It’s that time of year again. Cue up Alice Cooper, because school’s out for the summer. Or, being a regional thing, if it’s not out yet, at least you’re in the home stretch.
Anyway, if you’re a senior, this is a special time. This chapter of the textbook is closing. This can be a time of reflection. I want to congratulate MMH’s resident high schooler, soon-to-be graduate, Simon Pruitt. This dude has written some of the best stuff on the site, while also finishing his English essays. It’s impressive.
I wanted to connect with Simon about all the memories of high school and most importantly, every student’s favorite day: movie day. That’s when the teacher has given up and just says, “f*** it, we’re watching a movie.” It is the grandest of all secondary school traditions.
Even though it’s been *cough* 20 years *cough* since I started high school, I still remember that feeling of walking into class and seeing the projector from the late 60s or the TV you could anchor a yacht with. It sounds like not too much has changed since my time.
Simon and I wanted to commemorate this moment by looking at two generations of slack-off days in school. We sent each other the list of movies we remembered watching, usually coming at the end of a unit, usually meant to reinforce our learning of the material by presenting it In a different way. I get it, Teach, I’ve been hungover too.
Here are our lists:
Saving Private Ryan — U.S. History
Cody: I do not think we watched the whole movie. I believe we just watched the DDay opening as it had been hailed as the closest approximation, in film, to the horrors of the real thing—and maybe high school. That’s exactly the type of joke that would have enraged Mr. Palmer and probably made him pause.
This was certainly a permission slip moment, I’d have to imagine. That is a rough one. “What’s the rallying point?” and “Anywhere but here!” were also symbolic of my Florida public school experience. Seriously, it’s an intense 20 minutes that I’ll never forget. And perhaps that is the point. Saving Private Ryan does not glorify violence. It barrages you with it. Our heroes are simply trying to survive. The merciless deaths, the gruesome carnage, the slow last breaths. It was Hollywood, but it felt like History.
Simon: The best school movies aren’t the ones that try to teach you, but the ones that make you feel what you’ve been taught. There’s only so much a teacher can do to wrap your mind around the subject at hand. But Tom Hanks in battle with a multimillion-dollar budget and Steven Spielberg at the helm? That could do the trick.
Gattaca – Science
Cody: The only thing I remember about this movie is that Jude Law, Ethan Hawke, and Uma Thurman were in it. And they went swimming. And they kept going through turnstiles. This movie does have one of the higher approval ratings of the films on this list. Maybe because no one has ever watched it again?
I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying that I didn’t run out and pick this up from Blockbuster and I still haven’t found it on Netflix for the rewatch. But despite my hazy memories, I remember liking it. It felt good to spend some time in a real fantasy world. A world in which clearly evil people heavily legislated reproductive rights. This has been a battle for a very long time and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
I think that using movies in school to bring home key points is a good idea. I can see using the parallels between the possible overturning of Roe V. Wade and the class system of eugenics set up in Gattaca. There are access points to these conversations that entertainment can unlock. Is science class the right place for those discussions? Yes. It will benefit the students more in the long run than discussing covalent bonds.
Forrest Gump – U.S. History
Cody: OK, I gotta give high school history classes a shout-out. They really brought it with the movies. I enjoy Forrest Gump. This film was made just on the cusp of the era of technology that was needed in order for it to be believable.
I was/am actually a history nerd, so I loved watching Gump wander into its most famous moments from his lifetime. This movie is an absolute dream for a history teacher. That being said, this movie did not recontextualize anything for me about what we were learning, it just made me laugh that Forrest went to such a has-been school like Alabama.
Outbreak – Science
Cody: This is the movie I have rewatched most recently on this list. I sought it out in April of 2020 when we were still in the honeymoon phase of this pandemic. Feeling my spine tingle about a possible pandemic felt similar to the thrill of watching a scary movie.
1,000,000 lost souls later, it doesn’t feel like a joke? While I’m not sure the movie taught us about science, I do know that it prepared us for the conflicting interests of an outbreak. And also, trusting the scientists is kind of important. The COVID pandemic has been a completely different type of tragedy and in so many ways, it’s worse.
Much of the U.S. seems prepared to sacrifice the Immuno-compromised, the elderly, and young kids in order to not have to wear a mask in large groups, just like the officials in this movie contemplate bombing the whole area, the difference being a shady government versus a seemingly indifferent public. I do believe this is exactly the type of connection that should be drawn when showing a movie in high school.
This movie is entertaining because of its style, pace, and action. How do we create the same type of urgency to act in real-life disasters that are slower and operate in the background of the public consciousness?
Simon: I’ve never seen this movie, but I’d have to echo your sentiment about watching virus-based horror movies post-pandemic. Life has scarily imitated art.
Romeo and Juliet — English
Cody: I do believe we watched more movies in English, but this is the one that sticks out to me. I thought it was so cool that they said the words in old English, but it was set in “modern” times. I do find true merit in this approach. I realize that there are changes between the movie and the play, and yet the performance is important.
Not only was the fact that they had the word “sword” on the side of their guns very cool to a 15-year-old, but the opportunity to hear the Shakespearean dialogue and feel it embodied makes it feel like the poetry it is. Reading it, as a kid who did not know how to care about it, felt dry and foreign. Watching Leo say it made it real. It’s also an interesting time in cinema history because Leo was just turning into LEO. Watching this years after it was made, as we were, made it feel like a prequel to his stardom.
Simon: This is our only overlap. I feel like every generation of kids hits the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ stage of their English education and it’s all downhill from there. I watched it during the spring of my freshman year, already being a big Leo guy. I hold no grudges toward him, though grudges surely exist when it comes to this film.
At its core, a movie is just two things; what you see and what you hear. All cinema has a script and the filmmaking around it. Baz Luhrmann only gave us one of these. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is shot well and nobody ever gets tired of looking at Leo. That said, the audacity to copy and paste Shakespeare WORD FOR WORD is absolutely insane to me.
What point was Luhrrman trying to prove? You’re making a movie, write a script, give us some dialogue. It somehow walks a tightrope of seeming lazy yet also seeming way more difficult to shoot a movie from a centuries-old text than to update the dialogue.
I love Leo, but I hate his movie. A script is bare minimum. Baz Luhrmann couldn’t even do that. Maybe the 67 I got on our final exam over the book was a product of this hatred.
Hateful Baz Luhrmann diatribes aside, let’s transition to my list.
As I write this, I’m still a high school student. After 13 years of being in school, I graduate on Saturday morning. Movies have been a massive part of my life for each of those 13 years, and they will continue to be beyond that. I feel that there is no better eulogy for my school career than a retrospective on all the movies I’ve watched in the classroom.
Every student has their highs and lows. Some play sports. Others act in theater. Between valedictorians and the summer schoolers, no student life is the same.
One thing keeps them all together. Everybody loves a movie day. Let’s talk about the best.
1917 — History
Simon: 1917 was a gimmick movie.”The whole thing feels like its one take.” Nobody walked into 1917 expecting a dialogue-heavy, character-driven drama. That’s not to discredit it, but the point of it was to be a cinematic spectacle, only to be viewed on the BIG screen. Unfortunately, I walked into Ms. Bishkin’s AP World History class to watch such a movie on a horrible projector from the ‘90s, projecting onto a dusty unrolled sheet in the front of the classroom. The screen moved at about 10 FPS max, effectively taking the whole ambiance of the movie away. I feel like I haven’t truly seen 1917, only a glitchy shell of itself.
Cody: Good to know that the technology hasn’t changed in the intervening years. School budgets and the politics around them are insane. You can get a projector for an iPhone that is better quality than that and yet teachers have to buy their own books. It infuriates me. 1917 is cool though.
Pan’s Labyrinth — Spanish
Simon: Pan’s Labyrinth also got the dusty projector treatment, but this one didn’t bother me as much. The point of us watching this in school was for a full Spanish language immersion, which meant no subtitles. I’ve never been the best student, but I put an especially low effort into foreign language classes.
As such, I understood maybe 2% of the dialogue at best. Despite that, I felt like I had a fairly good grasp of what was going on in the movie at all times. We could chalk that up to a number of things; fantastic character acting, Guillermo Del Toro’s direction, or maybe my 15-year-old film snobbery. Either way, I enjoyed sitting back and watching some of the best practical effects ever put to the screen. Special shout out to Senor Hurtado for introducing me to Doug Jones.
Cody: I took French in high school. Not because I wanted to, necessarily, but because of racism. I was on the gifted track and that meant we took a “refined” language like French instead of Spanish. No one ever said this, but that’s my hot take about public school in Florida. So I did not watch Pan’s Labyrinth in class, but I can totally see how the phrase “And It Is Said That The Princess Returned To Her Father’s Kingdom” would be tough to translate. Still, Simon, I’m sure you realize in hindsight how ubiquitous that phrase is.
Wonder — English
Simon: In 8th grade, my English teacher sat us down and queued up 2017’s Wonder. In true film snobbery fashion (as referenced above), I had to make it known to the entire classroom that I had already seen this movie weeks before, and that it wasn’t that good.
Truth be told, I actually quite enjoyed Wonder. It’s a feel-good family movie about overcoming an obstacle in a child’s life. Pretty white bread, but it does its job. Plus it has Noah Jupe, whose praises have already been sung on this site. Still, I let everyone around me know that I was ahead of the game, and had already seen this mediocre movie. 8th grade me was extremely antagonistic.
Rush Hour 2 – Basketball
Simon: My freshman year basketball team watched Rush Hour 2 before every single home game. All 94 minutes, every time. To this day I’ve still never seen Rush Hour 1, but I have the sequel close to memorized. I’m not sure if this was a motivational tactic by our coach (who was actually a football coach that the school just told to do basketball for a year) or not, but it definitely worked. Nothing gets me ready to play bad basketball like watching Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan bumble around Hong Kong.
Cody: I have seen Rush Hour 2, but not in a school-related capacity. This does remind me of the movie-day-adjacent activity of trying to convince teachers to turn on March Madness. So back in the day, we couldn’t watch stuff on phones so whenever that glorious week in March rolled around and the tournament began, we had to find a TV. I vividly remember trying to finish my chemistry work so that we could try to convince the teacher, who may have been the original Jane Lynch Glee meme, to turn on the games. The cool teachers would let us.
The Founder — Economics
Simon: This one made the most sense. Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s as we know it, except he’s not really the founder at all. The film was perfectly suited to an economics class, showcasing a cautionary tale about American capitalism and the ways it can be exploited. The room was divided into two halves, those that supported Ray Kroc’s Machiavellian view of the world, and those who didn’t. Made for a great postgame discussion.
The worst part about this classroom viewing experience was neutering my own urge to spout takes about Michael Keaton’s filmography. I enjoyed myself, but I’m sure these were takes that Ms. Hansen in first period probably had zero interest in hearing.
Choosing to highlight our classroom movie days was nothing but a fun MMH article concept. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and I’d be remiss if didn’t take a moment to celebrate all my great teachers before I graduate on Saturday.
To all the wonderful teachers I’ve had throughout my 18-year life, thank you. Thank you for putting up with the lows, like arguing, joking, and procrastination. Thank you for being there for all the highs, like my first concert in 2021 or reading my MMH articles just because I wouldn’t shut up about them. There is no way I could be the person that I am without my teachers, and I’ll never stop being grateful.
Cody: Simon, you’re totally right. As someone who has worked in education for much of my adult life, I have to second my admiration for the teachers who got me through adolescence (thanks again, Mr. Owens) and those that I watch now with awe. Teaching is so often a thankless profession, yet it is arguably one of the most important. Movie days can be the connective tissue that draws out the reserved pupil or provides the focal point for a struggling student. Long live movie days.