While A Teacher may appear on the outset to be a typical tale of the inappropriate student/teacher relationship that has become all too familiar due their sensationalized media coverage, writer/director Hannah Fidell takes an in-depth, psychological approach, asking the audience to ponder the inner workings of a mind capable of such a taboo.
The film begins in medias res, though Fidell chooses not to fill us in on how a lonely teacher named Diana (Lindsay Burdge), and her student Eric (Will Brittain) who epitomizes what every teenage boy is really like, confident and carefree as if invincible, ignorant to the hard truths of the world and therefore naïve to the real scope of the situation at hand. Diana on the other hand is very much aware of the fact that this relationship can only lead to disaster, and yet she holds on despite having every reason not to.
We spend a lot of time just watching Diana, driving, jogging, or just staring off into space, losing herself in her thoughts, and nothing but the pounding of the film’s music in our heads. This is where Burdge’s skills as an actress really shine through, as she is able to express so much to the audience without words; it is easy to see there is something much deeper that afflicts Diana, her inner turmoil much more complex than the immediate consequences she may face for her current actions. We are briefly given a glimpse of what that may be through an encounter with her brother (Johnny Mars), who comes to visit Diana in an attempt to force her to deal with their mother’s illness, something she seems almost unable to even acknowledge, let alone discuss.
Instead of dealing with life Diana puts everything into her relationship with Eric, eventually loosing herself altogether. Of course Eric is only interested in the sexual aspects of the relationship (which would be quite obvious to any rational thinking woman seeing as he is a teenage boy), and is therefore taken aback by Diana’s heightened emotional investment in it.
There is an uneasiness that exists throughout A Teacher. With every encounter between these ill suited lovers the audience laughs awkwardly because, as Diana finally admits, “this is so wrong.” Fidell allows these uncomfortable moments to exist in a way that is raw and entirely inescapable, portraying a side of the teacher/student relationship that is only ever hinted at in the media.
A Teacher premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and was recently awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Narrative Feature at the Dallas International Film Festival. An impressive start for Fidell’s directorial debut.