Lighting Candles in the Darkness
Release Date: January 05, 2007
Audience: Teenagers and adults
Runtime: 122 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Writer: Richard LaGravenese
Address Comments To:Brad Grey, Chairman/CEO
Gail Berman, President
Motion Picture Group
(A Viacom company)
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038-3197
Phone: (323) 956-5000
Based on a true story, the movie stars Hillary Swank as Erin Gruwell, a young teacher who accepts a position teaching freshman and sophomore English at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif. It's two years after the Los Angeles riots in 1992, and Mrs. Gruwell is having trouble relating to her mixed freshman class of Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and one white student. The white student just wants to leave, and the Hispanics, blacks and Asians have taken their gang warfare from the streets into the classroom. They aren't interested in her earnest attempts to discuss Homer, the Greek poet, or teach proper grammar.
When one Hispanic student draws a racist picture of one black student, Mrs. Gruwell angrily starts telling them about the horrors of racism through the historical prism of National Socialist Germany and its bigotry and genocide against the Jews. Adolf Hitler's "gang" puts your gangs to shame, she tells her students. She realizes, however, that only one of the students knows anything about the Holocaust at all. So, she decides to rebuke their hatred of one another by teaching them about the Holocaust, and having them read THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and write about their own experiences in a daily journal. Slowly, the students start to change, but Mrs. Gruwell's efforts generate conflict with the backward thinking of her department head and with her husband, who just wants to forget about the outside world when he is home.
If FREEDOM WRITERS is a little too slick, it still contains enough heartfelt, provocative moments to become the first really good, entertaining movie of 2007 to be released. Though the movie's emphasis on the efforts of a public school teacher is mostly secular and, hence, somewhat Romantic (see the definition below), the movie keeps returning to moral issues. Do the right thing, end the murderous violence, treat others with kindness and respect, and stop breaking up into hateful little tribes of angry racists, the movie repeatedly teaches. Thus, the focus of FREEDOM WRITERS is on positive moral values. This focus, which also strongly rebukes racism and inner city gang activity, is not only emotionally powerful and intellectually stimulating; it is also uplifting and entertaining. One of the most encouraging messages was the fact that the students gained knowledge about the truth and higher moral values, and then applied what they learned to their own lives and the people around them. This is exactly what happens when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, learn about His Way, Truth and Life in the Bible (John 14:6) and apply that faith, knowledge, hope, and, ultimately, love (1 Cor. 13:1 through 1 Cor. 14:1), through the renewing of our spirits by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:2 and Galatians 5:22-26).
Finally, although FREEDOM WRITERS is slightly liberal and (more strongly) secular in its approach, it is not so offensively liberal or secular that a conservative or a Bible-believing Jew or Christian couldn't enjoy the movie and its messages (in fact, today's average left-leaning liberal and atheist probably will think the movie doesn't go far enough at all). What is more offensive is the movie's inclusion of too much foul language, but the foul language lessens as the teacher transforms her students for the better, morally speaking as well as psychologically speaking.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Romanticism teaches that Man is essentially good and noble, and civilization (by which Rousseau, the “father” of Romanticism, meant Christianity) corrupts man. Man is controlled by his “heart” and emotions, not by his intellect or logical mind, and education (usually divorced from God or gods and God's transcendent moral law) can transform Man, as well as his society, for the "better." Paganism and mob rule are related to Romanticism, though Romanticism is more consistent and avoids totemism. Romanticism is not related to the idea of romance, but is an idealistic worldview.
FREEDOM WRITERS is a little too slick and polished, but its positive, uplifting moral messages and interesting characters and situations echo the good qualities of such classics as BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and STAND AND DELIVER. Do the right thing, end the murderous violence, and stop separating into hateful tribes of angry racists, the movie repeatedly teaches. These morally positive messages are emotionally powerful, intellectually stimulating, uplifting, and entertaining. The movie contains, however, plenty of foul language and some brief gun violence.