Detachment (2011) Review: A Critique of American Public Schooling

Detachment (2011) Review: A Critique of American Public Schooling

Imagine John Keating from Dead Poets Society. Now imagine he’s depressed and lonely instead. That’s Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher whose stoic facade conceals a burdened heart.

Detachment is an attempt to pierce through the veneer of America’s educational system to reveal institutional apathy towards its children and burnt-out teachers. 


Henry Barthes, a solitary substitute teacher, finds himself navigating the perilous waters of a failing educational system amid the grim metropolitan setting of a struggling inner-city school. 

As he moves from school to school, never remaining long enough to form bonds, Barthes protects himself from interpersonal relationships with a cold heart.

Barthes tries to reconcile his desire for seclusion with the increasing desperation of people around him. He is plagued by his own issues from a ruined past. 

He meets a variety of colourful individuals, including a tough yet vulnerable Principal Dearden, a tenacious and committed teacher named Ms. Madison, and a young, unstable sex worker named Erica.

As Barthes tiptoes along the edges of human interaction, a chance encounter with Erica cracks open the facade he so carefully constructed. 

As their lives intertwine, a tender thread of human connection emerges, forcing Barthes to confront the fractures within himself and the impact he can have on those in need.

Shot Like A Documentary

The film’s most distinctive aspect is the way it’s directed. Tony Kaye followed a documentary-style filmmaking. For example, the beginning scene consists of interviews with the teachers, who share their thoughts and feelings about their profession and their students. It provides insight into the motivations and frustration of the educators. 

But this isn’t simply limited to the visuals. The film also features real teachers and students from New York City public schools as extras. This juxtaposition blurs the barriers between fact and fantasy, emphasising the story's authenticity. This is, after all, one of the many realities of the American public school system.

Impressively, the film was shot in only 21 days, with most scenes done in one or two takes.

The movie also employs visual metaphors and animation to depict the characters' inner lives, such as Henry's reoccurring dream of a bus full of kids going off a bridge.

Sad films starring Adrienne Brody might be my new religion

Although the entire ensemble was excellent, Adrienne Brody's very reflective and nuanced portrayal helped us to understand Henry Barthe's complicated psychology on a deeper level.

We wish to comprehend the demons that torment him because his stoic front contrasts with the obvious suffering that is concealed behind his eyes.

A Sharp Critique of the Education System

Detachment addresses problems that are frequently ignored, such as student suicide, abuse, and neglect. The movie acts as a harrowing wake-up call to society by confronting these taboo subjects. 

By delving deeply into the lives of its characters, Detachment goes beyond the bounds of a standard school drama. We are introduced to educators who are battling burnout, contending with uninspired pupils, and coping with the emotional upheaval in their own life. 

The movie serves as a sombre reminder that teachers are more than simply knowledge brokers; they are also frail beings attempting to manage their own challenges while moulding the brains of children.

It makes us face the ignored truth that education is not just about academic accomplishment but also about fostering emotional development and offering young souls a safe home to thrive.

Additionally, the movie looks at how trauma, abuse, and neglect affect both instructors and pupils and how they deal with it. It demonstrates how education can both be a cause of misery and disappointment as well as a source of empowerment. 

The movie also raises more concerns about how underappreciated and unappreciated teachers are in society, as well as their obligations.

The repeating image of a run-down, abandoned school is meant to symbolise the broken status of the educational system and the unrealized potential of the students it fails.