THE FIVE SENSES: HEARING
Marlee Matlin had an extraordinary start as an actress. In 1987, with only one screen performance, she nabbed an Oscar for Best Actress, winning over the kickass Sigourney Weaver of “Aliens.” Furthermore, at 21 years of age, she became the youngest of the Best Actress winners – a record that still stands today. This is all thanks to a drama called “Children of a Lesser god.”
In the film, Matlin plays Sarah, a deaf woman who refuses to speak. It’s an intriguing performance. Matlin, who’s (mostly) silent, aggressively fleshes out her character on the limitations of body language and facial expressions. She channels Sarah’s fiery temper through big and fast hand gestures. Psychologically speaking, the character Sarah is a walking time bomb, but the problem: she can’t scream to explode.
“Children of a Lesser God” is distinct for its insights on deaf people, mostly portraying them as (shock!) normal people. They can be smart, successful, self-reliant, funny, cool, or badass. Imagine that. It must have been enlightening to discover this — way back in the 80s. However, as innovative as the movie thinks it is, most of the story stays within familiar territory: a love story.
The love interest here is played by William Hurt as a special-ed teacher, who’s intrigued by the beautiful Sarah and wants to make her better. The heart of the movie is the fascinating dynamics between Hurt and Matlin. When they have “verbal” fights as a couple, it is weird to hear William Hurt doing all the talking. It’s interesting too that the couple is ensnared by usual relationship pitfalls. But in their scenario, misunderstanding and miscommunication is at a different level. How do you connect with someone when the communication is somewhat limited?
For some reason, I muted my TV several times while watching the movie. Maybe I wanted to put myself in Sarah’s eyes and ears. To see loud actions with silence is an odd, ear-opening experience. Something seems missing. The world feels incomplete. The novelty wears off quickly however. To lack something, to feel imperfect, is familiarly human. It’s a feeling all too normal, whether you’re deaf or not.
William Hurt, Marlee Matlin, Philip Bosco, Allison Gompf, John F. Cleary, Philip Holmes, Georgia Ann Cline, and Piper Laurie
Based on the stage play by
A Scene From the Movie: