Half-Nelson is one of a spate of recent films that name-check prominent figures of the nineteenth century (cf. Napoleon Dynamite). I came very close to seeing it at the cinema, but if I recall correctly, the very individual who had tabled the excursion ended up having one of his famed John ‘n’ Yoko-esque week-long sleep-ins instead. Failing to see the film has not stopped me reviewing it, you will be relieved to hear.
It is said that each of us remembers at least one teacher who inspired us to learn and who ignited our intellectual curiosity. This however is a statistical impossibility. Experience teaches us, one and all, that the profession of pedagogy is a refuge for ill-beseeming, metallic-voiced scoundrels. For every Robin Williams, prancing thoughtfully on an old dusty Longfellow, there are ten thousand paid-up sad-sacks puffing moronic smoke into the ears of their tiny, helpless wards.
Mr McClure, the hero of this piece, is typical of the species in this respect. But he hides an unhygienic secret: Drugs! When not hectoring his luckless pupils with facile observations and aphorisms, Mr McClure plunges, like a gauche speedoed diver, into the all-too-seductive smog of crack-cocaine. This appetising opiate he sups through a Gandalf the Grey-style pipe: globular at the base and twig-like at the shaft. But, as Hugh Grant wisely said, ‘the pipe maketh not the wizard, Julia’.
Few would disagree with the statement that crack-cocaine enables musicians to make better music. The same cannot however be said for education. Mr McClure’s crack addiction fails to improve his feeble (even by the standards of the trade) lessons. They merely add a bloodshot aspect to the proceedings. Things reach a head when Mr McClure’s already veinous eyeballs achieve such a pitch of redness that he begins to resemble Grar-Raith, the Volcano-dwelling troll-lord. At this point one of Mr McClure’s students intervenes and weans him off the delicious drug by bleating at him incessantly like a tiresome, sententious ewe.
Ordinarily at this stage in the review I would offer my judicious and pungent opinions on the film, but on this occasion I have decided to abstain. To do otherwise would be to encourage directors and script-writers to make more films about teachers and schools. We have had enough of them already. The cycle must end. You have been warned.