CONCEPTS OF HUMANITY IN THE MOVIE ‘DETACHMENT’

Words: PETE ROGERS
October 26, 2013

It is a remarkable piece about education and its true power and meaning and the whole engagement that it can entail.


This film is amongst the very few to have isolated both the nature and power of humanity when developed in people and the predicament that comes along with the attempt to act on it. Films of this nature are rare, but among the noteworthy are The Last Temptation of Christ, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Donnie Darko. Similarly to these pictures, DETACHMENT uses a complex protagonist (Henry Barthes) to illustrate the point…quite brilliantly.

This humanity which inspires us to be better people manifests as a rescue and redemption impulse which we can sum up as “don’t let people get stuck in a hole if you can help show them how to get out of it” – which is a bit like the Golden Rule (“do unto others…” etc.) which we all know instinctively to be right but dismally short in application; mainly because ruling elites do not plan to submit to it. The conjecture here though, is that if you are sufficiently empathetic; as is Henry: to know that you are connected to others, albeit at arm’s length, then to deserve your own self-respect; the only sort of respect that matters: you have to try to get a ladder to them when they need it. That is what one might come to see as the true meaning of the much misunderstood term “Gentleman”; being a person who does not to stand by while victims are created.

This is reason stumbling about in a world that can’t see it for what it is, but can clearly see its bearer, the messenger, who is then put on a pedestal and framed as saviour, but who would then stand in dereliction by denying the role. The victims do not go for the ladder so as to climb up and think differently to get out of the hole; that would be true education of course: they grab the carrier instead and put him on the pedestal rather than those ideas which were necessary to affect their escape, or hope of it.

The victims wish to pass their burdens on to the proffered hands rather than trying to accept the solutions being offered from them, cornering the educator into this commitment by using his decency against him rather than they themselves attending to the task of climbing out by accepting the ladder, which is actually all that was supposed to be on offer. This predicament shows that the instinct to help when acted upon can easily rebound because the desperation built up in the victims can blind them to the magical offer of self-redemption – real education – concerning their understanding of themselves and those around them.

These caring hands try to pass this ladder to victims who do not recognise it for what it is, with further dire consequences because such rescue failures are trumpeted by the cynic who gets to prove that trying to help losers is a waste of time, effort and, most importantly, money; which is exactly what he wanted from the situation: proof positive of the wisdom of hauling up the ladder, because the Golden Rule is shown to be unworkable. So the callous dominion that may be the root cause of the failure through its continued fulfilment of a mission to limit the Golden Rule, can then resume the dire but time-honoured work of appropriation against the general interests of its subjects, not only without conscience as heretofore, but now as a policy of wisdom. This is the way that the authoritative state has always demeaned its people, so we are actually being shown that our democracy is really illusory.

Those proffered hands should amount to the victim’s means of escape from what is really an imaginary trap made real by the inhumanity of others; encouraged by the guardian-protectors of our overpowering economic governing system: as brilliantly illustrated by role of Mr Mathias. The missing step for the educator lies in the inability to ignite the necessary self-belief and understanding in the victims so enabling them to accept the ladder at arms-length; the whole point: rather than yielding to the impulse of rushing to clutch at the ladder-bearer.

There are those, understandably and obviously, who can’t stop themselves from grabbing at and getting their hooks into what they see as a personal saviour who they interpret as having shown desire as well as humanity; as though making some kind of pass, which they accept to secure obligation: thus missing the point and wrecking the deeply felt mission of Barthes towards people in general. That mission would be the hope of spreading education too would it not?

It is a remarkable piece about education and its true power and meaning and the whole engagement that it can entail.

This is so important that it should be taught by educators everywhere because it is what we are like, and why we are not succeeding as we should be in this truer mission. We just bore people and train them in ways that confuse and fail to connect with or ignite their imaginations or any other part of their finer minds. That’s a kind of incarceration not the intended release from ignorance.

Oh yes. It’s a quite fantastic film.




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