When I set the goal of watching one classic movie a month for 2014, I didn’t have much of a plan…no specific list of movies, no specific venue. Just me and some random classic movies.
This last weekend, the NW Film Center was playing one of my all time favorites, The 400 Blows. Though I haven’t seen this movie in a good ten years, I think about it frequently in my role as a teacher. Not to go on a tangent, but the education system treats adolescent boys like, well, shit. They are punished far more often for doing things that are developmentally appropriate. We force them to sit at desks for painful amounts of time and then get upset when they fidget or blurt out impulsively – even though that is exactly what they should be doing at that age.
Of course, I like to think that I never do anything like that in my own classroom, but frankly it’s very hard when systemically those are the cultural norms (i.e. getting a directive to not take my students out to recess). We wonder as a society why school shootings are so rampant, but I have yet to hear anyone talk about how we are raising a culture of boys who feel a lack of identity or connection to society because we are always freaking picking on them (you heard it here first, people!).
But I digress.
The 400 Blows – Francois Truffaut (1959): Antoine Doinel is a 12 year-old boy in Paris, imprisoned by everyone and everything in his life. Of course, the film doesn’t come across that literal, but it doesn’t take long to see how Antoine’s life at home and at school is completely oppressive. In their cramped apartment, his parents pick at his every move; at school, his teacher is just short of a prison warden. Not to say Antoine’s an angel; he screws around at school and swipes things at home, but you get the sense it’s out of self-preservation rather than defection. His real joy comes from the freedom of skipping school and playing outside with his friends, though we all know his happiness is fleeting. I remember full classes in film school devoted to the tracking shot at the end, where Antoine escapes to the ocean – a juxtaposition from the way Truffaut sets up the iron bars of city living. We don’t know the outcome of his life, but we get a hint that his spirit is far from broken.