Imagine being a teacher who never stays in one school for more than a month. A teacher who has no colleagues, no students, and no identity. A teacher who is a non-person.
This is the situation of Henry Barthes, the protagonist of the movie Detachment. Henry is a substitute teacher who drifts from classroom to classroom, avoiding any emotional attachment or involvement with anyone. He is a man who has lost his sense of purpose and belonging in a world that does not seem to care about him or his students.
In this blog post, I will analyze how the movie depicts Henry as a non-person who is regarded as nonexistent or unimportant by society, and how he struggles to find meaning and connection in his life. I will also explore how the movie challenges us to empathize with those who are marginalized and ignored by the system, and to question our own role and responsibility as educators and citizens.
Henry’s Detachment From His Own Identity
Whatever is on my mind, I say it as I feel it, I’m truthful to myself; I’m young and I’m old, I’ve been bought and I’ve been sold, so many times. I am hard-faced, I am gone. I am just like you.Henry Barthes, Detachment
One of the main reasons why Henry is a non-person is because he has detached himself from his own identity. Henry does not reveal much about his personal life, and when he is asked about his family or his background, he evades the question or gives a vague answer.
This detachment from his own identity is reflected in his choice of being a substitute teacher. Henry does not commit to any place or person, and he prefers to move from one school to another, never staying in one place for too long. This detachment from his own identity and lack of commitment makes it difficult for Henry to form meaningful connections with others, which ultimately leads to his sense of alienation and loneliness.
Henry’s Traumatic Past
Another reason why Henry is a non-person is his traumatic past. Henry’s mother committed suicide when he was a child, and his grandfather is suffering from dementia. These events have left a deep scar on Henry’s psyche, and he struggles with feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy.
Henry feels like a non-person who does not deserve happiness or love. This sense of worthlessness is evident in his interactions with Erica, a teenage prostitute whom he befriends.
Henry sees himself in Erica, and he tries to help her by offering her a place to stay and encouraging her to pursue her education. However, Henry’s attempts to save Erica are thwarted by fate as he realizes that he actually can not keep her with him forever, which further reinforces his sense of powerlessness and hopelessness.
Henry’s Attempts to Break Out of His Non-Person Status
Doublethink. To deliberately believe in lies, while knowing they’re false.Henry Barthes, Detachment
Despite his detachment from his own identity and his traumatic past, Henry makes several attempts to break out of his non-person status and form meaningful bonds with others. One of the most significant relationships in the movie is between Henry and Sarah, a fellow teacher who is also struggling with her personal and professional life. Henry and Sarah bond over their shared love for literature, and they engage in philosophical discussions about life and the human condition.
Henry says to Sarah in the final scene of the movie:
I realized something. I’m a non-person, Sarah. You shouldn’t be here, I’m not here. You may see me, but I’m hollow.
Henry also forms a bond with Meredith, a troubled and suicidal student who is dealing with issues of abuse and neglect. Henry becomes a mentor to Meredith, and he helps her find a sense of purpose and direction in her life, although we know how that goes later.
Henry’s Role as a Teacher
Henry’s role as a teacher also challenges him to inspire and care for his students, who are also treated as non-persons by the system. Henry sees his students as individuals with unique talents and abilities, and he tries to encourage them to express themselves and pursue their passions. However, Henry’s efforts to inspire his students are met with resistance from the school administration, which values conformity and discipline over creativity and curiosity.
Henry’s frustration with the system is evident in the documentary-style interviews, where he criticizes the educational system for failing to provide a nurturing and supportive environment for students and teachers.
Henry faces the challenge of helping his students, who are also treated as non-persons by the system. The movie portrays a bleak picture of public education, where students are reduced to test scores and disciplinary problems, and teachers are overworked, underpaid, and undervalued. Henry, however, refuses to give up on his students, even when they test his patience and provoke his emotions.
He tries to connect with them on a personal level, to understand their backgrounds and aspirations, and to encourage them to express themselves through art and writing. He also confronts the school administration and challenges their policies, which he sees as oppressive and inhumane.
My Final Thoughts on Detachment
In conclusion, Detachment is a powerful and thought-provoking movie that exposes the harsh realities of public education and social alienation. Henry’s detachment from his own identity, his traumatic past, his attempts to break out of his non-person status, and his role as a teacher all contribute to his complex and nuanced character. This movie is very complex and difficult to cover in just one article. That is why I wrote another article covering the explanation of Detachment and its ending.
The movie shows us that being a non-person is not a permanent or inevitable condition, but a choice that we can change if we are willing to face our fears and open our hearts. As Henry says in one of his voice-overs:
We have such a responsibility to guide our young so that they don’t end up falling apart… We are here to add what we can to life, not get what we can from it.
Thank you for reading this blog post. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to share them below. I would love to hear your thoughts on this movie and its message.