Friday, 8 March 2013

Mr Holland's Opus Review

Mr Holland's Opus is one of those lovely feel good films. In a sense, it's timeless because it's set in the past and although it ends in, what was at the time, the present-day, the way it's set up just makes it feel like almost twenty years down the line, it's just showing you another decade from the past.

It was released in 1995 and stars Richard Dreyfuss as Glenn Holland, a musician and composer who takes up a position as a high school music teacher to give him time to save up enough money to work full time on his composing. It begins in the sixties and follows him and his family through the next three decades.

At first he's the only one who wants to be at the school less than his students, but he gradually grows into his role and discovers how to connect with the kids; by linking their modern Rock and Roll to Bach, to the horror of the deputy principal. And things don't go quite according to plan, his wife gets pregnant and so they move from their apartment to a house, meaning he needs to carry on teaching a while longer before he can afford to give it up and compose.

Although the main story is that of Glenn Holland and how he changes over time, it's broken down into smaller chunks by the stories of the kids he teaches and his family. There's the girl who just wants to be good at the clarinet because everyone else in her family has a talent and she doesn't (which makes the end pretty satisfying); the boy whose a great sportsman but has been kicked out of the football team because his academic grades are low and the coach is going to lose him from the wrestling team unless he can get him an academic credit from somewhere, so Mr Holland is persuaded to take him on as a drummer in the matching band; there's the stoner who has the book knowledge but is missing the appreciation part of 'Music Appreciation' class; and there's the girl who wants to be an actress who develops a (not entirely one-sided) crush on her teacher.

Alongside all this is the over-arching story of Holland's inability to connect with his son who is profoundly deaf and (so he believes) is unable to share his father's love of music. As well as budget cuts to the school's programmes which put the arts curriculum under threat, which Holland fights.

The film runs to a little over two hours and with all those little strands it does have the potential to become disjointed; but it doesn't. The passage of time is cleverly indicated through little montages of video clips from each decade (shots of Vietnam War protests, Martin Luther King's speech, Woodstock, John Lennon's death, etc.) as well as music from that time too. Mr Holland changes with the passing years too; he's fresh-faced and young, he grows a moustache, starts going grey and finally becomes very grey; his wife and son age too, with his son being played by various actors. And as well as all that there's the change in fashion, hairstyles, cars and the sign welcoming the kids back to school with 'Welcome Class of [whatever year]. It's a combination if little touches which make sure you're never lost in time.

There are some really powerful messages in the film too, from the simple 'practice makes perfect' to the heartwarming 'small actions can make a big impact on other people'. But there's also some serious ones too, the one that I always think of whenever I hear about funding cuts to schools or overhauls of the curriculum is towards the end of the film; Mr Holland says that they can keep cutting the arts to make sure there's more money for 'core' subjects like English, but if they keep on cutting and keep on cutting, soon the kids won't have anything to read or write about. This film should probably be compulsive viewing to anyone wanting to work in the education department of the government.

It's one of those films that you can revisit time and time again and catch new bits or see old bits in a new way. I first saw it when I was about twelve when it was rented for my birthday sleepover and since then with each viewing I find myself appreciating different bits. As I've grown older and learned more about each decade shown I find myself understanding things that I might have missed before.

And I dare you to watch it without wanting to cry at the end; when we watched it on the Saturday following Valentine's Day (the film was a Valentine's Day gift to me from Mr Click) I started tearing up at the beginning just thinking about the end! P.S. The video below is the ending, don't watch if you've not seen it and don't want to be spoiled.


  1. I remember loving this movie. I might have to dust it off this weekend.

    1. It is a lovely film. It seems kind of timeless as well, whereas some become outdated over time, but this one gets better each time I see it.


Let me know what you think. :-)