” below the surface level of a movie for the deaf lies a movie for the intelligent.
In a form drawn out of proportion so that it is unrecognizable until you think, Children of a Lesser God is not about deaf people but about the difficulties we all face in relationships. ” James Brundage
It is not my intention to write another review in the 1986 film, directed by Randa Haines.
I would like instead to focus on some scenes.
At this link is the complete transcript of the screenplay.
At one point, returning from a party for Marian Loesser, in the house of Orin, Sarah and James have a discussion.
Sarah became aware that Marian is itself, in all that is and does, instead she is always what other people think she is and all her words are translated by the mouth of others.
Sarah does not want to feel translated anymore, meant to be an individual, and this is what also makes relationships possible. Be two separate individuals in one unit.
The importance of these concepts and the beauty of how they are represented in the movie, thanks to the magnificent interpretation of Marlee Matlin, bring the attention on a fundamental question:
To what extent is possible to know the inner world of others? How language can limit the understanding of the feelings of others?
In the scene reported in the video, taken from the film, James says he wants to rest his hands, listening to Bach. At one point he stops the music, and turning to Sarah says:
I can’t enjoy it
I can’t, because you can’t.
In the next scene Sarah puts the disc again and asks for James ‘show’ her music. He tries with some convulsive movement, then gives up.
Till what point we can get with language, gestures, signs? Can we really know the other person if we do not receive the same visual/auditory stimuli?
I have no absolute answers to these questions. I know that you do not need to know how others receive the stimuli, perhaps this is impossible. What we know is how they transform them, what they become for them and how they make them come to us.
A song, a music, a landscape. You can never know how it is heard or seen by others, the person you love. It will be possible however, to see, hear, feel how this song, or sound, or music, trasnorms inside the other person to come to us in another form, in other words, gestures and signs.
James failed to show Sarah the music. He failed trying to interpret it, to act it as if the sounds were words translatable into ASL or LIS.
However he was able to show it soon after. With eyes, with sensitivity, with looks. With what he is.
I believe that these concepts are explicit when the languages are obviously different: the signs and verbal. However often you encounter the same difficulties of communication, even when we speak the same language. Still we do not understand.
In this sense, Children of a Lesser God is not only a film about deaf people and their problems.