That Sugar Film – Film Review

The teeth in the picture above belong to teenager Larry from Barbourville, Kentucky. Well they did belong to Larry until they were all pulled out. He drank too much Mountain Dew.

A problem not uncommon, according to dentist Dr Edwin Smith, who appears in Damon Gameau’s documentary That Sugar Film. In the film Dr Smith points out that he’s seen so many teeth rotted by Mountain Dew that he’s coined the term ‘Mountain Dew Mouth’.

Larry’s teeth are not replaced by the end of the documentary though, because his system would not respond properly to the anaesthetic required. In a relieving piece of news, available on Facebook, he has now had all his teeth replaced.

Images like the one above certainly add the shock value to this documentary. Other sugar-free crusaders have been slowly adding to the pile of evidence pointing towards the heinous crimes of this carbohydrate. Jamie Oliver for one recently upped the ante, on Gameau’s ‘Mountain Dew Mouth’ footage, by sitting in on a foot amputation caused by type two diabetes and screening footage of mothers bottle feeding their babies Coca-Cola.

Gameau also goes for the immersive documentarian stunt of subjecting himself to a sugar-filled diet for sixty days. This has direct echoes of the headline grabbing efforts of Morgan Spurlock bingeing on MacDonalds in Super Size Me; or the time that Werner Herzog ate his shoe in Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

But it is not really the masochistic element of the film that hits home. To the average person it is common knowledge that substituting your children’s drinking water with sugar-loaded beverages will have lasting health effects. But what Gameau uncovers is deeper. He brings to the fore all those products we thought were good for us. Things like zero-per-cent fat milk, one-hundred-per-cent fruit juices, health bars, Nutri-grain, and so forth, are all in the firing line. It turns out all of these products are high in sugar-content also. Perhaps this is even worse than Coca-Cola or McDonalds, because these other items come with a health message.

These are the things filling our children’s cereal bowls, lunch boxes and dinner plates.

But what to do Mr Gameau? What to do? Our children are already addicted. So if we don’t coat our broccoli in chocolate sauce and poach our asparagus in sugar syrup, how will our children eat? They will go hungry and die of starvation (mind you, seeing the speed at which Gameau’s stomach bloats in the first few days of his sugar diet, you’d be loath to feed your child half an Uncle Toby’s muesli bar).

Perhaps Hamish and Andy have the answer. Listening to Hamish Blake talking about his son’s first experience with sugar it became clear that perhaps the perfect answer to a sugar-free future is never having it in the first place. Sarah Wilson’s book could be condensed to a pamphlet that says don’t feed babies sugar. Davina McCall’s five week plan to a sugar free diet could be condensed to a five second plan where you never feed your baby sugar. Kids would be none the wiser. For what they don’t know, they won’t miss. But then again you can never tell what sugary treat may be round the corner when a parent turns their back. My first taste of sugar was delivered in the form of a Tiny Teddy from my grandmother.

The balance of sugar for children is at the front of Gameau’s mind for most of the film, as he explores the effects of his diet in the lead up to the birth of his first child. While he looks at the health of some of his contemporaries. He is most concerned with the children of tomorrow. Another such example being the aims of the filmmaker to action change beyond the film in school canteens and the Aboriginal community of Amata, where government cuts have meant children’s sugar-intake has increased.

And what of other crusaders? What of Jamie Oliver’s proposed sugar-tax? He’s implementing it in his own restaurants. But where will that end? Is that the police state going too far? Soon enough we’ll find bags of sugar being treated like cigarette packets that have been branded with gruesome photos of the health consequences. We’ll be walking into the baking aisle of the supermarket to find images of amputated limbs on our baking goods; photographs of damaged livers on our chocolate bars; or pictures of ‘Mountain Dew Mouth’ on our Mountain Dew bottles.

While That Sugar Film states some obvious outcomes of certain diets, it really provides a wake-up call for the fringe-dwellers of obesity. The people (like myself) who get away with over consumption of processed foods due to lucky metabolisms and predisposed genetic makeup. It gets us to think about the damage we can’t see. Fat and skinny might go to war, but if skinny is sharing fat’s lunchbox, they’re both going to end up with messed up insulin levels.

Having watched this film, I’ve consciously made change. Sure I’m not going to cut it out completely. Hell, we’ve already been told gluten, fat, lactose and salt are bad for us. Now sugar as well. I’d be left eating air before too long. So I’m going to eat all those things in moderation.

I’m not going to throw out my tin of strawberry flavoured Nesquik just yet, because that would be wasteful. However, I am slowly eating down my pantry of such tooth-decaying ingredients to try and have a more basic diet. I’ll still eat cakes and the odd treat, because having had that first Tiny Teddy twenty-eight years ago, I am now sugar dependant. But I do plan to cut out more of the processed sugars and move to a diet of foods made from base ingredients.

And if everything becomes too tasteless I can always add more garlic, chillies or ginger to flavour things up. Until we find out that those foods are bad for us too.

Film Review – Testament of Youth

When Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) received a new piano as a gift, she was unimpressed. Very unimpressed.

Her father had just spent a large sum of money on the baby grand piano, when she was wanting him to save that money for her to go to Oxford. Now she would be left to go to some other subpar educational institution.

Oh, that one of my own students shared similar sentiment. The kids I teach would neither long for the piano nor an Oxbridge education. Instead a child told me on Tuesday that they were hoping to convince their parents to purchase a £500 self-balancing scooter. This same child was probably receiving free school meals from the government.

No, I do not teach children such as Vera Brittain. But then I suppose children like Vera are just constructed by Hollywood film studios to trick us into thinking kids care about their education.

Sorry, I have just remembered Vera Brittain was a real person.

Oh, that I could teach in the bygone era when teenagers refused to accept gifts of musical instruments in preference for their education.

But then again, there’d be all the going to war; getting engaged to Jon Snow – sorry Roland Leighton (Kit Harrington); delaying degrees to become a nurse; and general anguish.

No, I feel that I am lucky to have been born in era where we have the peace that pacifists like Vera Brittain fought for.

The peace to watch this masterful depiction of her life and hardships, set against the romantic backdrops and poetic flow.

The peace to reflect upon the strength and tenacity of her character both in reality and on screen in this film.

And the peace to spend time finding the best deal on Amazon for a self-balancing scooter.

Kid #22 – The naughtiest child ever

The twenty second-kid I hated was the worst child I’d ever taught.

Or at least that’s what I told him, or rather death-whispered it in his ear as I dismissed him.

It probably wasn’t even true. I’d taught worse (Kid number two, for instance was a lot worse).

Kid number 22 was a very naughty boy. I only taught him for one day, but his behaviour stood out as so delinquent there was little left to do than give him a piece of my mind. He was a product of his home, yet also the school he attended.

When I arrived in the morning to cover his Year Three class, I was told by the deputy, “Don’t worry too much about getting anything done. Just baby-sit them for the day and their normal teacher will be able to sort anything out tomorrow”.

This was an ominous sign. I felt an urge to excuse myself and return to bed, sacrificing that day’s pay. Instead, I went against my better judgement and began setting up the classroom.

As the morning bell rang the cacophonous stampede of size 7-12 leather Clarks could be heard galloping up the stairwell and spilling into the upstairs corridor. I braced myself against the door-jam of the classroom, ready to politely (but firmly) greet each child.

Then the whooping started.

“Yes, it’s a supply teacher!”; “Awesome, Mrs Smithsworthy isn’t in today!”; “We’re not going to do any work today!”

How did these kids even know what a ‘supply teacher’ is? Most kids under the age of 13 are too self-consumed to see past their left elbow. They’re caught up in their own little world. Sometimes, I’d be halfway through a day’s work, before certain kids would realise I wasn’t their normal teacher.

Perhaps the deputy had spoken with them in the playground and told them the same thing he told me.

And there was kid number 22. His face was permanently scarred with a mischievous slash psychopathic grin, ready to cause chaos; a delinquent at the age of seven. He had one of those haircuts where everything is shaved short except for the mullet fringe at the back. Not that a haircut is reason to judge what a personality will be like, but sometimes a personality is a reason to judge what a haircut will be like.

The child was full of expletives, immediately escalating himself to a morning break detention. The rest of the class wasn’t far behind, paying such little attention to the lesson that I had to drop Maths for the day to spend time going through the ‘Golden Rules’ chart on the pin-up board.

It was at this point I became more infuriated. It seemed the children had a comprehensive knowledge of what the classroom expectations were, but had consciously chosen to flaunt them. Normally, I find younger children have misunderstandings of appropriate behaviour, whereas teenagers know the limits and choose to exceed them.

This Year Three class were acting like teenagers. They knew I was a cover teacher so had chosen to throw the ‘Golden Rules’ out the window along with a couple of pencils and one boy’s exercise book.

I’d not seen such collective self-awareness in young children for a long time, if ever. We finished re-vising the rules and how to behave normally, before ascending to the third floor of the building for a music lesson. The music specialist took this lesson, so I returned to the sanctuary of the now peaceful classroom.

A senior staff member popped her head in to see how things were going. I lied and said it was fine, hoping to myself that the time continuum would collapse on itself and it’d suddenly become 3.30pm.

She also asked where the teaching assistant was. I said I had seen a lady in the room earlier in the day. But she hadn’t said much.

The teaching assistant who was supposed to have been with these naughty children had seemingly gone AWOL. She too must have been told by the deputy that the day would be a right off; and I imagine she retreated to the photocopying room to regain whatever sanity she had lost dealing with these kids over the preceding months.

The peace was short-lived as four boys returned to the room prematurely. The twenty-second kid had been incessantly banging his drum, after being told to stop by the music teacher. His goons had joined in the fun by laughing evil laughs and egging him on.

Now they were my problem again. I made them write lines, which due to their illiteracy became one single line i.e. one line between the four of them.

Lunch came and went. The afternoon was marred by the Maths lesson we hadn’t completed in the morning and the kid, I had come to hate, threw his toys out the pram when I asked him to count to ten with some number blocks. The blocks were tossed from the metaphoric pram to the corner of the room, while he was guided to the opposite corner to sit in ‘time-out’.

This of course was short lived, because the sugar from the Walkers cheese and onion chips he’d eaten at lunch had clearly kicked in and caused him to have another burst of adrenaline. He began literally bouncing off walls and running into things.

It is children like this that make a good case for bringing back the dunce hat. Then at least there’d be something to weigh the child down with, so they’d find it harder to leave ‘time-out’.

The day finally ended and I escorted the children to the playground for pickup. Though, it was more like they escorted themselves out, as we had all had more than enough by then.

The naughty child was now hitting another child or sibling.

Then suddenly he spotted his parents walking in with his kick scooter.

So before he ran off to them, I bent down and whispered in his ear, “You are the worst [dramatic pause] child I have ever taught. And if I teach here again, I hope you improve your behaviour young man”.

I never did teach there again thank goodness, and the kid simply rode off into the distance, running over a little girl’s toe in the process.

Maybe the boy had a condition. Maybe I was harsh to whisper in his ear just to satisfy myself I’d gained some juvenile revenge. Really, someone within the school should have started addressing the breadth of misbehaviour. There was no need for that much naughtiness.

For me it was another day another dollar. And I never returned.

Perhaps things are better there now and the boy has been diagnosed with some form of deficit disorder.

But if I ever met him again, I doubt I’d join him on the halfpipe with my scooter.

It Follows – Film Review

The wonderful thing about It Follows, is the realism for the non-supernatural elements of the film. It is free of the melodramatic over-acting present in many of its predecessors such as I know what you did last summer or Scream.

In fact the opening scenes involving Jay (Maika Monroe) appear to be reminiscent of most independent features about small American towns.

A group of youths, spending their summers together hanging out playing board games, watching movies and swimming in an above-ground pool. The general comradery and jest is present when Jay exits the pool and shakes her wet hair over her sister while her friend lets out a fart. This is all happening while they sit on the couch reading e-books, eating Cheetos and watching Killers from Space.

Then, as with all good horror films, the picture-perfect slice of American pie begins crumbling around the central characters as ‘It’ begins to follow.

I have no intention of spoiling what ‘It’ is; you must see ‘It’ for yourself.

What must briefly be discussed is a sequence that happens during the calm before the storm.

Jay is swimming in her above ground swimming pool. It’s suburban America at its finest. The entire atmosphere is reminiscent of my Australian childhood summers spent playing shark attack games with my cousins in their above ground swimming pool. The difference here is there’s no tomfoolery. Just one lone person floating on her back.

Then all of a sudden you realise she’s being watched. Is it by some evil pervert, a monstrous beast or a masked serial killer? No, it’s a couple of ten year old boys – neither looking like children of the corn, but more like Tom Sayer and Huckleberry Finn.

In this case, it seems Tom and Huck have just discovered girls. But more importantly, I ask, where are their parents?

It Follows 2

Have they not had the birds and bees talk so these two kids hiding in the bushes can realise they’re batting out of their league. This young lady is almost twice their age, and she has a date lined up for the evening. Both those kids should be down the park batting with an actual baseball bat, instead of whatever batting it is they’re trying to do at this moment.

Plus it’s rude to stare. No manners at all.

Poor Jay realises the boys are there and tells them as much. She laughs them off. But she still feels the need to get out of her own swimming pool and head inside, just because these vernal voyeurs couldn’t keep their eye balls to themselves.

Peeping Tom and Huck have proven that objectification of women can start at a young age.

Perhaps I am not unlike these two lads, in that I’ve been watching this film gazing at the female form as she is terrorised by ‘It’ who follows.

Kid #21 – You can guide a kid to textbooks, but you can’t make them think

The twenty-first kid I hated had a real ‘make me!’ attitude.

By ‘make me!’, I am referring to the following sorts of interactions:

Teacher/Parent/Adult/Authority figure: Please, can you tuck your shirt in?

Kid: Make me!

Or

Teacher/Parent/Adult/Authority figure: Please, can you sit down?

Kid: Make me!

And so on and so forth.

For argument’s sake, let’s say kid number 21 was called ‘Tarquin’. He had become so notorious around the school for his defiance that students and staff alike would say, “Have you met Tarquin yet?”, “Is Tarquin in your class?” or “Such and such student couldn’t be worse than Tarquin”.

Who was this child? And did I really want to meet him?

I was covering classes in this school for a number of months. The school was situated in an area of London prone to a certain amount of gang warfare. The gangs were usually made up of vulnerable teenagers and misguided young adults involving themselves in forcing young female members to be involved in various sexual acts, general theft and a bit of knife crime.

My gut feeling was the majority of students in the school were not part of such gangs, but some of those who weren’t continuing beyond Year 10 were probably on the cusp of joining such groups. The school was very active in bringing to the attention of students, the pitfalls of gang culture. Ex-gang members were often brought in as guest speakers; extra-curricular clubs and activities were organised as distractions; and the issue of knife crime was debated as a topic in English classes, using the institutionalised racism of the Stephen Lawrence case as a backdrop (albeit some of the children seemed more interested in the knife side of ‘knife crime’ and less concerned about the crime).

One film studies class was even making a mockumentary about the 2011 London riots, documenting a gang who had resorted to raiding stationery shops for highlighters.

With such a demographic and a number of already lippy students, I was prepared for the worst upon meeting the twenty first kid. Would he be part of such a gang? Is that why he was so well-known?

Apprehensive at every turn, when covering year nine classes, I expected the child to storm in at any moment. Then one day covering a woodwork class it happened…

In stormed ‘Tarquin’. He did not fit the gangster mould at all. I was expecting a much more vicious and streetwise child from a struggling background. Instead he appeared to be a well-spoken middle-class lad born into a good home. So initially I relaxed.

However, he had turned up five minutes late to class and seemed rather unapologetic. I should have been more cautious.

When asked to sit down in a seat, he declared that he was fine and continued to wander around the room. He began picking up tools; saws, chisels and other sharp construction implements, which I had been explicitly instructed to make sure students did not handle. The students were only supposed to work on their written booklet explaining how they were going to construct their wooden pencil box for next lesson.

The rest of the year nines seemed to be enjoying the show. Here was their class-clown ready to spoil the day. He was no Krusty, but if it meant they didn’t need to complete their written element of work, they’d settle for his second rate cousin.

The child continued to ignore me completely, despite every polite attempt to get his attention and encourage him to sit in a chair. There is nothing ruder or more defiant than being ignored completely by a student. Yet there is also an element of knowing with such a child. They’ve realised the limitations of the adults to ‘make’ them do things. Beyond my words I had nothing. I could call a senior staff member in, and soon enough I did, but he treated them the same way. It would have been easier if he’d smashed a window or something, because then we’d have been able to call the police who may have been able to force him to do something. Something like sitting in a cell, instead of the chair I’d originally asked him to rest upon.

But even force with not lead to learning.

And there-in lay the dilemma when later in the lesson he was asked to do his work and responded with, “make me!”.

There is in fact no way to make someone learn. They can only be cajoled, encouraged, persuaded and threatened with consequence, to complete a task.

Instead this child was happy to enjoy his minute status as a celebrity. He wandered the room greeting all his pals, as though he was some sort of politician working a room. He sat at his table like a chairman of an important board meeting, leading discussions in everything but the topic at hand. When the lesson finally ended he swanned (or perhaps even minced) out of the room with an air of contempt towards those he had just spent time with; he obviously had more important places to be.

It’s hard to know with some of these children whether the bravado comes from a place of insecurity or, as stated early, the knowledge that rules can be pushed to their limit (or even ignored) to get what you want.

The problem with this character was he’d only realised half the picture. He knew there were limited short term consequences to his blatant disregard for authority. He was reaping the rewards of his popularity within the safety net of his school environment. But left out to float in the ocean of the real world, he’d be swallowed up by the shark that is society and torn limb from limb like an malnourished walrus – I feel this is an apt metaphor considering his body type.

Luckily I only taught that class until the end of the week and moved to another part of the school, where again the name Tarquin became merely a quasi-outlaw rumoured about in the corridors. A god among pupils and fool among teachers. His destiny was tied up in failure due the size of his ego and belt strap.

So although the child may have suffered from some social autism, if we met again I doubt I’d invite him in for coffee. He’d have to ‘make me!’.

While We’re Young – Film Review

Ben Stiller’s character in While We’re Young has been having trouble with his wife Naomi Watts and finds himself on his best mate’s (Adam Horovitz) couch. He’s feeling a bit sheepish about this, having recently shafted his friend (who has a new baby), in preference for hanging out with indie kids Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried.

In a vulnerable moment, unfolding linen for the fold-out couch, Stiller declares to his host that he could have been jealous of his friend having a kid.

His friend responds with the following:

“You know before you have a kid everyone tells you it’s the best thing you’ll ever do. And as soon as you get the baby back from the hospital those same people are like ‘don’t worry it gets better’. Well, like, what the f*** was all that before?”

Indeed.

We are fed this idea from our older relatives, society, friends, Huggies commercials, films, wives and husbands. The idea that birthing a child into our home will be a life-changing experience. One that will wipe away the doubt about our self-worth during our twenties; conceal our worries about ageing in our thirties; or validate us that we weren’t too late in our forties. We always worry that we’re behind the eight ball and all our friends are already married and having kids. We forget people ten years older, even twenty years older are having the same feeling. It happens at different times for different people. Still, there’s this expectation that any concerns we had about our esteem before the baby will be washed clean, because there will be no time left for naval-gazing.

It will be ‘baby-time’ and the only thing that will matter is that little bundle of joy. It will become the soul-focus of our attentions. Nothing else will matter. Everyone will want a piece of baby, and there will no longer be pressure on our own successes or failures, because no one will be looking. They’ll just be drooling and gawking at baby, looking into baby’s big glossy blue eyes.

I’ve not got a baby, so I’m not sure how much of this is true or untrue. My ramblings above are mere conjecture. But I’m sure of one thing, and that’s Ben Stiller’s friend was right having a go at all the people saying ‘it’s the best thing you’ll ever do’. He’s right. That’s what people do.

They pressure you into situations they drowned in. They rose-tint glass everything, as much for their own sake as yours. They’ve blocked from their mind the memories of the twenty hour labor, sleepless nights, aching bodies and projectile vomited milk products. Sure now their life may have changed for the better and have direction, but Stiller’s mate is right. One glance at a urine sodden nappy sagging from your own infant’s crutch and their quite happy to remind you ‘it gets better’, while they inch towards the door to return to their own offspring who are can now hold a conversation and an Xbox controller simultaneously.

And what of the existential level of this trickery and life-altering occasion. Should childbirth being ‘the best thing’ be reason enough for putting a bun in the oven. What about all our own unresolved life dilemmas, misspent youth and broken dreams? Shouldn’t we solve, spend and repair some of these, respectively, before shelving them in the top drawer to make emotional space for a child? How can we push the next generation, to live life to the full, when we still feel incomplete? Or is that the answer? Perhaps it is a chicken before the egg scenario, where we’re destined to have children to complete our puzzle. It certainly makes sense in terms of sustaining the human race.

The film doesn’t answer these questions, but we certainly see Watts and Stiller grappling with their childfree lifestyle to find completion in other spaces and places. The situations unfolding in the film, certainly suggest there are times in our lives when a child would probably be better left out of the picture.

As a close friend once told me, “I can barely look after myself, how could I look after a child?”

I didn’t understand at the time, his fear of placing all his own insecurities on another human being. But having taught children now, I can see that there are certainly some states of mind that are more beneficial to the healthy development of a small person. And, I would suggest, some people would be better spent being more cautious like my friend.

Yet I’m also an old romantic (when I’m not being a cynic) and still believe, perhaps ignorantly, there is an innate and instinctual part of our human condition that is maternal or paternal. And so whether or not we are glad to have children or are glad to not have children, it will be the urge towards parenthood that leads us to these decisions. If it wasn’t there, we’d not make a decision either way.

While We’re Young explores all these dilemmas deftly. It follows the complexities of parenting and being childless, from both sides of the fence. It at times treats both states as self-satisfying, while at others points both out to be selfless. It’s a trundle through the lives of baby boomers, generation x and generation y. Each generation self-reflecting their obsessions through different mediums of traditional documentary, social media and then viral video. The older generations turning their nose up at the new; a ‘documentarian’ is more credible than a ‘YouTuber’. But then again maybe not. But then again probably yes. The subplot becomes the main plot. Was this film about babies and youth? Or was it about narcissism and self-worth? I’m confused. You’re confused reading this.

The film appears a jumble of ideas at times, trying to intertwine all these things, raising as many questions as it answers. But all the while we see ourselves in it. These are the decisions we can’t make and the paths we can’t take without consequence While We’re Young.

 

 

 

The Falling – Film Review

Set in an all-girls school in the late 1960s, The Falling is a teacher’s worst nightmare.

In short one of the girls Abbie (Florence Pugh) becomes pregnant; then as if that’s not bad enough she dies before giving birth; and then if both those things aren’t bad enough the majority of the student population begin having fainting spells.

The wondrous element of this film is guessing whether the fainting spells are being caused by a higher magical power that may have killed Abbie, or whether it is a case of mass hysteria. Conversely, there may have been a gas leak in the main cafeteria.

It’s hard enough managing a class of thirty students at the best of times. But when the mob-mentality starts and students beginning mimicking the ‘class fool’, it becomes very difficult to contain. The closest I’ve come to mass hysteria is when a child asks to go to the toilet and then ten other children also want to go. You suspect they’re just avoiding their work and causing trouble, but you can’t take the risk of having twenty or so ten-year-olds sympathetically pooping their pants because you were sceptical it was a run-of-the-mill case of mass hysteria.

Likewise stern-faced head teacher Miss Alvaro (Monica Dollan) is loath to admit there may be something wrong with schoolgirl Lydia (Maisie Williams) and her entourage of fainting peers. But she’s already got one corpse on her hands and can’t risk having a procession of neatly dressed private school girls being wheeled through the doors of the town morgue for inspection. Instead she does the sensible thing, involving the medical experts and … the rest you’ll have to watch for yourself, as I’ve already said too much.

And while mass hysteria in school children may draw the ire of suspicious people, like myself and the fictional Miss Alvaro, real-life occurrences caused by real-life traumas have unravelled as recently as October 2011, when an outbreak of symptoms, similar to Tourette’s Syndrome, appeared in a number of teenage girls in the town of LeRoy, New York.

Again there were those who thought it was a bunch of attention-seeking teenagers making a secret pact to outwit adults, while others were seriously concerned for the girls’ well-being and had them sectioned off so a remedy could be found. The unfolding of events are documented in the television documentary The Town That Caught Tourrette’s.

So while I won’t be showing The Falling or any other footage concerning mass hysteria to my students, for fear of a revolution; I highly recommend the adult population begin making their way en masse to their DVD player or VOD service to watch an amazing film showing the vulnerabilities and pressures of youth. Just don’t pass out halfway through, or you’ll miss the good bits – Is it really mass hysteria or is it something more sinister?

 

White Bird in a Blizzard – Film Review

While Shaleine Woodley’s soppy performance in Fault in Our Stars made me want to cry; she redeems herself in this twisted coming-of-age piece from Gregg Araki who brought us Kaboom an equally psychedelic and warped slice of cinema, amongst others.

Where White Bird in a Blizzard begins in conventional teenage angst and melodramatic statements and flashbacks, it soon begins revealing layers of darker sub-matter. This is why this film allows Woodley to transcend her performance in the afore mentioned teen-blockbuster.

Kat Connors (Woodley) begins by reflecting on the absence of her mother (the wondrous Eva Green). The playing out of this relationship through flashback, shows her mother to be a suppressed and depressed Stepford-wife-like character. She spends her days going through the motions; seething at the lack of affection shown by her husband; and raging jealously at the attention Kat gains from her pretty young looks.

It’s a messed up world we’re shown. But it appears to be realistic. The narcissism of Kat in concerning herself merely with her own romantic pursuits, show all the usual trademarks of self-absorption that is the emotional sponge of being a teenager. In constant need of validation from her peers, lovers and parents, we see her stumbling aimlessly through her adolescence into adulthood. Overarching these wanderings is the mysterious disappearance of her mother and the relationship she develops with the detective on the case (Thomas Jane).

Most of all Kat lacks strong adults. This is clear from the outset when she finds her mother fully dressed up in an evening dress lying on her daughter’s bed at 5pm in the afternoon. Children look to adults to model behaviour, show an example and provide a yardstick. We struggle to deal with situations when confronted with the humanity of our parents or adult figures. Likewise Kat’s father (Christopher Meloni) provides limited support (despite trying) when she is looking for answers. But then, maybe that’s what all adults are doing – looking for answers.

Kat’s quest for solving the disappearance of her mother, while also finding her place among the human race, is played out beautifully by Woodley. She is savvy and naïve simultaneously. This is not a normal coming-of-age movie and must be watched to the end for the startling twist in the final act.

A teacher’s worst nightmare

There is a re-occurring dream haunting my sleep. I’ve been having it for seven years. I’ve also been a teacher for seven years. Here’s the dream (which I’m sure is not a reflection of my psychological state; I just overheat under the doona/duvet):

Everything is normal. I’m normally going about my daily business, when suddenly there I am in front of a class full of children. Some faces I don’t recognise, some I do. The ones I recognise are not nice kids. They are usually the kids I hated. But everyone is getting on with their work. So its ok, considering the class is filled with 32 children – two kiddies over the standard recommendation of 30 children.

There I stand before the students opening my mouth with nothing coming out. Also I tend to not be wearing shoes for some reason (having no clothes at all would be too clichéd). I struggle to reach my feet to put on the shoes which appear in my hand. And when I finally speak, I’ve forgotten what I needed to talk about.

I regress into my early attempts as a teacher to be relatable. I try to tell a joke, do a funny voice, or smile. The children appreciate this. They laugh a bit. I become insecure. Are they laughing at the joke? Or are they laughing at me? After all, I’m standing there bare-footed trying to be buddies with them.

A child stands up and yells something. It’s indecipherable, as with many things in dreams. That being said, many children are indecipherable when they yell things in reality. I panic because he’s standing on classroom furniture. If my boss comes in they’ll wonder what’s going on. They’ll discover I’m a fraud who forgot to put his shoes on, cracks jokes with his students and has mistaken the school desks for climbing frames.

Luckily no one enters. But the children are still laughing. It is slowly becoming more manic. I lift up some textbooks to handout. They are too heavy. They feel like lead. I grab a pile of worksheets. They are also heavy, but more like a pile of aluminium sheets than lead. So I manage to lift one worksheet at a time to circulate them around the class.

No one is paying attention to what I’m doing. They walk around the room like zombie hyenas, unable to stop laughing. Perhaps if I get all these worksheets distributed they’ll start working. Yet, handing out one sheet at a time is completely inefficient. Five sheets in, I realise it will be the end of class before I’ve even finished placing all 32 worksheets on the desks.

I’m stuck with the remaining 27 sheets at the back of the room. I can’t make my way towards the whiteboard. There’s a young girl showboating at the front of the room, drawing obscene images on the board in permanent marker, strutting up and down the carpet space.

I begin asking the students to ‘calm their farms’. They get louder and louder. I get louder and louder to be heard. The chaos feels as though it will spill out of the classroom. I’ll be discovered as a failure. I won’t be allowed to teach again.

I shout more and more. They refuse to listen. The laughter turns to jeering.

The walls of the room begin shifting. The windows narrow, there are sofas on the side of the room, a television appears at the side broadcasting an episode of The Simpsons; I’m at home in my flat. But so are the children. They’ve infiltrated my personal sanctuary. I’m repulsed.

I look out the window for sweet relief. There it is a garden full of green ferns and limestone wall terraces. There’s a swing and a cubby house. Sand begins to cascade from the wall. This is the backyard of my parents from my childhood. Am I relapsing into the security blanket of my own youth? Why is the wall crumbling?

The phone rings. Someone close to me (relative/friend/whoever) has died in a horrible plane accident.

This is terrible. It’s the kids’ fault. They kept me here; away from what was important; away from people who cared; away from life.

Then black.