The movie came out on a Wednesday. By Thursday, the majority of kids at school were talking about it, and by Friday, everyone was.
“Best movie of the year,” said Tubby Newton.
“Best movie of the decade,” said Sam Winn.
“Best movie of all time,” said Gina Reedley, who was greeted by a chorus of emphatic nods.
By the following Monday, there wasn’t a child in school who hadn’t seen the movie. Even Wendell Finnegan, who used big words and preferred reading over cinema, had seen it. The movie was, in a sense, revolutionary.
The teachers at Grover Cleveland Elementary School were unsure of what to do about the ubiquitous enthusiasm the movie had generated. On one hand, it was nice to see the children so animated over a movie that was, by all accounts, clean and age-appropriate. On the other hand, education was beginning to suffer.
Teachers spent half their time silencing their classes into submission, and when they finally did manage to attain order, they faced a classroom of glossy-eyed children, looking forward but otherwise lost in movie-induced reveries.
At recess no balls bounced, no Frisbees cut through the open air, and no skipping ropes slapped the asphalt. There was no crunching of gravel under rubber soles and no fights over whose turn it was on the jungle gym, only animated chatter as the children recounted their favorite parts of the movie.
It was Mr. Ebbs, one of the fifth-grade teachers, who had the idea. He had tried desperately over the past week to keep his class focused but to no avail. He wasn’t stern enough to maintain order so the children frequently broke out into raucous chatter. Unable to censor talk about the movie, Mr. Ebbs chose instead to encourage it.
While circling the playground at recess, he noticed that the majority of conversations were renditions of the children’s favorite scenes. There was never any interpretation, just rendition. So Mr. Ebbs assigned his class a presentation. Every student was to give a five-minute speech on how they interpreted the movie.
“I don’t just want to hear about your favorite parts,” he said. “I want to know how the movie made you feel. What you thought about it.”
The next day, when Mr. Ebbs asked for volunteers, nearly every hand in the classroom shot upward. The children were beyond eager to talk uninterrupted about their take on the movie. To be fair, Mr. Ebbs chose someone at random. Curtis Scantlebury would present first.
Curtis exclaimed that he loved the movie even though it made him feel blue. It was a sad movie but a good movie, he concluded.
“It’s not supposed to be sad, it’s a comedy,” Rachel Keaney interrupted.
“It’s not a comedy, it’s a drama. Scantlebury is right,” said Gus Johnson.
“Ha.” Billy Bogdan laughed. “It’s mostly action, definitely not sad, and definitely not a comedy.”
Mr. Ebbs tried to silence the class, but his students continued to interrupt, wanting to vocalize their opinions.
“Uh-uh, it’s no particular genre.”
“How can a movie not have a genre?”
The arguing continued, uncontrollably, until the bell rang and the students flooded out, where they continued their debate into the hall. As the discussions became more and more heated, other students began listening in. Some voiced their opinions while others ran off to share the news with friends.
By lunchtime, the school was divided. There was a group of students who insisted that the movie was a comedy, and there was another group saying that the movie was most-definitely a drama. A third group was adamant that the movie was neither and could not be categorized, and a fourth group, comprised of students who didn’t agree with the first three groups, but whose opinions were too eclectic to agree amongst themselves, was forming by the end of recess.
The arguing continued until Blaine Byron, a fifth grader, got so fed up with Jason Dalton, a fourth grader, saying that the movie was sad, that he punched him, giving Jason a black-eye.
The punch sparked an outrage in the comedy group. Half of the group was indignant that Blaine would do such a thing, while the other half believed Blaine had just cause. This secularized the group even further. There were now five groups in the schoolyard. They were informally known as Comedy (Pro-punch), Comedy (Anti-punch), Drama, Neither Comedy nor Drama, and Independent.
So when Jason Dalton’s older brother, Benji, sought out and beat up Blaine Byron as retribution, pandemonium ensued. The Dramas had attacked the Comedies which was grounds for a fight. But half the Comedies were anti-punch to begin with and thus thought that there was no need to get physical. This sparked an internal struggle amongst the Comedies. By the third, and final recess, more than a dozen fights had broken out. Some over the genre of the movie, some over the punch, and some over the events that should have but didn’t precede the punch. Some kids couldn’t remember what they were fighting over.
The teachers lost control. They couldn’t censor a movie that existed outside of school grounds. They were at a loss with what to do.
It was Mr. Ebbs who had the idea. When the children returned the following morning, ready to continue their brawling, instead of going to class, they were ushered into the atrium for an assembly.
“Probably a food drive,” said Colin Cobb.
“We had a food drive last month. I think it’s a mass,” said Lilly Loveland.
“Who cares, we’re missing class,” said Matt Mueller.
The children filed into the atrium and were surprised to see a lack of teachers. With no supervision, the students began to talk amongst themselves. Whisper turned into chatter which turned into shouting, and before long the previous day’s arguments had resurfaced.
It didn’t take long for the first fight to break out, or the second. Within five minutes of sitting down, the assembly had turned into a riot. People were pushing, people were punching, one kid, Greg Donnelly, was even rumoured to be biting anyone who got near him.
The students secularized into respective corners, and any student who found him or herself in enemy territory was quickly turned upon.
The chaos ensued until suddenly, everything went dark. A few students screamed. Others took the cover of darkness as a chance to throw some errant punches, most of which failed to connect with anyone. Then a voice boomed through the atrium, commanding silence.
The voice was loud and the tone stern, so the children took their seats. Mr. Ebbs emerged from the curtains and walked to centre stage. Someone started to shout something but Mr. Ebbs gave a look so terrifying that the culprit’s voice trailed off. No one spoke. Everyone listened to the sound of Mr. Ebbs’s heels as they clicked across the stage.
When he arrived at centre stage, Mr. Ebbs broke the silence.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
A few of the younger children raised their hands.
“The question was rhetorical,” he snapped.
The children, unfamiliar with the word, kept their hands in the air. Mr. Ebbs shook them off.
“You are here.” He paused. “Because of this.”
The curtains opened to reveal a large screen, on which the opening credits to the movie were playing. The children began cheering and high-fiving one another.
“Alright,” someone shouted.
“Hell yeah,” shouted someone else.
Just as the opening scene started to unfold, Mr. Ebbs pressed a button and the screen turned black. In that split second where the students were confronted with their reflection, they saw nothing but smiling faces.