- Alternate Character Interpretation:
- The letter from Laura at the end gives the impression that the entire film is Tom's idealised version of what happened. He imagines Laura as a saint trapped in a loveless marriage to a man who doesn't appreciate her, thus employing Good Adultery, Bad Adultery.
- The play and the film hint that Bill is an Armoured Closet Gay, since he spends more time with his boys than he does with his wife. Then again there is also evidence that he struggles to connect with her emotionally because he was raised in a similar manner to the boys at the school. Some sources have stated that Bill married Laura due to pressure from his colleagues.
- Americans Hate Tingle: When Robert Anderson tried to open a Paris production of the play, he noticed that French producers found the play extraordinarily un-dramatic (apparently due to differing cultural and sexual mores) and were thus reluctant to stage it.
- Award Snub: John Kerr's layered and sometimes heart-breaking performance didn't get so much as a nomination.
- Broken Aesop: Vito Russo, author of The Celluloid Closet, was extremely critical of the film adaptation, feeling the filmmakers had less of an issue with homophobia than with straight men being Mistaken for Gay (not that the two, of course, are necessarily distinct issues). Russo sarcastically described the movie's moral as "Be kind to sensitive heterosexuals."
- Ending Fatigue: A few fans of the play feel the additional scene with Tom reading Laura's letter results in this.
- Fanon: Due to Tom's love of music and drama, some fans have theorised that he wanted to be put in a house full of drama club students or musicians - but his father forced him to room in a jock house.
- Funny Moments: Al attempting to teach Tom to walk differently. He quickly realises he has no idea how the 'right' way to walk is, and Tom spends a few hilarious seconds imitating Al's walk.
- Harsher in Hindsight:
- Deborah Kerr trapped in a loveless marriage and tempted by a younger man? Only a few years later her own marriage would hit the rocks and she would have an affair with another man, leading to a divorce.
- The first kiss between Tom and Laura - where he initiates it - is uncomfortably similar to the statutory rape allegations against Asia Argento. She was accused of having sex with Jimmy Bennett while he was underage, and later said to have paid him to keep the information secret. Her side of the story paints their friendship as a surrogate mother/son one much like Tom and Laura's is in the first part of the play/movie - and she later accused him of making the first move on her.
- Heartwarming Moments:
Tom: I bet he died happy.Laura: Because he proved his courage?
- Laura talks about her first husband, who died trying to prove his courage to his peers.
Tom: Because he was married to you.
- A weird one is Al tearing Tom's pyjamas as a sort of Mercy Kill during the event. It's essentially all he can do to stop them tormenting him further. Overall Al appears to be a good-hearted boy who looks out for Tom, and is just a victim to peer pressure.
- And of course the famous line "Years from now when you talk about this - and you will - be kind", cue The Big Damn Kiss.
- Hilarious in Hindsight: Deborah Kerr scandalised audiences by offering herself to an eighteen-year-old boy. A few years later in The Innocents she'd go even younger and share a passionate kiss with a boy of eleven.
- Ho Yay: One of the boys' traditions is a bit of horseplay that involves ripping each other's pyjamas off. And there's a very homoerotic scene of them playing on the beach - not unlike the famous scene in Top Gun.
- Jerkass Woobie: Bill when you think about it. He struggles to connect with his wife because he's afraid of letting her in. So despite leaning close to Sadist Teacher, Tom's discovery of him alone ten years later is still quite sad. Laura's letter shows guilt for effectively ruining his life.
- Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: The story goes out of its way to deconstruct views of traditional masculinity and point out that sensitivity is its own value, but damn if it isn't an effective lesson. Likewise it shows that females can be just as nasty with this kind of behaviour - as shown by the faculty wives' teasing Tom when he shows he knows how to sew, and Ellie's mocking of him."Manliness is not all swagger and mountain climbing. It's also tenderness."
- Tear Jerker:
- Tom's failure with Ellie, leading to a suicide attempt. It doesn't work but it's a horrible thing to have to happen to such a young boy.
- Earlier in the film is Al having to tell Tom that his father wants him to move houses so they won't be rommates again.
- Values Dissonance:
- One of the reasons Tom's father worries he might be gay is that he has his hair longer than the other boys. Namely that he doesn't wear it in a crew cut. Naturally this completely flies over the head of modern viewers today - and the idea of long hair being thought of as a sign of homosexuality is very much a Forgotten Trope.
- There's also the rather submissive way Laura reacts to all of Bill's blusters. She apologises for getting him mad and acts subservient towards him despite him being the inattentive partner.
- In the play there's a plot point where a gay teacher is fired for being seen sunbathing with Tom. He's fired over his sexuality, but these days him being alone in such a situation with Tom would be seen as inappropriate - regardless of the gender of the student or the sexuality of the teacher.
- Ellie is said to regularly hook up with boys from the school, and she gossips to everybody about it. When Tom tries this, his father is actually proud. While Laura is disgusted with him being proud, emphasis is more on her not wanting Tom to make a pass at a woman he's not interested - rather than the idea of a grown woman taking advantage of teenage boys.
- Values Resonance: The film is very ahead of its time with regards to bullying others for being different. Look at how many derogatory gay jokes can be found in media made in the 90s and early 2000s - but here it's shown just how awful it is to torment someone for possibly being gay. The psychological effects are not glossed over, and Bill is demonised for not putting a stop to the bullying.
- The Woobie: Poor Tom. Bullied and ostracised just for being different. He's in serious need of a hug for most of the film.
YMMV / Tea and Sympathy