|Neuroscience at the
|This lesson was developed by Ms. Heather Stewart, Neuroscience for Kids Consultant|
Cognitive impairment has many causes. Genetic abnormalities and perinatal
or early childhood trauma may lead to brain damage resulting in mental
impairment. Often the condition reflects an insufficiency of vital
elements such as oxygen, nutrients or blood during development of the
brain. Such problems may disrupt information processing and learning and
development may proceed at a slower pace and to a lesser degree than in
individuals without damage.|
There is a wide range of mental and emotional development among individuals with cogntive impairment. Some will need near full-time care and attention in order to avoid inadvertently harming themselves while others will be able to live autonomously, with a job, relationships and other responsibilities.
Whatever their level of self-sufficiency, the mentally-challenged individuals portrayed in these films retain a child-like innocence and naivete. It is this simple, uncomplicated viewpoint, unconditional trust and love rarely seen in more "intelligent" and complex personalities that endear these characters not only to their family and friends in the films, but also to their audiences. The uncomplicated candor exhibited by the lovable "wise fools" such as Chancy Gardner (Being There) and Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump) is refreshing. Their unconditional faith and trust inspire love, compassion and protectiveness in their close associates - whether teachers (Charly, Tim), friends (Being There, Forrest Gump, Of Mice and Men) or family members (Heart of the Dragon, What's Eating Gilbert Grape) - and seem all the more precious for their purity.
Themes to explore in these films include simple vs. complex, free vs. not free, natural vs unnatural. Often a mentally-challenged chararacter comes up with a simple solution when placed among other characters in the midst of a very complex situation (e.g., Forrest Gump in Vietnam, Chauncy Gardner with Politicians). The message appears to be that too much though and analysis is what makes life and its situations difficult and it takes a "simple" mind to see the simple truth. Other concepts or imagery reflecting this theme include children vs. adults, innocence vs. worldliness, children's desires vs. those of adults.
Regarding freedom, the mentally-challenged character is usually depicted in these films as "freer" - of spirit, of the burdens of thought and complex situations and needs, even of money. In contrast, more "intelligent" characters are bound by their complex, heavy thoughts, needs and situations. Imagery reflecting concepts of freedom include light, lightness, happiness, peace, carefree nature, and child-like. "Bound" imagery and concepts include darkness, heaviness, worry, unhappiness.
Natural vs. unnatural imagery includes outdoor, natural settings associated with the "simple" characters (even the title character's name in "Forrest Gump") contrasted with indoor, man-made setting associated with other characters such as a house or mansion (Being There) or laboratory (Charly). Other "unnatural" imagery includes man-made items such as machinery (Harley in Charly), weaponry (Heart of the Dragon).
Questions to consider while viewing these:
Rich, multi-layered story of a man given an opportunity
to change his circumstance - ahead of its time in the idea of "fixing" or
"enhancing" brain function with a transplant. Cliff Robertson nabbed an
Oscar for his portrayal of simple-minded Charly when his IQ is
to genius-level and back again. Charly's transformation is all the more
poignant because of his self-awareness of his limitations - what he's
gained and what he's losing. At one point he's even working to effect his
own cure to prevent the inevitable reversal of his enhanced state. Claire
Bloom stars as Ms. Kinian - his caseworker, friend and romantic interest -
who shares Charly's triumph and ultimate loss. Memorable quote: "How'd you
feel if you were dumber'n a mouse?" |
Themes to explore with younger students: Was Charly jealous of Algernon, why or why not? If you could have an operation to "boost" something about yourself, what feature would you change and why? Would you change even if it was just temporary? How about if it left you with even less ability than before the operation? Why did Charly change his mind and not want to marry the woman he loved? Themes to explore with older students: Simple vs. complex (Charly, wall art in Charly's room), natural vs. unnatural (Charly in the park, on his Harley). Compare and contrast: Charly vs. Johnny Mnemonic - brain enhancement and "mirror" images; Charly vs. Awakenings - getting better then worse, boat imagery; Charly vs. Forrest Gump - self-awareness of limitations, '60s imagery; Charly vs. Tim - development and outcome of romantic relationship, self- and community acceptance and individual, cultural and temporal factors that may have influenced this.
This is a full-hearted, compassionate film set in Australia, in which
Tim Melville, a likeable and mentally-challenged young man who is often
taken advantage of by his co-workers, is befriended and employed by Mary
Horton (Piper Laurie). As
the friendship between Mary and Tim deepens, Mary herself is accused of
taking advantage of Tim's condition. Fortunately, they show us that true
love is more than matching IQ's.|
Themes to explore with younger students: Was it right for Tim's co-workers to take advantage of him? Why did Tim's family feel protective of him with other people, even though he was grown? Was Mary a good friend to Tim? In what ways? In what ways did she protect him also? Themes to explore with older students: Did Tim need protecting? Was Mary trying to change Tim by teaching him? Did Mary love Tim? Give reasons for answers. Compare and contrast: Tim vs. Charly, Tim vs. Being There - development and outcome of romantic relationship, self- and community acceptance and individual, cultural and temporal factors that may have influenced this.
"You have the gift of being very natural." Tremendous understated comedy
in which a middle-aged, mentally-challenged man, Chauncy Gardner (Peter
Sellers) is turned out from his lifelong, comfortable, sheltered existence
(he wakes to classical music, then watches cartoons, then tends the
gardens), upon the sudden death of his benefactor. Chance throws him in
path of Eve Rand (Shirley Maclaine), wife of dying billionaire and
kingmaker, Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas, Oscar-winning role). While
at their home, he becomes the toast of Washington ("He's very intense","I
hear he speaks eight languages and has a degree in law as well as
because his simple statements about gardening ("there is new growth in the
spring" and "you've got to trim the branches") are interpreted as profound
truths on issues of the economy, media, politics, etc. This is carried to
its logical extreme - you've GOT to be there. Many memorable scenes
(including final one of Chauncy walking on water) and side-splitting
outtakes. "I'd like to meet a reasonable man."
Themes to explore with younger students: How did Chauncy get his name? Do you think you could learn everything you need to know about life from TV? Give some examples of things you can and can't learn about life and people from watching television. Does it seem likely that someone who knows so little could actually get to be president?
Themes to explore with older students: Was Chauncy a believable character? Was he pulling a "snow job"? Why or why not? Explain this movie in terms of Abe Lincoln's quote, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time." Compare and contrast: Being There vs. Forrest Gump and the concept of "wise fool".
"Life is like a box of chocolates," and this movie is definitely a
chocolate-covered cherry in that box. Like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner,
Forrest (Tom Hanks, Oscar role) waits on a bench at a bus stop and assails
whoever comes with his charmed life's tale which spans the defining
decades of the Boomer generation and encompasses first-hand experience of
every major socio-political event during that time. Though slow-witted, he
is fast-footed and this talent serves him well, especially in college
and Viet Nam, winning him numerous honors and presidential handshakes.
Very funny and clever splicing of Forrest into historical news footage.
But despite his success at running, he can never catch up with his
lifelong love, Jenny (who is running down her own path in life), until the
end of the film ("I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is").
Forrest's mama (Sally Field) has molded well her son's awareness and
positive attitude regarding his mental challenge ("Stupid is as stupid
does") such that it never is a limitation on how far and how fast he
ultimately goes in life. A very touching and delightful romp through 20
years of late 20th century history in about 2 hours.
Themes to explore with younger students: Would you say Forrest was talented, lucky or both? Why did Forrest want to tell his story to strangers at the bus stop? Explain your answers.
Themes to explore with older students: Running - name several people in this film who were "running" - literally or figuratively - and tell who/what they were running from and/or towards; What is the significance of the feather? If life IS like a box of chocolates, which kind are you? Explain your answer. Compare and contrast: Forrest Gump vs. Being There - concept of "wise fool"; Forrest Gump vs. Charly - self-awareness of limitations, '60s imagery.
|Heart of the
Rated: Not Rated
Incredible action film (does Jackie Chan make anything else?) that takes
place in Hong Kong in which Chan stars as Tat Fung, a special
police SWAT team member with a mentally-challenged older brother, Do-Do(Sammo
Hung - of TV show "Martial Law" fame; he also choreographed the fight
scenes for this movie). Do-Do and his playmates stumble onto loot from a
jewel heist. Tat must battle not only against the thieves who want to
retrieve the goods, but also against his own department - who question Danny's
involvement in stealing the jewels - to protect his brother. Full of
compassion and care as well as action. Unless you're fluent in Chinese or
don't mind subtitles, get the dubbed version.
Themes to explore with younger students: Do Ted and Danny make a good team? How do the brothers help each other? Take care of each other? What would you do if you found a bag of jewels?
Themes to explore with older students: Do you think Tat resents taking care of his brother? How about Danny, does he wish Tat would leave him alone? Do you see any cultural differences in how mentally-challenged individuals are regarded?
Compare and contrast: Heart of the Dragon vs. What's Eating Gilbert Grape - compare how Tat and Gilbert feel about taking care of their mentally-challenged brothers.
|Of Mice and
"He's a nice fella. Guy don't need no sense to be a nice fella." Painted
in somber tones reminiscent of early van Gogh works depicting difficult
conditions of laborers, this film is a retelling of Steinbeck's classic
tale of the plights and bare-bones existence of farm laborers of
depression-era America. Gary Sinise, who directed the film, stars as
companion and self-appointed caretaker of severely mentally-challenged,
but big-as-a-brute and strong-as-an-ox Lenny Small (John Malkovich).
Childlike Lenny likes soft things - rabbits, puppies, his boss' lonely
and flirtatious daughter-in-law's soft hair - but can't control his
strength and often ends up unintentionally hurting them. A poignant look
at people and creatures who "ain't no use to anyone, not even to
Themes to explore: Where do you think the title comes from? Does George resent looking after Lenny? How does he deal with his frustration? What is George and Lenny's dream? Think about the laborers' comment about Candy's dog ("aint no use to anyone, not even to himself") and explain how it can relate to people in this film (especially Candy, Curly's wife, Lenny) and their situations. Why did George act as he did in the final scene? Was it an act of compassion or desperation or what? Explain your answers.
Compare and contrast: Of Mice and Men vs. What's Eating Gilbert Grape - compare how George and Gilbert feel about taking care of their mentally-challenged charges. How are their situations alike? How are they different? If Gilbert became unable to take care of Arnie, what options are available? Did George have the same options?
"Nothing ever happens here - why does it always happens to me?" A grim
tale of the trials in young Gilbert Grape's (Johnny Depp) life after he
becomes the head of house following his father's suicide. Gilbert is
trapped beneath the weight of and consumed by his responsibilities for his
family, including his extremely obese and housebound mother, 2
sisters, and a very challenging younger brother, Arnie
(Leonardo di Caprio). Despite the enormity of his burden and frustrations,
Gilbert meets the challenges with supreme dignity and compassion. One day,
an RV rolls into town bringing insight and a ray of hope in the form of
Becky (Juliette Lewis), whose refreshing presence sows the seed of his
future salvation. Pay attention to Becky's recounting of the praying
mantis tale. "So what do YOU want to eat, Gilbert?"
Themes to explore with younger students: Pretty heavy movie. Despite PG-13 rating, I wouldn't recommend it for younger than high school students.
Themes to explore with older students: Where do you think the title comes from? Relate the title to Becky's recounting of the praying mantis story. Does Gilbert resent taking care of his mother and Arnie? How does he deal with his frustration? Why does Arnie climb the water tower? How does Gilbert get him down? Compare and contrast: What's Eating Gilbert Grape vs. Heart of the Dragon - compare how Tat and Gilbert feel about taking care of mentally-challenged brothers.
|Deafness||Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder||Brain Tumors||Feral Children|
|Neuroscience at the Movies|
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