Monsieur Lazhar REVIEW
“. . . so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive . . .”
Monsieur Lazhar is an Algerian refugee who has lost his family in an act of state sponsored violence. Moved by a story that he reads in the papers about a 6th grade teacher who has committed suicide in her classroom, he applies for the opportunity to work in the school as a teacher, perhaps hoping to fill the hole that the loss of his own child has left in him.
The school principle, intending to “separate psychotherapy from pedagogy” insists that Monsieur Lazhar leave any discussion about their former teacher to the school psychologist. Throughout the movie, we are given to understand that there are cultural differences between Algeria where Monsieur Lazhar comes from and Quebec where these children live but we also come to understand that there are times where people who have suffered grief have more healing to offer these suffering children than the professional who has simply been trained to work with them.
Monsieur Lazhar understands what the children are dealing with from a deep place of shared loss. He knows that “The dead stay in our heads because we loved them.” He knows that there is great danger in always trying to understand WHY someone we love has gone away or died. He understands that sometimes we need to be given the freedom to speak freely about the grief or guilt that we are feeling even if it is based on inaccuracies. He understands that grieving human beings need physical contact. He understands how important it is for people to say good bye – to explain to those they are leaving behind that the abandonment is not an act of anger, disappointment with them, or lack of care.
“Let the psychologist do her job,” he is told. “Zero tolerance” is the policy when it comes to hugging children. “Get your briefcase at recess,” he is told when his services are no longer required.
Of the many themes that the film explores, about the immigrant experience, about the way that children deal with trauma, about the credentials of teachers, I really love the way that it subtly critiques the fact that school administrators have sometimes professionalized the humanity out of the teacher-student relationship. Students, in my humble opinion, need human adults who happen to be teachers, not just teachers who happen to be human adults.
Question for Comment: It is entirely possible for the relationship between teachers, administrators, and students to be a transactional one – like buying a garden hose at Walmart. We give the lady at the checkout counter money. She lets us out of the store. Sometimes, if we bother to read the name tag, we know their name. If they read our credit card, they know ours. The exchange is a sterile one. Neither party is transformed in any way by the interaction. In transformational relationships there is an exchange of human empathy. There is an attempt to hear the other, to feel their feelings, to see the world through their eyes, to sacrifice a little privacy to know and be known. This film explores how the appropriate limits of that intimacy should be set in institutional life.
What do you think? When you look at the schools (or hospitals or businesses, or churches, etc.) that you interact with, have they become places where humans engage with other humans? Or have they been “Walmartized”?
And when you think about the people that you have left or are leaving? Have you considered how you might communicate with them such you do not leave them with unresolved wounds?