Mr. Holland's Opus
Starring Richard Dreyfuss
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Mr. Holland's Opus, starring Richard Dreyfuss, is the story of a musician who dreamed of being a great composer, but who took a job as a teacher to bring in some extra money. At first he regarded it as merely a job, but as he came to see his students as individuals, it steadily became more important to him. When he has a son, he realizes that he is now committed to providing a decent life for his family, and composing his dream symphony must remain a sideline, probably for the rest of his life.
Then his wife discovers that their beloved son is profoundly deaf. A more devestating blow for a musician could hardly be imagined. After painful struggles born of the boy's frustration at being unable to communicate, they enroll the child in an expensive private school for the deaf. His wife throws herself into learning sign language in order to communicate with the boy, while the father immerses himself even more in his teaching. This leads to conflict in their marriage, a conflict which reaches a head when a beautiful, talented young student tries to lure him away. He struggles with his own thwarted hopes and dreams, measuring them against his foundering marriage, but in the end he decides to stay and instead sends the girl off to New York to the care of some of his old friends.
When the death of John Lennon leads to an ugly confrontation between him and his son, he realizes that his urge to "protect" his son from the disappointment of not being able to hear music was really trying to protect himself from his own pain at his son not being what he'd hoped for. When he finds his son sitting atop the speakers and playing Beatles records at top volume in order to enjoy the vibrations directly, he hits on a way to share the joys of music with the deaf.
In the end, when a budget crisis results in the music department being cut, Mr. Holland despairs. He tries to explain why the fine arts should be at least as impotant as athletics, but runs up against a stone wall with the board. On his last day, when he is cleaning out his desk, his wife and son take him down to the auditorium. There he finds a band made up of students and alumni from all the classes he taught. The governor arrives, and he realizes this is the girl he taught to play the clarinet so many years ago, when she despaired of ever having somthing to excell at. She hands him a baton and has him conduct the symphony he's been composing all these years -- his life's work has been as much the shaping of these lives as of the music itself.
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Review posted January 9, 1998
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