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Film: Mr. Holland's Opus

"Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn't rich and he isn't famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he's achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.
Governor Gertrude Lang (Joanna Gleason)

Mr. Holland's Opus is a 1995 drama film, directed by Stephen Herek. It was partly intended as a remake of a previous film, Follow Me, Boys! (1966), but ended up very different. Among the most significant changes was the historical era covered. The original film was set in the 1930s and 1940s, this one covers a period of thirty years (1965-1995).

The film opens in 1965 with Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) as a professional musical performer who wants to turn his efforts to composing a piece of orchestral music, something he intends as his magnum opus. Needing a job that pays enough to support himself and his wife Iris (Glenne Headly), yet leaves enough free time to compose music, Holland accepts a position as a high school music teacher. He soon discovers the position leaves him firmly at the bottom of the hierarchy of teachers. And as his apathy for the job starts to become apparent, Principal Jacobs (Olympia Dukakis) starts demanding more actual effort from him.

The film then follows his life with a specific segment devoted to each decade and different trials he has to go through. His domestic problems include his only son Cole being effectively deaf and unable to understand his father's work. Iris forms a strong bond with the boy and learns sign language to better communicate. Glenn, however, can't bring himself to do it and ends up somewhat estranged from his own family. Meanwhile, his school life includes more than teaching music. He inspires troubled students to make something of themselves, change their lives for the better.

By 1995, Holland has spend most of his last three decades devoted to his students, at the cost of his personal life. His musical work is still incomplete and by now unlikely to ever see release. Even if completed, he is too old to re-establish his career. Then his life turns for the worst. New principal Gene Wolters (William H. Macy), who never cared for Holland anyway, decides to make necessary budget cuts. Among the first things to go are the music classes, leaving 60-year-old Holland unemployed. Holland fears he has wasted his life, and resigns himself to the fate of being forgotten by all those students he helped over the years.

Instead, he finds many of his former students have returned to help him complete his magnum opus and perform it for the first time, pointing out that their lives were made better because of him. It was time to repay the favor. The film ends with his family along with an entire auditorium of his students, both past and present, who have gathered to witness the aging Mr. Holland conduct his masterpiece.

The film earned Dreyfuss an Oscar nomination for the Best Actor and a Golden Globe award. It was also a considerable box office hit, earning $106,269,971 in the international market. With almost 83 million from the United States market, it was the 12th most successful film of its year. Michael Kamen who wrote some of the original music of the film went on to found "The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation" devoted to "enabling more students to participate and experience a quality music education".


This film provides examples of:

  • Author Appeal: Done In-Universe when Holland stages a concert designed specifically for the hearing impaired, including lights timed with the music, inviting the deaf community to sit close so they can feel the beat and ending with Holland singing a song alongside sign language.
  • Book Dumb: Louis Russ didn't seem to be stupid but is simply not good with grades, its repeated by everyone that he tries hard and is an excellent athlete. As band is based largely on effort that's why Meiser requested Mr. Holland take him in and improve his grades so he can go out for football and wrestling.
  • Book Ends: The beginning of the film has Mr. Holland conducting his opus that was in his head. The ending has him conducting it for real.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Stadler, one of Mr. Holland's students he helps. He eventually turns around after attending Louis Russ' funeral with Mr. Holland.
  • Call Back: During the Lou Russ segment, one boy in the band empties his spit valve on the shoe of the girl next to him. At the final Orchestra, he repeats this.
  • Character Development:
    • The beginning has Mr. Holland going into teaching kicking and screaming. At the end, when fired, he leaves the system fighting as much as he can.
    • Stadler goes from a cocky but brilliant student to a mellow and mature adult by the end. It all started near Lou Russ' funeral.
    • The first student he really helped, shy, meek Gertrude gained enough self-confidence and courage and fortitude to become governor of their state.
  • Dancing Bear: Invoked. To get people to come to the musical, Coach Meister suggests that they use the high school football team as the dancers. People will come to watch them make fools of themselves, but Meister who minored in modern dance, teaches them to dance well.
  • Disabled Means Helpless: Mr. Holland doesn't want to send Cole to a special school where, according to him, "they'll treat him like he's retarded." Given the time period, this was probably a valid concern.
    • Actually, this came from Iris. She was upset with a specialist who insisted that Cole must learn to talk, without using sign language. She says the specialist thinks deaf people are retarded, and pushes for Cole to go to the deaf school so he can learn to sign and thus communicate more effectively.
  • Dress Code: There is a scene where the principal sees that two girls are wearing skirts that are too short, so he sends them home.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Mr. Holland takes a summer job as an instructor of student drivers. Ironically, one scene has him doing the crazy driving with two of his visibly worried students as passengers. He ignores traffic signs and signals, passes other cars on the right side, and even traverses a one-way street in the wrong direction, all while going well above the speed limit. The reason for this insane driving is revealed when Mr. Holland reaches his destination: it's the local hospital, where his wife had given birth to their son shortly before he got there.
  • Due to the Dead: Lou Russ receives a military funeral with full honors.
  • Era Establishing Scene: One of these follows each major time skip in the story.
  • Fan Myopia: Invoked. When John Lennon is assassinated, Holland is surprised to find out that Lennon means something to his deaf son.
  • Father To His Students: Mr. Holland becomes one of these over time as he helps all his students out. They repay the love at the end.
  • Gilligan Cut: Several, one with regards to Louis getting excited over playing the drums (probably expecting something more glamorous like the snares) and cutting to him playing the bass drum. Another happens with Principal Jacobs asking Mr. Holland what he knew about marching bands and his Oh Crap look jumps to him out on the field with the band.
  • Ignorant of the Call: This trope applies to this movie so much that it could have easily been called Ignorant of the Call: The Motion Picture. Glenn Holland believes he wasted his life because he became a music teacher instead of becoming famous as a composer. His current and former students, his friends, and his family (all of whose lives he shaped for the better) disagree. Strongly disagree.
  • I Minored in Tropology: It becomes a minor plot point that that the school's physical education teacher "minored in modern dance"
  • The Muse: Mr. Holland is inspired by student Rowena Morgan (Jean Louisa Kelly) and begins writing music again.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Coltraine "Cole" Holland.
  • Odd Couple: Mr. Holland's closest friend ends up being the gym teacher Bill Meister.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Gertrude took her struggles with playing the clarinet so hard because her family were all over-achievers and she felt inadequate next to them.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: Coach Meister to the badly marching Marching Band.
    Meister: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm Coach Meister. Your marching buddy.
  • Present Day Past: In the 1980 segment, Cole has a Kurt Cobain haircut, giving us a very clear reminder that the movie is from the mid-90's.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: The football coach minored in Modern Dance in college and choreographs the big dance number in the school musical. He also shrewdly uses it, because people will be expecting his football players, who he trains for the play, to be stumbling all over the stage and will come for the spectacle... but be blown away by the dancing.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Principal Jacobs gives Holland a verbal beating when she notices how much he doesn't care about his work. Later Coach Meister gives one to him when Holland says he cannot teach Lou Russ, a willing eager student.
    • At the end because budget cuts are costing Mr. Holland his job, he gives one to now Principal Wolters.
    • Iris gives her husband one when he fails to attend Cole's science fair in favor of working. Cole's enraged speech to Holland (signed, and interpreted by Iris) could also be considered one of these.
  • The Reveal: Iris realizes Cole is deaf when all the other kids at a parade jump at the fire truck siren while Cole remained perfectly asleep.
  • Taps: Heard at Russ' funeral.
  • Terrible Interviewees Montage: The auditions for the musical are classic.
    "We've been at this all day, and the only ingenue we seem to have is Todd Markham!"
  • To The Tune Of: It is pointed out that "A Lover's Concerto" by The Toys uses the sweet strains of Christian Petzold's "Minuet in G" stretched to four-quarter time.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Roger Ebert remarked that the band at the beginning started playing Beethovens Eighth symphony and you could barely recognize it. By the climax Mr. Holland had a band formed from his students that would rival any orchestra.
  • The Vietnam War: It is in the background of the eras and where Louis Russ, the black student who drums, died.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Rowena, Mr. Holland's extremely talented student singer, decides to more or less run away to New York to try and make it on Broadway. Though they share a touching farewell at the bus stop, she is never heard from again.
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: Thinking that deafness makes music useless to Cole, Glenn refuses to share its beauty with him, instead focusing on his hearing students. A teen-aged Cole calls him out on it.
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech: Given to Holland by the adult Gertrude Lang, the first student he managed to inspire and had become the state governor.

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alternative title(s): Mr Hollands Opus
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