Applying literature analysis to film

by Mr. Sheehy

Two weekends ago during a presentation a pair of my colleagues made a decent case for incorporating film and music into language arts classes. It’s not a new argument and they pointed that out, but it’s one which I admit I have largely ignored in recent years. Part of my ignoring the argument is a reaction against films in literature classrooms–often I feel like the watching of movies in class wastes precious time  that could be used for improving other skills, and I admit I like being that mean teacher who never shows any movies.

Yet this presentation hearkened me back to my first year of teaching, when I used a movie at the end of the year as a kind of capstone to the class. We’d studied a great deal of literature and had learned how to analyze it, so I thought it would be instructive to turn those same skills loose on a movie, to see how they applied to another medium. That was eight years ago and despite good memories of that effort, I’ve never done it again. This year, however, I had two classes working on speeches and one class was so much smaller than the other that I was going to have extra time to fill. With two weeks of class left, it seemed like a good moment to analyze a film.

I pulled Alive out of the closet, knowing my students probably had not seen it and knowing it explored themes similar to what we had encountered when we’d read Lord of the Flies earlier in the year. I warned them ahead of time that we would not simply watch it, and the warning seemed to brace them well enough–I didn’t hear any complaints when I stopped the film so we could list on the board characters, character traits, developing themes, and literature devices that were used. I was tasteful in my stopping points, I thought, so each time it seemed like they had things they wanted to say, so they actually appreciated stopping to share those thoughts.

Today we completed the film right as the bell rang, and next time I have a follow up assignment for them. You can peek at it here if you’d like, but I think it will be worthwhile. They’ll need to consider the story-devises used, the film techniques utilized, and the theme that was developed. By the time they’ve completed the assignment they’ll have analyzed it as thoroughly as we analyzed any story we’d read this year. Who knows, perhaps the next time they watch a movie they’ll give some thought to the things we talked about in class.

Or not, but at least I tried.

Thanks for reading.

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