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Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire yet? What about the Wrestler? Both of these outstanding films offer many poignant scenes, powerful performances, and excellent dialogue. Both movies should collect at least a few Oscars tonight.
Yet one often overlooked feature of both films remains their depiction of the allure and danger of crowds. A mob scene, fueled by religious hatred, leads to a brutal massacre in Slumdog Millionaire that haunts the main character. Unfortunately, as the recent televised terrorist attacks in Mumbai show, religious intolerance remains a huge problem both within India and between India and Pakistan.
Likewise, The Wrestler shows the pleasures for a star pe- whether as a wrestler or stripper – of a crowd’s attention and brief affection. Yet the film also discloses both the fragility of the crowd’s affection – and ugly underside that can emerge. Wresting crowds scream for righteous violence, pushing performers to both abuse their rivals and themselves to appease the calls for literal blood. How far have we really come since ancient Roman gladiators?
Further, both award-winning films show how individuals need to connect and overcome isolation. Authentic, private conversations offer a chance for characters to find solace, friendship, and love.
The Wrestler gives glimpses into the possibilities for a broken father-daughter relationship with seaside walks and talks. Yet it also painfully portrays the gap between vague intentions and actual commitment when a father fails to ask questions, listen to, and pay attention to his daughter.
In the film, the wrestler knows almost nothing about his daughter – and can only relate on a superficial role to role manner. Without giving away too much of the plot, the main character’s inability to really talk to and care about females leads to dangerous dependence on worshiping crowds. He could relate to groups of people – and his profession encouraged relating based on stereotypes. This failure to engage with individuals instead of abstract types causes many painful mistakes – and helps push the Wrestler over the edge.
I recognize that creating space for authentic classroom conversations, especially in a second, third, or fourth language is difficult. Private English tutors often form a closer, more natural bond while teaching English than many adult education English teachers working with large classes. That’s probably inevitable since numbers do matter. After all, tutors can tailor their private English lessons to their clients and allow natural conversations to evolve.
Yet caring, thoughtful English teachers can also carve out some space for students to express their thoughts and share their experience in both classroom discussions and private conversations. Conversation practice, however, makes English class far more student-centered and gives students a chance to learn by doing. In fact, I consider teaching conversation skills to be an essential skill for everyone – parents, children, immigrants, workers, wrestlers, policeman, and family members. Conversation allows us to learn about others, explore our own lives, and overcome loneliness. Just asking questions, listening to responses, and exchanging a few reflective words can deepen and improve relationships – inside a classroom and outside in the world.
Authentic conversations as the healthy counter to mindless violence of crazed crowds can be clearly seen in both Slumdog Millionaire and The Wrestler. Perhaps that message will reach some of the estimated 1 billion people watching the Oscar show later tonight on television and at parties. I hope so.
As Thomas Mann wrote, “Silence isolates… Conversation is civilization itself.”