“Maybe a scotch would be better”
Conquering your fears—I think that is as good a description as any of what Lisa Ford, (and her son Zack Ford, who co-directed), was looking to express with in her short film The Teacher. Screening at the Buffalo Niagara Film festival, the piece is an interesting mix of reality and fantasy, showing many of the activities for which Hermes is the patron God of. A stand-in for orators and literature, (the teacher), as well as thieves, liars, athletics and sports, (the student); this God arises from the water at the start of the movie to watch how both Marian and Conner interact. It seems at first to just be your run-of-the-mill relationship between teacher and student, especially learned professor and under-achieving kid, until we start to understand exactly where Marian is coming from, and how much more complex her character is.
The first collision between these two occurs during a test in her Classics class. She discovers him cheating and throws him out of the room. Unable to admit his wrongdoing, the boy’s knowledge that an F could cause him to be ineligible for the swim team is all that is on his mind. The bitterness clouds his judgment and instead of understanding her side to the problem—how could she let someone get away with blatant deception in front of the rest of the class—he selfishly confronts her with malice, refusing to help as she drops her groceries in the street, even kicking a piece of fruit before he leaves. And this is how so many people live their lives, running around without regard for the others co-existing in close proximity. Marian is so much more than just some teacher collecting a paycheck, uncaring if her students do good or not. She had to fight to go to college against a father that thought it a waste of time and money; she gave up her dreams to travel in order to study and succeed on her own. These days sees a different generation, one of entitlement and laziness.
Full of regret and questioning exactly what she has done with her life, Marian arrives at a bar, spills her troubles to the one person who will listen and decides to give Conner the chance no one gave her. But it’s too late at this point. While the kid may forgive her now and be thankfully for her compassion, her help was only relevant if it worked towards his swimming goals. She tries to become a figure that he can trust and lean upon, but he wants nothing of it. So here she is again, worthless to the world and empty from the opportunities she let slip away. Tried and worn down—I won’t say her character might have been contemplating suicide, maybe just retirement—everything changes when she believes Conner is in danger. Putting her own fears aside, she does the most selfless thing one can do; it’s an opportunity to start her life fresh and with purpose, a message sent by Hermes that she receives with open arms.
Ford’s film is very lyrical and makes sure to place Joyce Feurring’s face (as Marian) as the core image, seeing the defeat in her eyes where so much optimism once resided. The performance is central to the success of the story, pulling off the role of strict teacher at the start while also the compassionate educator who understands the job description more than her contemporaries who only looking at punks like Conner and dismiss them rather than reach out a hand to help. Marian sees so much of her past in this boy; she notices all the promise that made her who she is, only it’s trapped within him. Andre Diniz does a wonderful job showing Conner’s ambivalence towards the future, that huge chip on his shoulder preventing him from opening his eyes to what really matters. If the end of both their trajectories shows us anything, it’s that it is never too late. Whether you were just born or a day away from death, it is up to you to seize the day and make of it what you will, despite any fears or obstacles standing in the way.
The Teacher 8/10 | ★ ★ ★
Andre Diniz and Joyce Feurring. Photo by Nick Klimaszewski. From www.theteachershortfilm.com/.