Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Speak (2004)

Speak is a 2004 American independent film based on the award-winning novel of the same name by Laurie Halse Anderson. It stars a then 13-year-old Kristen Stewart as Melinda Sordino, a high school freshman who stops talking completely after being raped by an upperclassman. The film is told through Melinda's eyes and is wrought with her sardonic humor and blunt honesty.


Melinda Sordino starts out her freshman year in high school being labeled a "squealer" for calling the police to a house party the previous summer. Her real reason for calling 9-1-1 was that she was raped at the party by a senior, Andy Evans. Melinda has been so traumatized by her rape that she cannot find the words to tell anybody what happened to her and becomes mute. Melinda is shunned by her friends from middle school, including her best friend Rachel Bruin, and is forced to deal with social rejection.

Melinda is unable to tell her parents about the experience, and although her parents notice a change in their daughter, (as well as her grades) they are unable to determine the cause. Her mother Joyce is overworked and too busy to extract more than one-word answers from Melinda. Melinda's father is struggling with unemployment and also has little time to devote to his troubled daughter.

Although Melinda does not speak to many people in the film, she has plenty of thoughts that are often filled with sardonic humor. In addition to Melinda's social problems, her teachers are insufferable. Mr. Neck constantly bullies Melinda, and her English teacher refuses to make eye contact with students. Melinda is nice to a new student named Heather who claims to be Melinda's "friend", but Heather abandons Melinda when the chance for social advancement arises. The only other student with whom Melinda has a positive experience is her lab partner Dave Petrakis, who has successfully managed to keep from affiliating himself with a clique.

Melinda's high point each day comes in her art class taught by a free-spirited teacher named Mr. Freeman. He encourages student expression, and Melinda begins to take his words to heart. Freeman allows Melinda to spend her nightmarish lunchtimes in his classroom, rather than in the cafeteria. As time progresses, Melinda discovers an unused storage closet that she turns into her personal place of refuge and, eventually, revelation. Melinda turns all of her negative feelings and social difficulties into creative expression. While in her secret place, Melinda constantly thinks about the night of the party, and deals with her inner demons.

As the year progresses, Melinda begins a painfully slow recapture of her confidence, with some help from Dave. But then her ex-best friend Rachel starts dating Andy, the boy who raped her, and as the only other person who knows about the event, Melinda fears that Rachel will suffer the same fate as her. Melinda finds Rachel at the library and tells her the truth about what happened at the party. Though at first Rachel doesn't believe her, calling Melinda jealous of her and Andy, Rachel does eventually confront Andy about the accusations, and word gets out about the rape. Upon hearing this Andy becomes angry, breaks up with Rachel and goes to confront Melinda. She first stands up to Mr. Neck and her social-climbing "friend" Heather. On the last day, Andy finds her in her closet while she is packing up, threatening and beating her. In fear of her life, Melinda fights back and is able to subdue him by spraying aerosol from a pressurized can in his eyes, blinding him. Soon after, the commotion catches the attention of a few members of the girls field hockey team who just happened to walk by the closet and then confront Andy, seeing that Melinda has overpowered him, with a glass shard to his neck. On the way back from the hospital after being treated for her injuries Melinda rolls down the window of the car, breathing in deeply. She finally finds the strength to tell her mother the truth about what happened at the party. Although it is clear that Melinda will still need time to fully recover from her ordeals, this is a significant and empowering event in her life, as she finally finds the courage to speak.

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