#304. Burn Victims

Every scar has a story. Even though humans can be hardy creatures, sometimes our bodies can’t completely recover after a particularly damaging trauma. Sometimes these scars can be covered up by clothing, like a scarf hiding a throat that was slit (a la Seven Psychopaths (2013)), but sometimes these injuries can be difficult to disguise. What people often don’t realize is that a scar that can’t be hidden often carries with it a load of psychological damage as well. If the trauma against a person’s body is severe enough, then the scars of the mind can often be forgotten when the scars of the body are hard to ignore. These people know they don’t appear “normal.” Every time they look in the mirror, they are reminded of painful memories. Often, these scars are due to severe burns. This week’s two films examine the lives of burn victims and the two different ways they deal with their scars.

Pay it ForwardPay it Forward
Year: 2000
Rating: PG-13
Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours

It can be difficult to carry a visible scar in a profession that requires you to interact with plenty of people, especially one that involves large numbers of children. Young children often lack the tact to recognize they shouldn’t point out a person’s scars, but even older children will often speculate and start rumors as to the origins of a person’s scars. In these situations, burn victims will head off any questions about their scars by being forward about this potentially sensitive subject. Hopefully, this tactic stymies any further inquiries; since the details of the trauma might be too painful to bring up in public. With visible scars, negative body image can be a challenging obstacle to overcome. Fortunately, if enough people are accepting and loving of these burn victims, even despite their disfigurement, they can learn to love themselves as well.

As a child, Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey) was knocked unconscious by his alcoholic father. While unconscious, his father lit him on fire with gasoline, leaving Eugene with deep scars across his body. Now a middle-aged teacher in Las Vegas, Eugene is hesitant to accept the advances of Arlene McKinney (Helen Hunt), the mother of one of his students, Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment). It turns out that Eugene is the recipient of one of Trevor’s “pay it forward” favors through the romantic setup that eventually becomes deeper when the teacher helps Arlene find the missing Trevor. Unfortunately, since Arlene’s alcoholic ex is still in the picture, Eugene is upset with her because he sees the same behavior in her that his own mother had with his alcoholic father. This revelation helps Arlene kick out her ex, but before Eugene and Arlene can reconcile their differences, Trevor is involved in a tragic accident.

V for Vendetta
Year: 2005
Rating: R
Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours

The origin of scars can be as varied as they are unique. How did a burn victim get their scars? Were they burned as a child, being forced to grow up with these scars their entire life? Did they enter a burning building to save someone? These stories can run the gamut from heroic to deplorable, but they usually define a person’s life, much like any trauma will. The make of a man comes when he has a decision to make in regards to his scars. He can either wear them proudly, confident in his personal identity, or he can hide his scars behind layers of subterfuge and masks. The former is likely someone with a public presence, whereas the latter has the ability to hide in the shadows. Sometimes we might even find that the latter is waiting for the perfect moment to enact their vengeance, taking revenge on those who burned him in the first place.

On the cusp of Guy Fawkes Day, a masked figure going by the name of V (Hugo Weaving) blows up the Old Bailey as a statement of anarchy against the fascist government of the United Kingdom. Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) is the only person around to hear of V’s reasoning behind the terrorist attack, but it also puts her in danger of being caught by the police state. As the detective investigating V dives deeper into the masked vigilante’s past, he finds that many of the high-profile victims of his vengeance were once part of a chemical weapon research facility in Larkhill. This detention facility burned down, and few escaped unharmed. Meanwhile, Evey learns a lot more about V as a person, including his extensive burns. When she has finally been broken and freed, she helps enact V’s plan to free the people of England from the tyranny of their government.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 traumatic tales

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#303. Teachers who Care

Have you ever had a teacher who inspired you? A teacher who pushed you to become a better student? A better person? Most people don’t like going to school for a variety of reasons, but occasionally there comes a teacher who really cares about their students. To them, it’s not about getting tenure. It’s not about how much money they could make (which isn’t that much to begin with). It’s about educating and reaching the children of the future. Sometimes these teachers face resistance, be it from the students themselves or from the administration of the school. And yet, they persevere in the hope that they can reach just one student and help them to find their true potential. I have had several teachers over the years that I would put into this category and helped me get where I am today. This week’s two films highlight teachers who care.

Dead Poets SocietyDead Poets Society
Year: 1989
Rating: PG
Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.” Sometimes it feels like the education system is stuck in a rut. It can point to the data of why it focuses on preparing students for standardized tests, but in doing so relegates each child to a number, and not a person. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to break these habits, since they are intrinsically tied to funding. Consequently, it’s almost easier to find the teachers who care about their students. They’re the ones who teach a little differently than what is expected. Even substitute teachers, like Jack Black’s character in School of Rock (2003) can influence students if they just take the time to engage with them on a personal level, finding the students’ talents and bringing them out for the world to see. Another teacher who bucked the system was that of John Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poets Society (1989).

Seeing the potential in his students, English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) tells them that life is more than just scholastic pursuits. He encourages them to “seize the day” in order to find out who they truly are. Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) takes the edict to heart and begins to find that he enjoys acting, much to the disapproval of his father. Upon meeting resistance from his family, Neil feels his only option is to end his life in suicide. Due to the death of one of its students, Welton Academy investigates and learns how much Keating has influenced his students. Since he did not follow the strict rules of the boarding school, Keating is forced to resign. Arriving at his classroom to pick up his belongings, Keating finds the students who know the truth of the situation standing up for the one teacher who cared for them.

Pay it ForwardPay it Forward
Year: 2000
Rating: PG-13
Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours

When a teacher finds a student with exceptional talent, sometimes they will make it a point to encourage said student to explore the possibilities of their talent. At least, the teachers who care are more likely to do so. For example, Miss Riley (Laura Dern) from October Sky (1999) saw that some of her students had an interest in rocketry and encouraged them to keep with it even though their recent attempts were explosive failures. If she hadn’t provided the nudge in the right direction, the four “rocket boys” wouldn’t have followed through with their interest and would not have won the national science fair. This validation at the national level is part of what helped these men get into the rocket science careers that have made them so successful. And all it took was a teacher who cared. Now, what if a teacher encourages his students to change the world?

Wanting to challenge his students, social studies teacher Eugene Simonet (Kevin Spacey) gives them an assignment to think up and implement a plan that will improve the world. Expecting to get back mediocre ideas, he is surprised to find Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) has struck upon an idea he calls “pay it forward.” Simply put, a person must do a good deed for three other people that they could not accomplish by themselves. Unfortunately, Trevor’s mother does not approve of this idea, since it has led her son to bring a homeless man home in the process. Confronting Mr. Simonet, she soon finds that Trevor’s next “pay it forward” target is his teacher, setting both adults up to pursue a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, Trevor’s empathetic kindness gets him into trouble with some bullies, eventually providing him the opportunity to spread his idea to a much wider audience.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 empathetic educators

#294. Haley Joel Osment

Have you ever noticed how some actors come in and out of relevance? Sometimes these actors use their success in one medium, like Television, to jump the gap to another medium, like movies. While I can’t say I’ve ever seen any Game of Thrones, I’ve seen plenty of the actors from it in a variety of different films. Even within the realm of cinema, an actor seems to be in almost everything for a couple of years, then fades into obscurity. Often, this is linked to receiving an Academy Award for acting, as they have now proven their merits as an actor, thus making them desirable for marketing purposes for other films. Sometimes this is due to a certain “look” an actor can provide, and once they change it (or grow out of it) they have trouble regaining their former glory. This week’s two films examine the former relevance of Haley Joel Osment.

Secondhand LionsSecondhand Lions
Year: 2003
Rating: PG
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours

From 1994 to 2003, Haley Joel Osment was relevant in the realm of cinema. His first appearance on film as Forrest Gump Jr. in Forrest Gump (1994) gave him the springboard he needed to eventually star in other films. While his success as an actor came with The Sixth Sense (1999), he also had many notable performances, including the society-changing Trevor McKinney in Pay it Forward (2000). While Osment took two 3-year hiatuses, none of his recent films have captured that youthful charm that people recognized from his first decade of acting. Of course, perhaps his voice acting work, which he performed while in relevance as well as afterward, was merely his next medium. In fact, most people who have played any of the Kingdom Hearts video games will recognize his voice as that of the main character, Sora.

Walter Caldwell (Haley Joel Osment) finds himself abandoned by his mother when he arrives at the home of his great uncles, Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Michael Caine). These brothers are leery of Walter, as they suspect he has been dumped on them to gain access to their rumored fortune. The crotchety old men eventually warm up to the teenager as he helps them acquire items to make their life a little more interesting. Due to their developing relationship, Walt learns the truth of his great uncles’ adventures might not be so far from the rumors’ claims. When his mother appears again, with a scoundrel boyfriend in tow, she tries to use Walter to gain access to the brothers’ fortune. However, an old lioness that Hub bought and was accidentally released into the cornfield comes to Walt’s rescue, thus solidifying Hub and Garth’s relationship with the boy as his guardians.

The Sixth SenseThe Sixth Sense
Year: 1999
Rating: PG-13
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

By now, we all know Haley Joel Osment’s most famous line from The Sixth Sense (1999), “I see dead people.” This line, along with his performance in the film, cemented him as one of the premier child actors of his time. In fact, his nomination for Best Supporting Actor only helped him to secure future film roles with big directors like Steven Spielberg, eventually appearing in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). Of course, as is the fate of most child actors, puberty set in and his relevance changed. It’s a little weird to see an actor who used to be that baby-faced, token child in a film now with a beard and a couple extra pounds on their frame. Still, Osment has continued to work in cinema, even if the films he’s appearing in now aren’t nearly as notable or critically acclaimed as they once used to be.

The eponymous “Sixth Sense” of this film is held by none other than Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). He admits to be able to see the ghosts of dead people walking around as if they were alive. This admission is to Dr. Malcom Crowe (Bruce Willis), a child psychologist who failed a former patient and was shot as a result. Cole uses his ability to help the ghosts attain a sense of closure with the world they left behind. With Dr. Crowe’s help, Cole reveals the true cause of the death of a young girl, thus saving the girl’s younger sister in the process. Despite the constant presence of ghosts in his life, Cole accepts the responsibility and begins to enjoy his life. After telling his mother of his ability, she is initially skeptical, but is convinced when he reveals details of her life and interactions with his dead grandmother. Meanwhile, Dr. Crowe comes to a shocking revelation of his own.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 heyday roles for Haley Joel Osment

Bacon #: 2 (Forrest Gump / Tom Hanks -> Apollo 13 / Kevin Bacon)