk to me, then you learn my language!" Hurt demands, but Matlin refuses. She will not let anyone define or force themselves upon her. "Talk to me!" Hurt insists, but Matlin remains mute. Eventually she learns that her language of silence is, or can be, equally a form of hate. The two then reconcile and find a common middle ground between sound and silence, though ultimately alienation, solitude and an inability to fully communicate are presented as being intrinsic to the love experience.
Wonderfully acted, and filled with lovely autumnal shots of New England, "Children of a Lesser God" works well until its last hour. Here things get increasingly formulaic, and director Randa Haines rolls out a series of clichéd, heavy-handed domestic disputes.
In addition to being the first female-directed film nominated for Best Picture, "Children" featured the first significant use of ASL (American Sign Language) in a mainstream Hollywood film, as well as a supporting cast of young actors and actresses who were actually deaf. Star Marlee Matlin became the youngest ever actress (and the first deaf person) to win a Best Actress Oscar.
7.9/10 Interesting material turns cloying. Worth one viewing.
Randa Haines 'Children of a Lesser God' is a Complex story, told in a
mature manner. What also stands tall in this rather unique love-story,
are it's performances by it's lead stars.
'Children Of A Lesser God' tells the story of a speech teacher at a school for deaf students, who falls in love with a deaf woman who also works there.
Though a love-story without any response half the time, this romantic-drama packs in some truly heartfelt moments. The writing in the first hour is superb. But dips in the second hour for a while, but a mature & real culmination makes up for it. Randa Haines understands this human story with maturity and her direction is perfect. Cinematography is good, so is the Editing.
Now to the performances! 'Children Of A Lesser God' would've been soul-less if not for it's performances. Marlee Matlin is Stunning in her Oscar & Golden-Globe-Winning Performance. She speaks through her eyes, and conveys all the emotions inside her. William Hurt is restrained all through. Piper Laurie is first-rate and leaves a strong impression. Philip Bosco is good.
On the whole, 'Children Of A Lesser God' is A Good Watch, without a shed of doubt. If it had a better second hour, I would have given this story a proper 9 on 10, nonetheless, I had an experience worth reviewing.
Boy meets girl; boy (unfairly) loses girl; and after assorted trials and tribulations the two are blissfully reunited. The standard romantic formula hasn't changed, but here it benefits from a unique perspective: he can hear, she can't. William Hurt is the overconfident teacher of deaf students trying to convince Marlee Matlin (against her better judgment) that silence isn't golden, and the tensions of attraction between them make for an often absorbing romantic drama. Oddly enough the film, so otherwise sympathetic to the needs of the hearing impaired, is top heavy with verbal rather than visual expression. Notable exceptions (disregarding the obvious aquatic sex sequence: only in a movie can people undress with such ease and grace underwater) include the scene in which Hurt becomes the odd man out at a party conducted in sign language, and a later moment when he unwinds to the music of Bach while Matlin site alone and oblivious in the background. Considering the logistical problems of the scenario (for example how to communicate to an uneducated audience a conversation held entirely in sign language) the film is nevertheless an uncomplicated tearjerker that hides its stage origins well. The partially deaf Matlin is impressive in her debut, while Hurt performs like an actor self-consciously aware of the camera's presence, affecting an artificial naturalness which he drops only during the more fiery lover's quarrels, when the couple shows just how passionate and expressive hands and faces can be.
Knowing the art of signing is a big challenge. The skill and grace of signing interested me when I was only three. This movie gives out a strong message that will last a lifetime. "Children of a Lesser God" is very forward and very emotional all at once. Here you have a teacher James Leeds(William Hurt) who helps deaf people speak. There is where he meets Sarah Norman(Marlee Matlin, the fine Oscar Winner) a proud, hot-headed student who decides to go back. I like the scene where he and another student work on a song, and they had a blast with the song. Then in one scene, he helped a guy learn how to say a curse word. Sarah and James are total opposites, the chemistry between the two are unbelievable. They had sex, and he tutored her at the same time. That's a start. Then when the school had the show, I liked the scene well. The chemistry between Hurt and Matlin were spectacular, until the Oscars came. Matlin is considered a hero to me, when she made some shows closed-captioned, and she really speaks her mind either in sign, or spoken. Don't make fun of her! She's got my two thumbs up!
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