Monday, November 28, 2011

The Miracle Worker (1962)



“It's less trouble to feel sorry for her than it is to teach her anything better.” 

                        The first time I watched The Miracle Worker I had to do a project for my theater arts class my sophomore year of high school. It was a project where we had to choose, pick a scene, then make a model of the set the scene takes place in. Everyone was either picking Shakespeare or Chicago or Phantom of the Opera or some other musical. I had no idea what play I wanted to do at the time I was not into theater and films like I am now. My mom suggested doing a scene from The Miracle Worker. She told me it was about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. Of course I had heard of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan who hasn’t in their history classes growing up but I never knew there had been a play about them. My mom rented the movie for me and I really liked it.
            Helen Keller (Patty Duke) was born a healthy baby but she came down with a really high fever that resulted in her going blind and deaf. As she gets older she becomes violent and difficult to manage because she is frustrated over not being able to communicate. Her father for a time thought about putting her in an asylum but her mother would not hear of it. They hear about the Perkins Institute for the Blind and write to the school.
            The school sends Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) who herself was once blind but through several operations was able to regain her site. She did not have an easy childhood; she was thrown in an institution with her brother when they were younger. She travels all the way from Boston down to Alabama for days by train. When she arrives she is not what the family was thinking. Captain Keller (Victor Jory) throws a fit over the fact that she was once blind.
            Annie’s first meeting Helen goes alright. She gives the young girl a doll. Annie watches Helen play with it and she gets down on the floor to teacher her the word “doll” in sign language. Helen a little latter takes the doll and smacks it into Annie’s face which results in a lost tooth.
            As the days past Annie sees that the Keller family spoils Helen. She is a little tyrant who gets whatever she wants. At breakfast she sees that the family just lets Helen eat off their plates as if she were a dog. Annie will not tolerate that she forces the girl to sit down and eat with a fork and a napkin. Things get out of hand and Annie shoves the family out of the dining room. Woman and little girl are just as stubborn as the other. Helen uses all her will to get away from Annie and Annie uses all her will to force Helen to eat. After a few hours Annie comes out to the family who has been out on the porch. She reports that Helen has eaten with a fork and even folded her own napkin.
            Annie realizes that in order for Helen to learn anything she has to be away from her family for an extended period of time. Captain and Mrs. Keller agree that Annie can have her alone in a small house on their property for two weeks. It takes Annie a whole week just to teach Helen very simple words and not too many. But what Helen has learned is more than she ever knew before hand. The challenge is trying to teach the girl word association she needs to know what the thing is she is spelling. When Helen’s parents come to take her home Annie begs for another week. The Kellers will not give it to her they want their daughter back.
            When they get home everything Annie has taught Helen about table manners comes undone. Annie becomes furious and the scene almost turns into the first dining room scene. After a few furious pumps at the water well what Annie taught Helen finally sinks in, Helen finally understands.
            I thought this movie was fantastic the first time I watched it. Now that I know who Anne Bancroft is and I have seen her in other movies I cannot believe how incredible she was. United Artists originally wanted either Elizabeth Taylor or Audrey Hepburn to play Annie Sullivan! The movie would not have been the same if either of the other actresses got the part. You would have been watching the actress not the character. Bancroft was a stage actress she played the part on stage as well she knew what went into truly playing the/a character. Bancroft would go on to deservingly win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role.
            Patty Duke was sixteen years old when she played Helen in the movie. She played the character along with Anne Bancroft on Broadway. Duke was excellent there is no sixteen year old alive today who could have done. Along with Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke won an Academy Award (for Best Supporting Actress)
            I always seem to watch The Miracle Worker at the right times in my life when I really need a push. When I was a sophomore I was not a great student academically but after watching this I started to care more and try harder (oh I picked the dining room scene as my set because it was a great scene. I got an A on it) Watching this movie again right now I am taking a break from school it is weird to say I miss it. I am ready to do better and watching this I have never been more ready to learn and have a challenge again.
            The Miracle Worker is one of the most perfect movies ever made. The story is fantastic and endearing. The acting from the entire cast is perfect. I like how strong the theme of determination is from both Annie and Helen: they were very stubborn people who tested and pushed each other. I also like how it shows that if this girl who could not communicate could learn to finally do so and later go on to write books and graduate college with honors then we who do not have trouble communicating and learning could do so much if we really try. 

“I am quite surprised, that with all my work, and some of it is very, very good, that nobody talks about The Miracle Worker. We're talking about Mrs. Robinson. I understand the world... I'm just a little dismayed that people aren't beyond it yet.”--Anne Bancroft