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Violin Lesson (2002)

 |  Short  |  13 April 2002 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 15 users  
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Harry's sexual desires are driving him crazy but when he confronts his crush on another young man, this Violin Lesson becomes something more.

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Title: Violin Lesson (2002)

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Credited cast:
David Frank ...


Harry's sexual desires are driving him crazy but when he confronts his crush on another young man, this Violin Lesson becomes something more.

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13 April 2002 (USA)  »

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Beautiful and interesting, but lacking in (some) clarity
25 October 2003 | by (Washington, D.C.) – See all my reviews

It's all about what happens when a cute Canadian teenage violin player (Harry) growing up on a rural farm falls for his best friend, John, and then Harry's dad learns about his son's homosexuality.

This film is exceptionally well-crafted. I know, most people start out with the acting and directing. I think it's the cinematography and editing that make this film worth watching. The atmospheric nature of the Canadian woods country is superbly realized here. That's not only because of the wonderful location shots (the farm, the small town), but because the cinematographer and editor worked very, very hard to create a sense of the slowness of time, the frozenness of the heart, the glacial nature of gay teenage emotion (almost similar to the way time slows down during an accident).

The film is magnificently carried on the handsome shoulders of actor Robert Sudduth, who clearly has a long and admirable career ahead of him if he continues to turn in performances as good as this. Sudduth plays Harry, the handsome violin player struggling with his homosexuality. It's clear Harry acknowledges his queerness to himself; there's an early scene in which Harry longingly if furtively looks at a gay magazine in a shop window in the small town near where his family lives.

But the problem with the film is not the character sketch drawn of Harry but the way reality is woven around him by director Robert Alan Rackham. For example, Harry gets drunk in the family barn in an attempt to drink away his troubles. The next day, Harry wakens, fully dressed in warm clothes, in the middle of a field near his home. A homeless women (her grocery bag containing a copy of the gay magazine) wanders through the field. Is this a dream sequence? It's so surreal, I made that assumption. But it is not a dream sequence at all. Indeed, it's reality.

Maybe that says something about the place and time in which Harry lives -- that the heterocentric world is surreal. But perhaps (and I think) it is that the director lost control of his picture for a moment. The images are superb, but they lose their meaning when presented out of context.

We're permitted to see bits and pieces of Harry's world: His accepting eight-year-old sister (with her naive but pure-hearted morality); his sweet-natured hunky best friend, the football-playing heterosexual John; his loving but bigoted father, Eddie.

The film ostensibly revolves around two moment in time. One is where John, Harry and Harry's little sister relax in the barn. John asks Harry to give him a violin lesson (as a way of escaping the little girl's endless doll's tea-party). Harry's violin-playing itself seems odd and incomprehensible in the rural setting: The director clearly plays off the audience's stereotypes of violin-playing as urban, intellectual and sophisticated and farming communities as rural, uneducated and lacking in appreciation for the fine arts. Violin-playing becomes a metaphor for Harry's sexuality. Is "teaching John" a metaphor for introducing him to homosexuality?

The second turning point in the film comes when Harry is caught masturbating in the barn by his father. His father assumes Harry is fantasizing about a girl, but Harry reveals (through a neat visual bit) that it's John who occupies his throughts. Dad steps on the violin, destroying it. Again, a metaphor. But this time, for what? For the now-broken relationship between father and son? For the way the father and the countryside has crushed the son's spirit?

These are beautiful images and scenes, well-acted and well-photographed. But what do they mean? At some point, a director has to consider whether his images are conveying any meaning, or if they are conveying the meaning s/he wants them to convey. And that's the difficulty with this film.

"The Violin Lesson" is, however, eminently watchable. I hope it comes out quickly on DVD. It is a terrific film.

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