If your teenager wanted to drop out of high school, would you let him? Canadian author and film critic David Gilmour didn’t see much of a choice. His son was failing classes and unhappy; encouragement and lecturing didn’t seem to help. Instead, he offered his son a pretty sweet deal: he could drop out of school and live at home rent-free if he agreed to watch three movies a week with his dad who would do the choosing. Gilmour writes about the experiment in his new book The Film Club.
I imagined Gilmour taking an academic approach, carefully selecting movies with a lesson or generating discussion questions and requiring his son to write reflection papers. Instead, he played it cool, doing a little research on each film and offering up a scene to watch out for or throwing out a few facts, keeping his commentary brief. Teenagers’ attention spans being short and all. Movie fare ranged from French New Wave films to the work of Woody Allen to a viewing of Basic Instinct, never getting bogged down in the esoteric or limiting the club to obscure foreign films.
While the two-member movie club provided the teen with a foundation for film discussion, the real moments of teaching and connection happened when the conversation flowed—the son confiding his relationship difficulties and the father sharing his own experiences. The movies sparked discussions about much more than lighting and acting.
I went down the list of some of my favorite movies and wondered what my fictitious child would glean from my selections. Lost in Translation: don’t wander around Tokyo depressed; Amelie: falling in love is hard, even in Paris; There Will Be Blood: don’t go into the oil industry; Pride & Prejudice: marry the guy who ignores you; The Station Agent: loners need friends too; and one standby with a decent message: Dead Poets Society: sieze the day. The moral instruction may be lacking, but the conversation would undoubtedly flow.
What movies would you assign?