Thursday, January 31, 2013

Half Nelson: A Tale of Mundane Anxiety and Broken Social School

            “I think it’s time that we grow old and do some shit.” This lyric resounds throughout the central theme and poignancy of this “indie-flick”, Half Nelson. This 2006 Ryan Fleck film centers around a middle-school history teacher and his troubled relationship with drugs, a student, and himself. The inner-city school teacher, played by Ryan Gosling, is caught free-basing and snorting his drug of choice, cocaine, by one of his students after a basketball game. They quickly become friends and try to help each other out, through school and through life. Dan, the drug addict, has a hard time dealing with day to day stresses, past failed relationships, and the ambiguity of life; drugs have been and will be his unfortunate answer to these problems. The drugs start to get in the way of the productivity and essence of his life. This very touching film is scored by Canadian indie-rock group, Broken Social Scene. Music can function as a storytelling device when it comes to characterization by revealing thoughts and feelings of a given character. Another key function of music is establishing the mood or tone of the film, which also has a psychological effect on the audience itself (Williams 17). I believe that Broken Social Scene beautifully executes finding the tone of this film via music and ambient sound. Their song “Stars and Sons” captures the authenticity of being high on cocaine in a scene in the film where Dan resorts to drugs to get rid of his problems and ends up in a club, picks up two women, and attempts to have sexual intercourse with them. The music adds so much to this scene. With the upbeat, ethereal sound, viewers can feel his sweat, taste his cottonmouth, and it can make your nerves start to jump and foot start to tap on the floor. In my favorite scene of the film, Dan has randomly met and picked up this lady. They eventually get high and talk about politics in this poorly lit, not very clean, hotel room. The Broken Social Scene song, “Lover’s Spit,” begins to play. The beautiful and haunting voice of Leslie Feist can be heard during this song as they highly slow-dance to it for about two minutes. It hurts me in this moment because I can see how internally damaged these two people are as they are drowning their problems out and sharing a dance together. The song talks about growing up, getting your life together, and having sex in the meantime. And of course, the acting in this scene is just amazing. Emotionally, I am very attached and invested in Dan at the end of the scene. For those of us who have been present and struggling in that moment, it hits home, especially with that perfect song choice. I can picture that scene happening in my head to myself or friends of mine. In terms of logic, it is a very real and raw subject that is consistent and hard to deal with, and that song is just the icing on the depressed cake for me. Besides the artsy cinematography and life-like dialogue and plot, the sound and music is stunning in this film. 

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