In this new series, I want to reflect back on the films that impacted me throughout my life. The films that I provoked me so strongly that my outlook on life and art was changed entirely. There have been many films throughout my long 20-some years of life that influence me and formed me into the person I am today. So, without further ado, the first Formative Film is:
Directed by Ryan Fleck
Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a junior high school teacher with a hard drug habit. He flourishes in his work, capturing the imaginations of his students, but struggles to keep his personal life stable. He forms an unlikely relationship with his thirteen-year-old student, Drey (Shareeka Epps), who suffers from living in an unhealthy home. The two help each other face their demons and find better lives.
I was probably about 12 or 13 the first time I watched Half Nelson- a drastically young age to watch a film with dark subjects like depression and addiction, but I guess that's why I'm so crazy. Anyway, I remember being so moved and floored by the power of the film I'd just watched that I immediately watched it again. And I continued to watch it over and over again for at least six months after that first viewing.
Looking back on it now, I probably was so infatuated with this film because I didn't understand it. I have the type of personality where I want to know and understand everything; if I don't get it, I will become obsessed with it until it's made clear to me. At the age of 12, I didn't have a clue what this film was trying to say or the motivations of the characters or the gravity of the subject matter. But I wanted to understand. I needed to understand the emotional complexity of what the characters were going through. I distinctly remember having a strong emotional response to this film, but, of course, it wasn't because I understood the characters or the situation (how could I- I was a middle schooler living in middle class, suburbia. That's the furthest from these characters that you can get).
But I still wanted to feel their pain and their emotions. I wanted to transport myself into the lives of these troubled characters, to understand their suffering. This film, like all the films I watched, was a learning experience. I was able to see and experience the lives of people different than me, to feel their emotions, and watch in their shoes. It was an incredible sensation to feel the emotions of these characters (performed beautifully by Gosling and Epps), and was probably the first I formed such a bond with a movie.
I, as well, responded to the style of the film, the transporting cinematography, and the gripping editing. It was a combination of the forbidden-ness of the material and the illustrious appeal of the visual film that enticed me so deeply. Still to this day, I get so attached to the look and feel of a film, that I can't help but to become emotionally attached to its style. I felt, at the time, probably more deeply for the mise en scene of Half Nelson than I did for the characters. I fell in love with the art of the picture, which I still do to this day.
Half Nelson was the start of my love affair with dark, stylized dramas. It was the start of my love affair with film and character analysis. It was the start of my love affair with cinema. When I look back on my film journey, I always return to this film. I always think of this film as my first experience with the art of cinema. I was so affected by every aspect of this, that it sparked something inside me that soon would turn into an inferno of passion for films.
I haven't rewatched Half Nelson in probably about 8 or 9 years. It would be interesting to return to this film and see if it truly is the inspiring masterpiece as I thought it was all those years ago. Either way, Half Nelson was an extremely influential movie in my film journey. It was the start of something great, and I often think about just how much this film impacted me and my love for cinema.