16 February 2008

Movies without answers; futures full of questions

One of the constants of teaching is that students will never ever agree on anything. If I have five classes reading the same book, I might have a general consensus within a class on the book's quality. However, I will never have five classes that agree that the book is good. Or that the book is crap. I won't even have three classes that agree on the book's goodness or crappiness. Such is the nature of teaching. Those of us who do it accept this, albeit with clear annoyance. On the other hand, this reality allows us to choose books with a strange sense of abandon; since someone will always like the book and someone will always hate the book, whatever book, what real difference does my choice make? Ah, such freedom.

Strangely, however, I've finally found one small thing that all five of my classes (and seemingly all students in each of the five classes) agreed upon: that is that the ending of Children of Men totally sucks. Without giving away the specific ending, it will suffice to say that the end (final long shot of the scene quickly cutting to black and then the movie's title) was universally greeted with groans and loud moans of despair: "Noooo! Tell me that's not the end!" "Are you kidding me??" "But what happens??" "We don't know whether she gets to the boat!" "Maaaaannn!" "Jeeeeeez!" "That sucks so bad!"

Now, while I'm grateful that I was able to show a well-respected movie reinforcing our current vague theme of how man deals with his place in society and actually have my students respond, I'm nevertheless puzzled by a couple things. First, why can't they figure what probably will happen next? Second, why is it so important to them to have all the answers laid out?

Perhaps they are so literal-minded that they cannot read the (fairly obvious, I think) figurative clues. Perhaps they don't trust their instincts. Perhaps they would prefer to read Jane Austen or Charles Dickens and have little summaries of all the characters' fates at the end.

Somehow, I don't think they'd prefer to read Austen or Dickens . . . but still I wonder why they need to know all the "answers" at the end.

Me? I prefer the open ending, the lack of answers. Without "answers" the possibilities, while not endless, while still needing to fit within the criteria the author or filmmaker has set, are much richer than with the neatish closing of Austen, Dickens or even say an Animal House that tells us that Bluto Blutarsky goes on to become a senator (or something similarly ironic).

I much prefer to ponder the possibilities without having the answer key pressed into my hands. I can handle it. I don't want to know. I want to imagine. To me, the future looks better without the answers but then again, I'm at a different point in life than my students. Perhaps to them, a future without answers looks pretty scary.

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