All we know is that she is running away from something, which is equally as intriguing as it is exasperating.
A Teacher is in many ways a reversal of the story that is normally told; featuring an older female authoritative figure (a teacher) having an affair with a younger male (a student). On top of that, the adolescent is more rational and stable than the adult. Hannah Fidell’s first feature is wisely not a public service announcement about some scandalous sexual predator, the affair is consensual and presumably even legal. Having said that, everyone (including the characters) knows that the sexual relationship between a teacher and a student is not morally right, and that taboo is what the film is about.
We follow an attractive high school English teacher named Diana Watts (Lindsay Burdge) through her daily routine which begins with a commute to the school that she teaches at. Because she gets along well with her students, she is as in control of her class as any high school teacher can be. But we come to learn that she does not have that same control of herself. After work Diana meets up with her friend Sophia (Jennifer Prediger) inside a brilliant danger-red illuminated bar, where we find out about her dark side. Diana tells Sophia that she is sort of seeing this guy from school, but what she fails to mention is that it is one of her students. This little nugget of information is exposed in the next scene when she seduces a male student that was seen in her class earlier.
Keeping a secret of this magnitude in a setting such as a high school is as difficult as you imagine it would be. This is especially the case when Eric (Will Brittain) stays behind class and goes in for a risky kiss that any bystander walking by could easily witness. But things get complicated when Diana is roped into chaperoning a school dance where she is forced to watch Eric dance with a classmate. The eerie ambient score in addition to Diana’s deadpan emotions suggest that this pot of boiling water is about to overflow.
While the fate of the characters is obvious from the beginning, the actual cause of Diana’s inner turmoil is for better or worse never explained. Her issues are only hinted at in a brief and cryptic scene early on when her brother mentions their sick mother, which Diana clearly wants nothing to do with. Thus, there is no clear explanation as to what she is running from when she jogs down the street in several scenes of the film. All we know is that she is running away from something, which is equally as intriguing as it is exasperating.
Although Diana puts on smiles and a cheerful attitude at work, she is really hiding behind a dark unraveling breakdown of her sanity. Lindsay Burdge does a great job playing the role of a troubled character who has a wide range of diverse emotions. Aiding in the portrayal of her self-destruction is the shrewd paring of the unnerving score and discomforting visuals found throughout the film.
A Teacher is so brief (only runs 75 minutes) that if feels like there is 20 minutes missing from the beginning of the film. Some people could argue that the narrative lacks due to the relationship already in progress from the start. It becomes clear that the ambiguity was Fidell’s intention when you consider the ending continues with the trend. Whether or not Burdge’s performance and the stunning visuals are enough to carry the intentionally obscure narrative will come down to personal preference.