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YMMV / Children of a Lesser God

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  • Adaption Displacement: The film is more widely remembered than the stage play it is based off of.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Are James' actions driven by a genuine desire to help Sarah because of how much he is in love with her? Or is he a glorified Stalker with a Crush whose attraction to Sarah is partially driven by how the disabled Sarah can be easily controlled? Granted, viewing James in this way is partially the result of how social attitudes have evolved since the 1980s.
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    • Are Sarah's frequent angry outbursts warranted by the way the hearing characters (particularly James) behave towards her? Or is her constantly abrasive behavior towards the other characters part of the problem, thus making her a Jerkass Woobie?
  • Funny Moments: James' interactions with his disabled students is ripe with these. In particular, watching James respond with enthusiasm as one of his students refers to him as as "asshole" and "dickbrain". A Running Gag as learning how to say profane insults proves to be an effective way to teach that student how to speak.
  • Genius Bonus: For those who know ASL. Sarah signs "fuck you" at James once, which he doesn't acknowledge or repeat.note  As noted by Getting Crap Past the Radar on the main page, this scene was widely reproduced in the media to promote the film at first because the studio's marketing department was completely unaware that Sarah was making an obscene gesture.
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  • Harsher in Hindsight: James constantly pushing at Sarah's personal boundaries (such as him constantly trying to get her to speak after she makes clear that she doesn't want to) in light of Marlee Matlin's accusations—which Hurt never truly denied—that Hurt was both physically and emotionally abusive towards her both during filming and the couple of years afterwards in which they dated.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Sarah could qualify based on the viewer's opinion of the motives behind her abrasive behavior.
  • The Red Stapler: The documentary Through Deaf Eyes reports that the film increased public interest in ASL.
    Professor: A while back I was teaching ASL, and I noticed a sharp increase in hearing students coming in. I was curious. I said, "Why do you want to learn sign language?" And they said, "Oh, I saw Children of a Lesser God."
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  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: Children of a Lesser God was groundbreaking in 1986 for featuring a deaf protagonist and Matlin winning the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Sarah was a watershed moment for the deaf community. However, in the wake of CODA, which portrays its deaf characters as self-sufficient with distinctive personalities, Children of a Lesser God may be viewed as dated and patronizing for portraying Sarah as a straight Wheelchair Woobie who struggles to function in society without the aid of a hearing person.
  • Signature Scene: Sarah's climactic, screaming outburst towards James when she's finally had enough of him prodding her to speak—the only time she speaks in the film. May have very well clinched the Oscar for Matlin.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • James' relentless pursuit of Sarah and his constant pushing at her personal boundaries may come across as stalkerish, abusive and controlling by today's viewers, which isn't helped by the Real Life abuse accusations William Hurt has faced from multiple women in the decades since (including from co-star Marlee Matlin). In particular, James' constant gambits to try to make her talk can be seen as manipulative and the way he pursues her after their breakup can be seen as crossing the line into stalking.
    • Sarah's portrayal as a nearly-helpless Wheelchair Woobie may be seen as patronizing in the wake of newer films that deal with the deaf community, such as CODA.
  • Wheelchair Woobie: Sarah. You pretty much spend the whole film wanting to hug her and try to help her. If you take a less charitable view towards James, part of wanting to help her could include wanting to tell James to fuck off and leave her alone.