A Teacher (2013) / Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would definitely be R for strong sexual content, brief nudity and some language
Running time: 75 min.
Cast: Lindsay Burdge, Will Brittain, Jennifer Prediger, Julie Dell Phillips, Jonny Mars, Chris Doubek
Director: Hannah Fidell
Screenplay: Hannah Fidell
Review published August 24, 2013
In a nutshell, A Teacher is about a 20-something aged female high school teacher who is involved with a sexual affair with one of her male students. The film explores their relationship from the point of view of the teacher, including the massive amount of guilt, paranoia, and fear of isolation that comes with the vast indiscretion. The teacher is much more emotionally invested in their tenuous relationship than the young man, which makes her feel perpetually vulnerable, as she knows it is wrong, but her feelings have caused her to become emotionally dependent on their hook-ups.
Lindsay Burdge (Frances Ha, Actually Adieu My Love) plays the older woman, Diana Watts, an English teacher in Austin, Texas, and Will Brittain (Big Boy) plays Eric Tull, the hunky, popular senior. Both actors play their roles in pitch-perfect fashion, as we can see in an instant the imbalance of the relationship, where she must always put all her chips in the middle of the table, while he gets to dole them out as he pleases. Although she is the adult and the authority figure in his life, Eric knows that he is the one with the freedom and the power. Should their affair ever come to light, he will be regarded as a hero among his peers for bagging the teacher all the boys wanted to sleep with, while she will lose her job, her reputation, and probably be an embarrassment to her family and friends to the point where she will likely become a pariah.
In one seemingly throwaway moment of the film, Diana observes as Eric tosses a piece of paper at another student in class, and she just looks away; he has the power and free will to do as he pleases without worry of repercussion, while she can do nothing but sit idly by and hope he will not take too much advantage of her position of vulnerability. As Eric has all of the details of their relationship, including, at least for a time, some scandalously racy photos of her, the relationship become a bit of a trap for Diana, as she has to keep in Eric's good graces so that he won't spill the beans to his friends.
But Diana is also stuck because she has nearly all of the emotional investment in their relationship, wanting the affair to develop into something more, desiring a time when he will no longer be a high school student, in order for them to proceed forward as a real-life couple. In short, she has put everything on the line to be with him, but he gives her next to nothing but his own body and occasional companionship, telling her what to do sexually. Words of love are never exchanged, though one surmises that this is only because Diana, deep down, is scared of the potential rejection.
A Teacher obliviously deals with subject matter that many viewers will find both ethically and morally repugnant. I'm telling you this because, if the thought of watching a film about an adult teacher having sex with one of her teenage students is enough to offend you, you're probably not going to enjoy this film, as it explores their relationship through a series of meetings in order to engage in sex. In its defense, I can tell you that the relationship is not portrayed as sensationalized or exploitative, and though there are several sex scenes in the film, there is only a brief shot of a bare breast in terms of nudity.
At 75 minutes, A Teacher is on the short end of feature films. It's a perfect running time for it, as it doesn't inject needless plot developments in order to justify a longer period. Not that the film is tight; it's a think piece above all else, and slow, methodical, with lingering moments of contemplation in order for the events to sink in. There are shots of Diana jogging from time to time, where we see the stress and fatigue on her face, mirroring that which is going on in her personal life, sweating from the strain of trying to keep up with the mix of emotions and twisted rationalizations that lie perpetually on her mind.
While teacher/student relationships are a repulsive proposition, if you can keep an open mind, A Teacher provides enough interest, intrigue, and the all-important consequences to be a worthy analysis of some very tricky subject matter. As an exploration into the hours and hours of agony and dependency that occur for what amounts to but a few moments of pleasure, it's enough to give anyone remotely thinking about the possibility of dabbling in such an affair great pause. Though it's very understated (with the exception of a too on-the-nose end credits song) and nonjudgmental, writer-director Hannah Fidell's (We're Glad You're Here) film is a powerful cautionary lesson on how the pursuit of love and affection beyond moral and legal boundaries can be futile, and potentially devastating.
©2013 Vince Leo