MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS is a film by director Stephen Herek, written by Patrick Sheane Duncan, and produced by Ted Field, Michael Nolin, and Robert W. Cort. This emotional drama is a classic fictional story about Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss), a man with a deep love of music, who has a desire to write at least one symphony of lasting significance. The story starts when he unenthusiastically accepts a job as a high school music teacher at John F.
Kennedy High School so that he can have the time and money to be able to compose his opus. In his first year of teaching, he finds himself turning into that very thing which he despises, a dry and boring instructor who isn’t getting through to the students. Mr. Holland finds he has a group of indolent and inept students, and their attempt at music results in a horrible disharmony. He hates his job, and at first he is terrible at it.
He uses little witticisms like “There’s more to music than notes on a page” and “Playing music is supposed to be fun” in attempts to awaken and inspire his impassionate students. These however, did nothing but frustrations to him so he decided to make a few changes in his teaching style to get the students involved and interested. Using all manner of unorthodox teaching methods like using rock music to teach classical music, Mr. Holland eventually breaks through and becomes the darling of John F. Kennedy High School, and had profound effect on a number of his students.
Over the next 30 years, Holland is able to teach a great deal about both music and life to thousands of kids who pass through the various classes he leads and school bands he directs; however, he finds it easier to reach his students than his son Cole (played, as he grows older, by Nicholas John Renner, Joseph Anderson, and Anthony Natale), who is deaf, which drives a wedge between him and his wife Iris (Glenne Headly). Mr. Holland’s own life seems to play second chair to his teaching. His own opus goes virtually ignored, as does his family.
The secondary theme in the show surrounds Mr. Holland’s family. Glenn loves music and wants his son to be just like him. His son Cole (whom he named after his idol John William Coltrane, the innovative American jazz saxophonist and composer) turns out to be deaf. In a scene that will tear your heart out, Cole throws a temper tantrum at age 6 because he can not communicate with his parents enough even to tell them his most basic needs. Mr. Holland is too busy at school to pay much attention to his son or to learn minimal competency in sign language so he can talk to his son.
Iris laments to him, “Why is everyone else’s child more important than yours? ” It only came to his mind that the wall between him and his son is getting higher than he could imagine when Glenn goes home low hearted because of the John Lennon assassination finding Cole working on the car. When Cole asks what is wrong, Glenn tries to explain, but then gives up, feeling that his son wouldn’t understand John Lennon or his music. This infuriates Cole who (through Iris), explains that he does care about Glenn and knows about John Lennon, but that Glenn does not seem to be at all interested in communicating with him.
Cole berates his father for putting so much effort in to teaching his students and very little towards him, calling him an asshole in sign language as he stalks off. Glenn then makes an effort, and even provides a concert at the high school, which also features lights and other items to enhance the show for deaf members of the school where Cole attends. Glenn, becoming somewhat more proficient in sign language, even does an interpretation of Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy,” dedicated to Cole.
Later, Glenn discovers Cole listening to records by sitting on the speakers and feeling the vibrations through his body and they can start healing the rift between them. The film also includes a lengthy subplot involving Mr. Holland’s crush on one of his students Rowena Morgan (played by Jean Louisa Kelly). Rowena is a surprise star for the school musical. When she sings or acts she casts a spell on people in the movie and in the audience. A great voice and a mesmerizing smile. Although Mr. Holland does not act on his feelings, Mr. Holland condones her plan to skip town before high school graduation.
The message of the movie was summed up in 1995 when Principle Gene Wolters (played by William H. Macy) announces that Art, Music and Drama have been cut from the school curriculum, and Glenn would be out of a job shortly. Glenn, who has become a cynical old man, tells Wolters that to cut the fine arts would lead to a generation of students who would be proficient at reading and writing and math but would have nothing to read or write about. Principal Wolters even told Mr. Holland: “If I’m forced to choose between music and reading, writing, and long division, I choose long division every time. ” This is contrasted with Mr. Holland’s view that the day they cut the football budget in this state… that will be the end of Western Civilization as we know it! ” Wolters offers to write Glenn a reference, but Glenn, who is now 60 years old, fully recognizes the futility of the gesture. His working days are over and he knows it. Then he looks up at the picture on the wall of the long-departed former Principal Jacobs. He says Jacobs would have fought the budget cuts, and he will too. Glenn pleads to the school board to reconsider, but they refused. The ending is a full blown tearjerker. On Glenn’s final day at the school, Cole shows up driving the Corvair (Glenn’s Car).
School’s out for him, too. Glenn is surprised when Iris and Cole lead him to the school auditorium, where they have organized a surprise going-away celebration is being held in his honor. He sees many of his former students in the audience, including Stadler, the pothead from years before. Arriving next is Gertrude Lang, the clarinetist who Glenn helped in the 60s, who has since become the State’s governor. Gertrude thanks Glenn for his dedication, and Glenn is much moved. He is moved to tears when she gives him a baton and asks him to conduct his own composition, which she had got hold of.
The curtains open and a band, filled with former students of Glenn, are sitting and ready to play. Governor Lang picks up her clarinet and takes her place among them, and they play, for the first time, the musical Opus that Glenn had been picking away at for three decades. Mr. Holland’s Opus treats us to the transformation of the students without relying too much on the corny antics that similar films tend toward. Rather, the movie is filled with genuine, tear jerking emotion despite its often rambling 2 1/2 hour length, and we are constantly entertained by a number of moving performances of classic tunes and modern ones.
It is an inspiring film for educators and those who work in the academe. The creativity of using unorthodox measures just to inculcate basic principles and to awaken the interest of students is undeniably impressive. The heart felt events in family life from the sweetness of partnership to trials of temptations to father and son relations, makes the film a very good family movie. Mr. Holland’s Opus is a movie of acceptance, love, dedication, commitment and professionalism. I really enjoyed watching the film.