Children of a Lesser God
"Children of a Lesser God" is a professional docudrama about a struggle two people face about the way they'll communicate. It seems unfair that the whole movie is only on one person's terms; some scenes could have had no soundtrack.
The story is of a romance between a young deaf woman (Matlin) and a rebellious teacher who believes she should read lips and speak phonetically. But she's been using sign language all her life, and argues that if he loves her, he will enter her world. The deaf woman signs all her dialogue, while the teacher (Hurt) repeats it aloud, as if to himself. "I like to hear my own voice," he says; his smooth, natural job translating makes the strategy work.
The teacher can read sign language and can hear, but the woman can't, nor can she read lips. She can only communicate by signing. Scenes between the two are all from his viewpoint, because none is without sound. A few silent scenes in which signing is translated by subtitles would have offered more of the experience of deaf people. Seeing Hurt without hearing him, looking out at him from a silent world, would underline the true subject of this movie: communication between two people who speak differently. Although he movie makes the woman the stubborn challenge, in the very process it objects to, the subject matter is new and interesting in about everything it has to say about deafness.
The acting is strong and wonderful - not only by Hurt, one of the best actors of his generation, but also by Matlin, a deaf actress, here in her first movie. She holds her own against the Hurt, playing scenes with passion and an almost painful fear of being rejected and hurt, which is really what her rebellion is about. Among the supporting characters, Piper Laurie does a good job with a thankless role as Matlin's mother, and there's studied cynicism in Philip Bosco's work as the old pro who runs the school for the deaf.
Hesper Anderson and Mark Medoff, based on the stage play by Medoff
Marlle Matlin, William Hurt
Deaf woman; American Sign Language; William Hurt; Marlee Mat
English and American Sign Language Reviewer's Name:
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