'A Teacher' Preview: Will Kate Mara series stretch it thin in 10 episodes? 2013 film revealed same evocative story
If you were to look up filmmaker Hannah Fidell’s debut feature film from 2013, ‘A Teacher’, on popular film rating websites like IMDb, Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes, a rather bleak picture is painted. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film scores a measly 22 percent audience score based on 695 reviews. On Metacritic, the film scores 47 out of a hundred based on 15 critical reviews. And on IMDb, it has a 4.7/10 score average based on 4,294 ratings. Suffice to say, if you plan on watching the movie and see these scores, odds are, you just might change your mind.
But if you do end up watching it, you experience something tremendous. It’s a film about a female high school teacher who is in a relationship with one of her students. And as tawdry as the subject matter may sound – and it is easy to see the subject matter as such thanks to the topic’s popular fetishization as a trope in the world of pornography – it is a good film. Fidell treads this queasy topic with surprising deftness and gives us an evocative story. She manages to steer clear of making a racy and sexually provocative film. But she also manages to convey that the illicit relationship is also extremely sexual in its very nature.
Fidell manages to tell the story of a woman’s obsession with a teenage boy as she begins losing her mind (which is somewhat foreshadowed by the mention of her mother’s mental health not being in a great state) until she reaches the inevitable nervous breakdown. Her world comes crashing down when the boy’s father lodges a complaint against her at school. But not before the boy rejects her for her increasingly erratic behavior. The film ends unceremoniously on an ambiguous note, leaving viewers wondering what would happen to this beautiful woman who seems to have utterly lost her way.
Fidell also manages to carefully move past judgment and the morality of such a relationship, while only focussing on what she thinks would happen if they got caught. The protagonist, in her head, knows it's wrong, and should she get caught, her life would be over. And it is her fear that makes the film altogether more compelling. It is Fidell’s visual deftness that makes this fear tangible in claustrophobic settings of tiny rooms and backseats of cars.
But now, Fidell is taking this really short feature (merely 75 minutes long) and reproducing it on a much bigger canvass. With ten episodes, Fidell has much more time to delve into the psyche of her new character Claire, played by Kate Mara. She too is a young beautiful woman in Texas, a school teacher who has a relationship with a high school senior named Eric (Nick Robinson). But there are many differences between the film and the series that is soon to premiere.
For one, Claire is a married woman in this show, unlike Diana in the film, who was a single woman. So, the relationship is immediately a more complicated one for it isn’t just a predatory one (even if Eric is of the age of consent), but it is also an adulterous one. But will complexities like these manage to create the same feelings that the film does? For one, the film’s short span is a positive thing, unwilling to stretch the story beyond the end of the relationship. In the show, however, that might not be possible. For with ten episodes, the show may need to veer past that into consequences.
And in terms of consequences, the ethical greys that Fidell brushed off in the film can no longer be done in a post-#MeToo world where predatory behavior is scrutinized in all spaces, real or fictional. So, to make the audience feel sympathy for Claire is not the same ball game as making the audience feel sympathy for Diana. At the same time, the show exists in a time that is much more connected to the internet than the film. Sure, the film juxtaposed a leaked nude photograph with Diana’s subconscious fears, but that too may be a more complex feat in the present, given how much more common sexting on social and IM platforms have become.
Fidell, as does Mara, have their work cut out for them. One can only hope that the show manages to at least live up to a film that is good but just disliked by many.
The first three episodes of ‘A Teacher’ will premiere on FX on Hulu on November 10.