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Film / Children of a Lesser God

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Children of a Lesser God is a 1986 film directed by Randa Haines, starring William Hurt and Marlee Matlin.

James Leeds (Hurt) is an educator and speech therapist who gets a job teaching at a school for the deaf somewhere in New England. Soon after taking the job he meets Sarah Norman (Matlin), a deaf woman and a former student at the school who is now working there as a janitor. James is intrigued by the fiery, hot-tempered, and extremely good-looking Sarah. Soon they have fallen in love and moved in together. However, Sarah's angst and childhood traumas, and James's fundamental inability as a hearing person to appreciate the life of a deaf person, threaten to split the couple up.

Adaptation of a stage play that won a Tony. Debut feature of Marlee Matlin, who won an Oscar for this part and remains the youngest woman ever to win an Academy Award for Best Actress.

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Piper Laurie appears as Sarah's mom.


Tropes:

  • Bilingual Dialogue: Sort of. While James is fully capable of communicating in American Sign Language (he'd be a pretty bad teacher at a school for the deaf if he wasn't), he has a habit of verbally saying both what he's signing to her and what she's signing to him. This, of course, is for the benefit of an audience that doesn't know ASL.
  • Call-Back: Dr. Franklin, the dean of the school, angrily turns off James's record player the first time James is playing "Boomerang" for a student. Later, he's walking around singing the song to himself (it is quite an Ear Worm).
  • Cool Teacher: James teaches his students to talk by having them sing to silly pop songs. He demonstrates the need to talk by doing a handstand in class, and pointing out that, well, if you're doing a handstand you can't use sign language.
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  • Disabled Love Interest: Sarah. One of the things Sarah holds against James is her belief that he sees her as a disabled person who needs improvement as opposed to a fully rounded human being.
  • '80s Hair: How much product was used to make Sarah's hair that poofy? The world may never know.
  • Meet Cute: James first notices Sarah when he's getting lunch at the cafeteria, and he notices her giving a very long and very angry harangue to the cook.
  • Running Gag: James's one student who chooses to work on learning how to speak by luxuriating in profanities. He calls James "asshole", "dick brain", and "fuckface" over the course of the film.
  • Secret Test: In his first class James asks which of his students can read lips. None of them admit it. He then says "Class dismissed!" without signing it; when two students get up he nails them as being able to read lips.
  • Shout-Out: James and Sarah go to a screening of Some Like It Hot.
  • Skinnydipping: Sarah has a habit of unwinding after finishing work at the school by swimming naked in the gym pool.
  • The Speechless: Sarah has one line, during her and James's breakup scene, timed for maximum effect. Otherwise she communicates physically and with American Sign Language.
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