Detachment (2011)

Throughout my years of movie watching, I have seen a hell of a lot of high-school films. None quite like Detachment though. It’s a harrowing look at the education system, with substitute English teacher Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody) at the centre.

The film follows several weeks in his life, as he gets a job at a failing school, and against the odds, forms a bond with the pupils in his class, many who are deeply troubled. Henry also has problems of his own, including his emotional detachment. Things get more complicated for him when teenage runaway Erica (Sami Gayle), stumbles into his life, in need of a place to call home.


Tony Kaye seems to have an impulse for directing disturbing, yet powerful films. Kaye directed Neo-Nazi drama American History X (1998), which is a shocking exploration of race hatred and violence. Now with Detachment, Kaye examines the public high school system, providing an intricate social commentary.

All seen through the eyes of Henry, the film unfolds retrospectively, continuously shifting from the events taking place in Henry’s life, to him talking directly to the camera in what appears to be counselling sessions. Brody produces a compelling performance as a reclusive man, plagued with anguish and the memories of his dark past. The film has a strong assemble supporting cast, which includes Bryan Cranston as the principal’s wife, and James Caan as a sarcastic teacher.

The film navigates through the lives of several other teachers and students, exploring the problems they face. We are mostly shown only glimpses into the lives of these characters, which are revealed to be pretty miserable. The film shows us neglected and troubled children and fractured families.


Detachment has very few light moments. The uplifting moments come from how Henry takes Erica under his wing, offering her shelter and support. Henry is too selfless for his own good, as he attracts the attention of fellow pupil Meredith (Betty Kaye), who has some dark secrets of her own. Also, the actress just so happens to be the director’s daughter.

The film focuses on Henry educating his pupil’s the value of literature, reading Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. His methods prove useful as under his guidance, the pupils start to become more tolerant and more interested in learning. 

In spit of this, he is no miracle worker as the film ultimately asserts that the dysfunctional mentality of young people, starts from outside the classroom. All the characters feel detached and neglected from the world around them in some way. The film tries to provoke the viewer to decide for themselves who is to blame. Detachment is very challenging but it’s executed brilliantly.



Although it’s quite depressing and tragic with only a few moments of inspiration, Detachment is excellent. Watch this film and I can guarantee you’ll feel something, whether it’s sadness, frustration or anger. You’ll no doubt come away from it holding some strong emotions.

Check out the trailer below!

Quoted: “We have such a responsibility to guide our young so that they don’t end up falling apart, falling by the wayside, becoming insignificant.”

Director: Tony Kaye

Writer: Carl Lund

Stars: Adrian Brody, Christina Hendricks, Sami Gayle.

Distributor: Celluloid Dreams (Worldwide)

Run Time: 98 min


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