Mr. Holland's Opus
Distributed By: Hollywood Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I first heard about Mr. Holland’s Opus, I was not very impressed. Sure, Richard Dreyfuss is an excellent actor and could probably pull off the role of a music teacher whose dream it was to become a well-known composer. Even so, I wasn’t really jazzed to see it. Then, I watched it. The movie had been sent to me by accident, but rather than send it directly back, I decided to check it out. Since that first viewing, I have watched Mr. Holland’s Opus on numerous occasions and each time, I marvel at the uplifting message found within.
When Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) first came to John F. Kennedy High School as a music teacher, he made it very clear that he was there only to teach. Glenn aspired to be a great composer and taking a job as a teacher was a way for him to gain financial stability that would eventually afford him time to work on composing. But the school’s principal (Olympia Dukakis) saw something more in Glenn Holland than he saw in himself. She saw a compassionate man who loved teaching music and would eventually transfer that love of music to everyone who attended his classes.
To quote John Lennon, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Glenn had expected to quit teaching in four years and go into full time composing, but the unexpected birth of his son, Cole, changed all of that. Before he knew it there was a mortgage to pay. Then came the discovery of his son’s deafness, an extremely hard thing for Glenn Holland to accept. How could someone who loved music so much bond with someone who would never be able to hear it? How could he communicate with his own son? The schools that were best equipped to teach Cole were expensive and so Glenn continued in his job as music teacher a few years more.
Throughout the film, we see Mr. Holland reach students who felt that there was no hope for them in music. There was Gertrude Long (Alicia Witt) whose entire family expressed a talent in the arts. She wanted to be “good at something,” but by trying so hard to play the clarinet, she had begun to make it a chore rather than something she could enjoy. Mr. Holland taught her to believe in her ability and reminded her that playing music is fun. Gertrude goes on to become a confident and well-respected Governor (Joanna Gleason).
Louis Russ (Terrence Howard) was a young man who tried hard, but found that learning came difficult to him. Thanks to a little direction from Mr. Holland, a boy with no rhythm learned to play the bass drum in the school marching band. He later died fighting for his country in Vietnam, but his life served as an example for one of Mr. Holland’s other students, Stadler (Balthazar Getty) who had always took his intelligence for granted and therefore had become lazy. Then there was Rowena Morgan (Jean Louisa Kelly), a talented young singer with a crush on Mr. Holland. She inspired him to compose and he inspired her to follow her dreams, perhaps seeing in her a bit of himself. Eventually, Glenn even finds a way to reach his son, learning how to teach him about music through other means, like using visual aids and vibrations.
When the school cuts funding to the art programs, Glenn Holland finds himself in a laughable position. Here was a man who had hated the idea of teaching at first and had to drag himself to work every day. Now he found himself hating the fact that he had to leave. Amazingly, he had found that teaching music…getting his student to understand music and to love it as much as he did…was just as rewarding as composing or performing. He had found something he was just as passionate about without even really looking. What he didn’t realize was how many lives he had touched along the way - how many people he had inspired throughout his many years as the music teacher at John F. Kennedy High School - until they showed their appreciation on his very last day at the school.
Mr. Holland’s Opus doesn’t just have a great storyline accompanied by terrific acting. There was great writing, production and direction. I loved the way archived footage of events in our history were used to let the viewers know what was going on in the world during different periods of Mr. Holland’s life. These are the events that helped shape who Mr. Holland was and who his students were and would become. I also love the music, not just the period pieces by Louie, Louie, A Lover’s Concerto, Imagine, Uptight (Everything’s Alright) and more, or the classical pieces by Bach and Beethoven, but the orchestral music composed for the film by Michael Kamen. Each piece of music included in the film aided in telling the movie’s story.
But there is something more important about this story besides the music, acting or cinematography. Every so often, one looks back on their life’s achievements and thinks back to those who inspired them. Often times, those inspirations are the unsung heroes of our youth - our teachers. Every time I watch Mr. Holland’s Opus, I think back to all of the amazing teachers who inspired me to become the person I am today.
In this day and age when people are bickering over the salaries and benefits of teachers and the quality of the education the children of today are receiving, I have a suggestion: Make Mr. Holland’s Opus required watching for all who believe that our children would be best served learning from a computer. After all, a computer can only teach a child so much. It is an impersonal way to impart information to a student. It is the teacher, whose inspiration is to teach a student to love the art of learning, whose heart and soul is in giving their students the ability to succeed in life, that offers the best opportunity for children to learn, grow and become inspired to do great things.