Movies in the Real Work – The We and the I
The experience of watching The We and the I at Ritz at the Bourse was new to me. I do not usually watch movies in a movie theatre, much less watch movies that are not highly popular in a movie theatre. I was glad that I got the chance to watch this film because I do not think I would have watched it otherwise. Ritz at the Bourse is located on 4th and Market Street. When I arrived at the train station stop, I almost missed the theatre because it was hidden between Market and Ranstead Street. It has been in operation for over 15 years and seems to be doing well. Its original mission was “to give Philadelphia residents an opportunity to see the best in independent, foreign, and documentary film,” which it seems to have been committed to. I went with Tiffany and Kareli and we were all pleased with the price of the ticket, which was only $7.25 for students. Although we already knew that we wanted to watch The We and the I, I looked at the other movies that were playing and I only recognized one of them, Argo, which I had watched a couple of days ago at home. I was not surprised when I noticed that Argo was the only “Blockbuster” film playing at the theatre. We bought popcorn, nachos and drinks, which were unfortunately the same price as other movie theatres.
The previews that were playing for The We and the I were all foreign films, which I expected because of the films that were currently playing at the Ritz. One of them was Everybody Has A Plan, which was entirely in Spanish and set in Argentina. The other film, Silence, was also foreign and was more of a thriller. There were not many people at the actual theatre or in the auditorium. There was a group of five elderly people watching The We and the I, who all sat in the same row. Three rows down, a man in his 20s was also watching the film. Two rows behind us, a man also in his 20s was also in the auditorium. We were all sitting in the same couple of rows, around the middle of the auditorium. One of the elderly men fell asleep half way through the movie. Everyone else seemed entertained by the film.
The We and the I can be considered a documentary in some senses, but in reality the director, Michel Gondry, gave them a script of what a regular day would be like for them. It was separated into three parts: part 1: bullies, part 2: the chaos and part 3: the I. A large part of the film was centered on the bullying that happens on the public bus ride after school. Since they attend a public high school in a low socioeconomic neighborhood, cell phones and other electronics are not allowed in the school so they have to pay a dollar every morning in the corner “bodega”. I was born and raised in Manhattan and I related to many aspects of the film. Although I was never really like one of the kids in the film, I remember being in middle school taking the public bus and seeing high school acting very similarly to the kids in the film. From my observations, just like the film, the back of the bus was where the “popular” kids sat and it was always a privilege to be able to sit there. Not only would they bother their peers but also passengers of the bus. It was a realistic depiction of the buses on the weekdays from 3 to 6 pm, when they usually get out of school. According to Susan Hayward in Cinema Studies, some filmmakers “saw cinema as an excellent means of education.” (Hayward, 106) This film can be considered educational or informative regarding the status of the public school education system and how it influences the students that attend the schools. It is the last day of high school and only one student mentions going to college, Teresa, who will be attending Cooper Union, one of the most prestigious universities for the arts in the country. No one else mentions any acceptances to college or the importance of it, instead they are more concerned with which parties will be occurring and the drama regarding a party that happened a month beforehand.
One of the most intriguing parts of the film was the fact that Gondry chose to present a very diverse group of students. There were the “popular” kids, the “nerds”, the artistic students, the queer couples and outsiders. Although they were all minorities, there were many racial slurs used to refer to each other such as “nigga” and “mango boy.” There were also many sexual references made and sexuality being explored. One of the main characters, Teresa, decides to leave school for three weeks because she had persuaded another one of her peers to get drunk to the point where she blacks out and does not remember any of the night. Teresa decides to kiss her while she is drunk and unconscious while her friends take photographs of them in bed together. She feels guilty and confused afterwards and is emotionally unstable. The title of the film, The We and the I, represents how all of the characters are conformed to a group and they are all generalized. This is why they are all influenced by everyone’s opinions and comments. There is a “transformation from ‘I’ to ‘we’” in the beginning of the film and eventually transforms into the ‘I’ again. (Mercer, 238) All of the high school students on the bus are united and seen as one entity to the other people on the bus. Once the film progresses, the students get off the bus at different stops and the characters left are Teresa and her friend, Michael. It turns into “I” again because Michael stops acting like a bully and opens up to another character on the bus. The progression and development of the characters was one of the main points of the film and how they are all subjected to peer pressure at different points in their lives.
The audience had different reactions to the film. One of the men left near the end of the film and one of the elderly men fell asleep. Everyone else seemed intrigued and laughed at many parts of the film. I enjoyed it partially because I felt like I could relate to a lot of it, culturally and because of my experiences living in New York City. I do not think it would have made a difference if I had watched it in my own home. Overall, it was entertaining and a new experience.
Hayward, Susan. “Documentary.” Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. 105-108.
Mercer, Kobena “Dark and Lovely Too.” Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Film and Video. Psychology Press, 1993. 238-254