Detachment (2011): A look at reality

Detachment follows the day to day goings of an empty substitute teacher who struggles and avoids connection at all costs. Starring Adrian Brody, the viewer is taken on a journey of personal growth, troubles, and what the film title might suggest, detachment.  

I’m young and I’m old. I’ve been bought and I’ve been sold so many times. I am hard-faced, I am gone. I am just like you – Henry

Detachment begins by introducing the awful state that U.S schools can look like and the clear failure of the school system. We are shown the day to day dealings that public school teachers endure, the lack of care by the students, and the neglect from their parents. It becomes clear that at least within schools as run down and abandoned as this, that teachers must be as tough as soldiers because their classrooms can be war zones and to merely pass the hour is considered surviving. Detachment  quickly moves from the school setting and then to the streets, showing us a teenage prostitute treating herself like she isn’t worth a penny, roaming the streets at night picking up cuts and bruises. Clearly, Detachment is not attempting to portray how great society is in the U.S, as such the viewer finds themselves in a decaying part of the world that is a reality for many. Adrian Broady gives a fantastic performance demonstrating a great sense of emptiness and inability to connect with others, as paralleled by his job being a substitute teacher where he moves around to a new school before he can form any sort of attachments. A miserable existence, not by default, but by choice. 

We eventually see glimpses of connection formed, although short lived, we are able to see why Henry (Adrian Brody) is the way he is. Henry is presented to be crippled by sadness, clearly originating from childhood traumas forming what we can see as now, a lack of hope for society. Henry’s perception of the world puts things into perspective for the viewer by seeing the schools he works at, the way he lives, that of course he would be so lonely and be devoid of any meaning. Nevertheless, this all changes when Henry adopts a guardian/parental role with the teenage prostitute, Erica. As this relationship blossoms so does Henry’s happiness, as we see in scenes where he sits at his table with her, eating, with a sort of contentment on his face. What is so captivating about this movie is its ability to capture moments of human emotion with such precision that you entirely forget its acting. Adrian’s acting was so flawless that his face told his character’s story with full conviction, entailing a glimpse of truth to his acting. 

All in all, Detachment is an extremely poetic yet depressive film focusing on the dysfunctional society that we live in. Detachment could be viewed as a mirrored portrayal for many, depicting a life so deeply lonesome and desolate that the only comfort achieved in life is through the constant rejection of connection. The only heart-warming aspect of this movie is its portrayal of the broken helping the broken, a sort of sub-society where all the abused, neglected, and old can care and look after eachother. The film takes a fascination for the philosophy of Albert Camus, opening with a quote from him saying:

“And never have I felt so deeply at one and the same time so detached from myself and so present in the world.”

This quote is essentially the essence of this film, being in a paradox, being in a spiral of madness weaving in and out of peace and chaos simultaneously. An unexplainable human emotion that just makes sense. 

I deeply recommend this film to anyone interested in studies of human emotion, society, and philosophical ideas, as Detachment delivers this through a brilliant cast and Adrian Brody’s authentic and flawless performance. 

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