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Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening Creative Response

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Directed by Richard LaGravanese (P. S. I love you, the Horse Whisperer) in association with MTV, Freedom Writers is a film that has been adapted from a truth-based book. It is the story of the courage and determination of one young female teacher to understand the modern culture and society that her class is faced with each day in times when ‘gang violence and racial tension has reached an all-time high.

This film portrays the social and academic life of Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) and her students as they begin to understand each other’s lives and progress toward the final goal of abolishing racism and establishing peace between each other. As can be seen by the MTV trademark, this film is likely geared towards teenagers as can be seen in the opening scene, which features information about the Rodney King riots preceding the beginning of the main plot.

This is made in the style of a news report with text rather than human speech, depicting violence and chaos throughout Long Beach, America to catch the attention of the viewer. The film then features an opening narrative by Eva Benitez, a Latino girl who provides the base theme for the entire film; she describes the harsh reality of gangster life and the amount of racism still present in the early 1990’s when the film is set. During this scene alone large amounts of violence, shootings and even murder can be seen.

We then are introduced to Erin Gruwell, the main protagonist in the film, beginning her first day of teaching in Wilson Woodrow High School after talking to Margaret Campbell (the head of Department) and a quick appearance of her husband. We begin to see her confident, optimistic personality during her talk with the head of Department. The conversation is tinted with irony as the audience realises that Erin may be up against more than she had bargained for; however, her possibly overly naive characteristics prevent her from noticing Margaret’s subtle hinting at the difficulty she may be facing in the close future.

An example of this is when she makes a painfully ironic statement: ‘I think the real fighting should happen here, in the classroom’. The audience is now acquainted with the members of the new class. Erin is greeted by hostile looks, intimidating silence and almost complete ignorance as students begin to filter through the back doors. Within moments she is exposed to rowdy behaviour, leading to a fight and her asking for assistance in calming the crowd.

We see one of the teenagers reaching for a handgun concealed beneath his belt. These first 15 minutes provide the essentials needed to understand the film. From here on important events are set into motion; Erin’s determination to gain respect so that she is able to teach her students and her fascination with her career causing her to begin taking additional part-time careers, eventually leading to the under appreciation of her husband and divorce.

An accidental shooting uncovers a subplot for Eva Benitez and we briefly touch on the life stories of some of the more prominent members of the class such as Gloria Newmans, Andre Bryant and Sindy Negore. Freedom writers accurately conveys the sad reality of people at such a relatively young age being thrust into a cruel world where they learn to trust nobody and death has become a normal and quite frequently occurring part of their lives. One of the most evident strong points of this film is the character development throughout the story and the ironic effect that has on Erin’s personal life.

She develops a strong fondness of ‘her kids’ after a conversation comparing the Holocaust with the persecution of other races in modern times and the realisation that they have never heard of it, yet have all been exposed to something of similar nature (excepting the single white student). This leads to a higher level of appreciation and respect for the teacher and students begin changing their attitudes towards her. She soon hands out diaries for them in which they can write anything they want and can leave them for her to read if they so desire.

Much to her surprise, they all leave their journals for her and through these she increases her knowledge of their culture and living standards. Both the teacher and students bond further in multiple ways portrayed in the film; she hands out a book on gang life to engage them in reading and then a more complex text, the Diary of Anne Frank which leave the teenagers engrossed. In this way there is a sense of action-reaction when the teacher is familiarised with their society and the students gain respect for her, which progresses towards her final goal of peace.

However the irony of this is the way that as she makes these advances with her class, her relationship with her husband begins to falter, and he starts what could almost be described as an emotional war against her. This builds up tension throughout the film and eventually a key moment when he asks for a divorce. One of the unique aspects of this film is that much of it takes place in a single room; the classroom. Because of this there are not many special effects used during the film and the atmosphere is mainly decided by the acting.

This appears to be successful because the viewer is kept interested throughout almost the entire film and there are very few if any areas in the plot where it slows down. This is achieved by the build-up of tension through various factors such as Eva’s lawsuit, Erin’s relationship status and the strong emotions depicted in many scenes such as the talk with Miep Gies and Marcus admitting, without embarrassment that she is his hero.

The music and camera work in this film are used well together to add a new level of interest for the audience; quiet, orchestrated music and smooth camera movements during emotional moments and faster paced, more intense modern music and more jagged camera recording during fighting and other scenes in which there is a key moment in the storyline that will have a negative effect on the following scene of the film. Lighting is used to contribute towards a more vivid and sometimes slightly frightening and tense atmosphere, such as during the scene in which Ms.

Gruwell reads the students’ journals in which are written their life stories. Dark places such as the classroom at night or the frequent contrast of white writing on a black background creates a dim, bleak atmosphere and a sense of mystery that engages the viewer. Transitions such as fade ins and superimposed objects such as candles in the background create a supernatural feel; because the film is largely produced in such a realistic manner, a scene such as this is a different style and therefore arouses the viewers interest.

The use of first-person voiceovers during the film also helps the audience to relate with the characters and more easily understand the way they act in the mostly third-person scenes such as those with Eva Benitez. Although there are some plot holes in this film such as the sudden plot element of Erin’s pearls being forgotten and an occasional sense of badly made scenes such as the opening ‘news scene’, Freedom Writers has achieved capturing the essence of the book it was based on.

The accurately depicted lives of the students as well as a sense of realism through good acting, fitting music and camerawork, voiceovers, realistic speech and situations, drama and the portrayal of recurring conflict between different races, the students and the teacher and of course Erin and her husband have all contributed towards a fairly well-made, engaging and thought-provoking film.

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