Mr. Holland's Opus
Ephphatha! Be Opened!
- The Gospel tells us of a man, deaf and mute, whom Jesus cured.
Despite Jesus' orders to keep the healing silent, the news spread far and
wide: "He has done everything well! He even makes the deaf
to hear and the mute to speak!" We are reminded of the
words of Isaiah, who declared that the coming of God will be marked with
great happenings: "The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the
ears of the deaf unstopped...the tongue of the speechless sing for
joy!" (Isaiah 35:5)
- In Mr. Holland's Opus, there is more than one kind of deafness at
work. Yes, Glenn's son Cole is born deaf. But Glenn Holland also
seems to spend much of his life deaf to those around him, and unable to
speak words that must be spoken:
- When his wife Iris announces that she is pregnant, Glenn is struck
mute, unable to say much more than "wow" for a long time
- Both Iris and Glenn are taught by the doctor "not to listen"
to Cole's gestures. Iris' desire to communicate with her son leads
her to ignore the orders, though, while Glenn obeys no matter what.
- It takes quite a while (at least until exams) for Glenn to really
"listen" to his class and realise that he's not teaching them
anything because he's not helping them to love music. It's only
when he takes the time to ask his students what kind of music they like
-- and to really listen to their answers -- that he begins to capture
- Glenn Holland's advice to his students one day in class reflects well
how he has approached his son: "Sometimes the best way to
deal with a pest is to ignore it."
- When Glenn and Iris first visit the school for the deaf, they are told
two very important things, to which Glenn does not really listen until
- "So much depends on what you put into it."
- "The most important teacher you child will ever have is
- When Glenn is fighting with Iris over his failure to attend one of
Cole's school functions, Glenn declares: "I heard you.
I always hear you!" In actual fact, for years Glenn never
hears what Iris and Cole are trying to tell him.
- Mr. Holland knows music. It takes him much longer, however,
to apply the same understanding to his life:
- Mr. Holland knows that in order to truly love something (such
as the music of John Coltrane), you must spent time with it, listening
again and again until you truly "get" what's it's saying to
you. But with Cole, because Glenn does not know how to
"listen" and understand him, he gives up in the very
- Mr. Holland knows that you must know a song deep within your
heart in order to sing it properly. But for the longest time,
Glenn does not apply this same philosophy to his family life. For
years, he fails to really know Cole.
- Mr. Holland knows that music is more than notes on a page, but rather
something in your heart that is alive and beautiful and fun. But
for the longest time, Glenn's love for his son seems to be more of an
obligation than a passion deep in his heart which brings joy. In
the same way, it took him quite a while to realise that being a good
teacher involves more than just showing up to work on time every
day. (Note that in a number of places in the movie, when Mr.
Holland says he is doing "his best," he really isn't... his
best (at work, at home) is always yet to come.)
- When Mr. Holland learns to be a good teacher, he will use and do
"anything that will help him teach a student to love
music." And yet, for too long, he would not "do
anything" for his son.
- Music is everything to Glenn. He instructs a student to write a
paper entitled "Music: The Language of Emotion."
Because music is so central to his life (it even made Iris fall in love with
him), when Cole is born deaf, Glenn doesn't know how to deal with it.
Unable to express himself to Cole through his natural "language of
emotion," Glenn doesn't know how to learn a new "language," a
new way of communicating with his son. Glenn almost seems to take
Cole's deafness as a rejection of all that his is... and so in turn, he
- When Cole is a baby, before they knew he was deaf, Glenn spends a
great deal of time with him, playing the piano and having fun. One
he realises that Cole is deaf, Glenn no longer plays with Cole.
Rather, he begins spending more and more time with the
"normal" kids at school.
- When Glenn sees the young Cole pretend that he is directing the band,
he is so overwhelmed by the fact that his son doesn't know the music is
over, that he fails to notice the fact that Cole wants so desperately to
be like his dad.
- When Cole helps his father pick up the music sheets that went flying
in the breeze, his father roughly takes them out of Cole's hands,
declaring the music to be "off limits" to him.
- The movie does not end on this sad note (forgive the pun!),
though. Mr. Holland does not remain deaf forever. A little like
the healing of the deaf man (with spit), Glenn's healing is messy, coming
after a terrible fight with Cole. Ultimately, though, Glenn's ears are
unstopped -- he truly hears what his son has been trying to tell him for
years -- and learns how to sing with joy -- literally! -- in a way that Cole
can understand. In the end, Mr. Glenn Holland truly has composed a
masterpiece. Gertrude Lang is speaking not only about his students,
but also his family when she declares:
"We are you symphony, Mr. Holland.
We are your notes and your opus.
We are the music of your life."
To what -- or to whom -- are we "deaf" (unable
or unwilling to really listen) or "mute" (unable or unwilling to say
that which is important)?
Where do we need God's healing, so that "the ears of the deaf [can be] unstopped
[...and...] the tongue of the speechless sing for joy" ?
For more about the film, check out its entry at the Internet
Movie Data Base.
For another look at the film in connection with the gospel, check out the
entry at The Text
A great resource for connecting film with the gospel of the week is Lights,
Camera... Faith! A Movie Lectionary by Peter Malone and Rose Pacatte
(published by Paulist Press).
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