Saturday, May 4, 2013

Movie Review: Tom Brown's Schooldays

Title: Tom Brown's Schooldays
Author: Alex Pettyfer
Genre: Drama
My Rating: ***
Age Group: 16+ (that's generous in favor of the movie)
Official Rating: None (at least, none that I could find on the DVD case)

My Summary:
This is a drama. It's a story of growth, renewal, redemption. It's the story of a fall and a rise.
Tom Brown (Alex Pettyfer) is a boy sent away to rugby school. He's a good boy, promising to say his prayers and write his mother weekly. But rugby school seems to be as rough as the sport itself and it doesn't take long for Tom's eyes to be filled with hatred. Yes, you can see it in his eyes. His expression radiates it. He resists anything he sees as unjust but his childish view of this is simply "Anything which causes me harm is unjust and requires revenge."
And then George Aurthur arrives. He's a small boy, pale and prayerful like Tom was. He writes his mother and reads books and tells Tom, "Wouldn't it be a boring old world if everyone was the same?" Tom silences him. Fool! Do you want to get killed? Blend in, fight back, shut up, be normal.
But Aurthur has stirred something in Tom. What happened, he begins to wonder (or so we assume)? Is what I've become an improvement? And then Aurthur is drowned (almost)--and Tom wakes up.
He fights for justice this time. Yes, fighting has its place. Fighting is not bad for its own sake, but only when done for the wrong reasons. Tom learns just this and puts his new found knowledge to use in the climax.
But is it too late? Unfortunately, for Aurthur, it is. R. I. P., Arther. And Tom? Well, he's learned the lesson that few boys are able to learn in a world like ours: fighting can be honorable, resistance can be admirable and good, but only when in the right context.

Word of Warning:
It seems that most of the negative points (of which there are many) are centered around Flashman, the school bully. Because what is it that turns Tom to hatred? Bullying. Here are some of the most important things to note:
  •  Flashman attempts to drown two young boys. It's not clear he intends their death but he does put them in situations that would cause such a thing.
  • He drinks alcohol and has a gun. At one point he seems drunk.
  • He lies constantly.
  • He is the "head bully" and pushes everyone around, often using his cane to back up his orders.
  • He attempts to force a girl to kiss him (she later reports to the headmaster that he attempted to seduce her). Later, he feigns engagement to her and sleeps with her, though this is off-screen. We see him kiss her neck as she cringes, then lift her dress, then the scene closes. Still later we find out that she is with child.
  • The girl, Sally, has an abortion, though the details are uncertain and it is nothing like what we have today as this is the day of the horse and carriage.
  • Flashman offers to "buy" someone a girl, later using the same comment and directing it at Brown, adding, "Then he won't have to go sniffing around little boys." Brown challenges him to a fight.
  • Flashman cheats, using brass knuckles to knock Brown out with a blow to the head (and then another, which was unnecessary).
  • He has Brown pinned to the hearth until his back has terrible burns/blisters on it, then leaves the boy unconscious and runs.
  • He has Brown tossed into the air and then dropped to the ground, while Brown cries out and eventually loses consciousness.
  • He passionately kisses at least two different women.
We do have some other negative elements that are not centered around Flashman:
  • Fist fights and blood (at least twice)
  • Brown steals a chicken but claims it is not actually stealing, but liberation, a rugby tradition. He is promptly "caned" by the headmaster.
  • Brown pulls down his pants to reveal his bare backside and stripes from the cane, calling out defiance to the headmaster. The view is brief.
  • It is suggested that the boys gamble and hunt for sport.
  • There is a scene in which Brown and Aurthur take baths in two tin tubs. I believe we see no more than their bare upper bodies.
I dearly hope I did not forget to mention anything, but I believe I got the bulk of the problems, and definitely the more serious ones.
Please note that none of these are looked upon as positive. Even Brown's resistance is shown as negative, through the look in his eyes and the firm guiding hand of the headmaster. All of Flashman's actions are clearly wrong and dealt with as such.

Why watch it?
A very good question. With all that negative material, why would one watch something like that?
Personally, I think several things need to be taken into consideration: Can the audience handle such things? Are they old enough? While the violence is on screen, and the sexual scenes usually just implied, there is some serious content here.
But this is a story of redemption. Brown goes in good, turns bad, then turns again in a very realistic way. The headmaster is a good man, set on making this school a Christian school where the boys are believed as though their words were those of men and they do not harass each other.
In my opinion, the most important element is the lesson Brown learns about fighting. The world we live in today views fighting as bad, always bad, and that things should be discussed and worked out with words. That's all well and good, but fighting is not necessarily bad. What about the Knights of the Round Table? The Crusades? The warrior pope? The kings, who are now saints, who took to the battlefield?
No, fighting is not bad. It simply has its place--and its different hats. In our world, that message is not seen enough--and young people suffer because of it. So while that might not be the main message of the movie, that's the most beautiful thing I took away from it.

One simply has to decide if it is worth it, watching something with all those negative elements in it. That is for each person to decide on their own. I'm only here to tell you it's there.

Note on the origin: This movie is based off a book, though I'm afraid I have not read the book so cannot make comparisons.

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