"Playing music is supposed to be fun. It's about heart, it's about feelings, moving people, and something beautiful, and it's not about notes on a page. I can teach you notes on a page, I can't teach you that other stuff."
As a former public high school teacher, I like movies about other high school teachers, particularly the ones about the other high school teachers who don't go to their jobs in order to change the world. They go there more to earn some money and just get through the day -- and somehow end up changing the world in the process.
Mr. Holland's Opus is about a musician named Glenn Holland, played by Richard Dreyfuss. Glenn Holland's real job -- and his life's goal -- is to compose a symphony, one that will take the world of music by storm, one that will feed body, mind and soul. But everyone knows that artists were born to starve in garrets, huddled over the pianoforte and warming their hands over a candle while feverishly scribbling notes on staff paper, so Glenn takes a job as a high school music teacher. [The only task in a school that I think could possibly be more thankless than that of a band director is that of an English teacher (I might possibly be biased) because everyone has to take English, while band is an elective and the students presumably want to be there.]
Glenn Holland encounters varying degrees of talent in his students as his fake career as a teacher continues on over the years. His real career as a composer is sidetracked by teaching and family responsibilities -- he marries his sweetheart, Iris, and they have a son, Cole (named for jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane). The turning point in the movie comes when Glenn and Iris realize that their tiny baby is deaf.
Glenn struggles to come to terms with the fact that his son will never be able to hear music and as the years wear on, taking us through Kennedy's assassination, the VietNam war, the drug culture of the 1970s and on into the program-slashing, down-sizing 1980s, Mr. Holland grows up as he helps his students through the same thing. Along the way, with life's big disappointments and tiny victories, he finally realizes that his entire life has been a symphony of sorts, the music sometimes moody, sometimes despairing, but ultimately bursting forth in triumph, just as bright and beautiful as any of your Mozarts or Vivaldis.
The end of this movie is very beautiful and happy, but the moment that really shines is when Glenn, tormented by his son's disability, sings John Lennon's lovely tribute, "Beautiful Boy", to Cole. Very moving, it is.
Recommended for everybody, not just former band geeks.
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