A film worth discussion: After the Dark

MV5BMjIyNjY4MjM1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTQyNzE4MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_After the Dark is a 2013 film (currently available on Amazon Instant Video and Netflix) by director and writer John Huddles.

The film’s story focuses on a classroom of high school seniors at an international school in Jakarta. Their handsome philosophy teacher Mr. Zimit takes the class into one last “thought experiment” on this last day of the school year. Are the students ready to face life without his guidance? Are they capable of making rational decisions untouched by the emotions which so easily tip humans off their game?

I won’t spoil the film’s ending for you, though I do have two important comments to make if you’re considering showing the film to spark a discussion:

– The movie is rated R for sexuality and language. I wouldn’t show it in a high school classroom without dropping a few scenes.

– You will despise the ending. Truly. I hated it. I’d say 90% of the film was very good – it wanders sometimes, and I think the story could have been better. But that criticism pales to how much I absolutely hate the last 5 minutes of this film. It’s an unnecessary distraction to what has – up to this point – been a decent film and a good conversation starter.

My recommendation is to stop the film at the point the students return their textbooks at the end of class. If you allow the filmmaker to show you the rest of his ending (where the teacher & Petra have a private conversation) you’ll hate yourself. Or him. Trust me.

If you want students to consider the effect of the ending on the film’s interpretation by the viewer, stop it about 10 minutes before the end and have students write out their ending for the movie.  Share and read the endings aloud, discussing how each portrays a different evaluation of the characters in the film (at least the main students + the teacher).  Then show them the rest of the film, and discuss it. (See below for ideas.)

Using the film for discussion

After the Dark seems relevant to two primary audiences:
1. teachers, especially in high school or post-secondary education, in a variety of fields (including but not limited to philosophy, ethics, sociology, political science, education, as well as literature and film)

2. students taking classes in the disciplines listed under #1, as well as classes focusing on analysis of film, pedagogy techniques, or critical analysis of story or narrative.

Questions for discussion (SPOILERS!):

* The overall thought experiment and how the teacher used those structured lessons/discussions to educate his pupils:  What are the strengths of this approach? What are the weaknesses? Does the teacher make the best use of his thought experiment, or does he derail it?

* What responsibility does a teacher have to challenge his/her students’ assumptions and force them to think differently, even when that process makes students uncomfortable? Are there boundaries that should limit a teacher’s actions in challenging students’ beliefs? Did Zimit adhere to reasonable boundaries?

* Which students grew the most during the thought experiment? How do you know?

* Do you think this was a “fair” educational exercise? How much is Zimit controlling their decisions?

* How did your perception of Mr. Zimit change as the story progressed? How did the filmmaker manipulate your attitude toward Zimit?

* If you watch the full ending of the film, analyze it. Consider how that ending affects your understanding of the film’s theme and purpose.   If you wrote your own endings before watching the director’s ending, analyze the power of these final minutes to affect the viewer’s understanding and assessment of the film’s themes and the main characters.

* Do you agree with Petra that life without the arts isn’t a life worth living?

* Do you think the “thought experiment” as it plays out across the 3 iterations is realistic? In other words, would you expect most Westerners in this situation to react more or less like the students do?  How would a group of people in their 40s approach these decisions?

* Are the students ready for life outside Zimit’s classroom?  Have they learned to think “logically” or have they gained a different skill?

* Explore the visual symbolism of the film. For example, did you notice anything about the way Petra is usually portrayed? (camera angles, lighting, point of view)  [Is she a messiah figure?]

Have you seen the film? If so, got any other questions to add to the list? 

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