Sex, Lies, and Violence in the Films about Teachers and Students

Alexander Fedorov
17 min readMar 19, 2020

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and essentially in the 21st century, heterosexual risks in teaching, on the one hand, shifted towards the age reduction of students, and on the other hand, to a considerable degree began to resemble erotic thrillers.

S.V. Kudryavtsev is also right saying that “this unpretentious comedy still has serious pretentions in the attempt to please political correctness not only to rehabilitate the sexual minorities (who in such a way may soon turn into majority!), who used to be condemned or humorously presented in the Hollywood cinema. The film by F. Oz contains an appeal to honest citizens from the screen (what if somebody in the cinema hall — there is no telling what could happen — has enough courage) to openly confess their homosexual orientation. No doubt, there is nothing wrong about it, since that perfectly complies with the current trend in the mainstream when the largest film companies began to shoot films about gays and their production started to meet great success” (Kudryavtsev, 2008).

The image of the teacher in the Western cinematograph in the context of choosing between the truth and lies as a priority

The first part of a school drama The Emperor’s Club (USA, 2002) is a typical example of a standard film story about outstanding teachers whose knowledge, honesty, selflessness and authority turn a difficult and ordinary class into a creative team of “pupils of science” (Ebert, 2002; LaSalle, 2002). But this drama about a history teacher turns out to be double-bottomed: the honest teacher, whose role was brilliantly played by Kevin Kline, appears to be capable of concealing the truth and a compromise lie, and that looks quite realistic, and at the same time he breaks the sustainable stereotypes of and Blackboard Jungle To Sir, with Love…

Media violence at school and university has long been attracting Western film makers, and there are some reasons for it — every year mass media report on dozens of such cases, especially in the USA where firearms are available for many people.

It is possible to agree with a viewpoint of B. Crowther: the classroom in the film resembles a massacre or a battlefield, and the plot itself touches “a problem of great contemporary concern” (Crowther, 1955). Just remember the scene when a pupil with a knife attacks the teacher at the blackboard. “But the manner in which the teacher eventually gains the respect of his whole class is simply by disarming the toughest hoodlum. This seems a bitter and superficial solution for the problem at hand” (Crowther, 1955).

And one more thing: the teacher is shown as a noble personality, but his actions prove that he is just a little better than the local bandits (Rhodes, 1997; Cavagna, 1999; Ebert, 1997).

Scientists from the University of California performed an experiment in April, 1967: high school history teacher R. Jones wanted to prove in the classroom that the fascism threat had not vanished but still exists in everybody. Instead of lessons he offered his students to play in a German school of the Nazi time. Very soon a lot of students got used to neo-Nazi ideas and rules of conduct (Martínez-Salanova, 2010, p. 58; Shiyanov, 2008).

A teacher as a threat to people around — isn’t it a good idea for a film story? Such a story was told in Tony Richardson’s dark drama Mademoiselle (UK-France, 1966) with brilliant Jeanne Moreau playing a guileful and sophisticated furious teacher. R. Ebert called this film “murky, disjointed and unbearably tedious” (Ebert, 1967), whereas V. Baer called the movie — “an allegory of the nightmare of human existence” (Baer, 1967).

Here “W. Allen is a little more straightforward than usual: apart from the fact that the protagonist professionally quotes Sartre and Kierkegaard, he reads “Crime and Punishment” to tatters. The author also changes his traditional sources of inspiration — instead of his favourite Ingmar Bergman he cites from A. Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” in the final episode. Everything would be fine, but the fans of the film director will easily notice that the characters raise a distinct irritation (which is quite understandable) instead of the usual ironical sympathy” (Zabaluev, 2015).


A comparative analysis of plots, characters and ideology of Western films about school and university teachers leads to the conclusion that their media stereotypes have substantial similarity. A content analysis of the films enables to present their basic plot schemes as follows.

Some examples of film structures of Western dramas about school and university teachers

Title of the film: Private Lessons / Cours prive’. France, 1986 Director: Pierre Granier-Deferre. .

Some examples of film structures of Western melodramas about school and university teachers

Some examples of film structures of Western comedies about school and university teachers

Some examples of film structures of Western thrillers or detectives about school and university teachers

Title of the film: Devil in the Flesh . USA, 1998 Director: Steve Cohen. .

Some examples of film structures of Western science fiction and horror films about school and university teachers


The review and analysis of 1300 Western films about school and university, study of more than 7000 published materials (books, research articles and film reviews) on the declared topic have enabled us to reveal the following basic types of teachers’ images in the Western cinematography:

- positive (super)hero (often a male, recently employed as a school teacher) who reeducates an aggressive and disobedient class (Ayers, 1994; Beyerbach, 2005; Beyerbach, 2005; Burbach & Figgins, 1993; Considine, 1985; Dalton, 2004; Edelman, 1983; Farber & Holm, 1994; Farhi, 1999; Giroux, 1993; 1997; Joseph & Burnaford, 1994; Reyes, & Rios, 2003; Ryan, 2008; Trier, 2000; 2001; Umphlett, 1984);

- a negative personage who hates students (in some cases, he/she can be even a robot-killer or an alien) (Joseph & Burnaford, 1994; Long, 1996; Ryan, 2008; Trier, 2000; 2001);

- a loser / clown, outsider bored with his job (Bulman, 2005; Farber & Holm, 1994; Hill, 1995; Hinton, 1994; Joseph & Burnaford, 1994; Lafferty, 1945; Long, 1996; McCullick, Belcher, Hardin & Hardin, 2003; Reynolds, 2007; 2009; 2014; 2015; Ryan, 2008; Trier, 2000; 2001; Umphlett, 1984);

- a bureaucrat-administrator (Joseph & Burnaford, 1994; Long, 1996; Ryan, 2008; Trier, 2000; 2001; Wells & Serman, 1998).

The teacher’s image on the Western screen has significantly transformed over time. The self-censorship that existed practically till the 1960s did not allow film makers to touch upon such radical aspects as violence, sex, obscene language, racial and religious problems in schools and universities. But after the lifting of the Hays Code and the advent of the so-called sexual revolution of the 1970s the Western screen began to successively exploit the topics forbidden before, thus creating new horrifying narrative moves every year. On the other hand, the tendency for reflection on the pedagogical mission and real professional challenges involved stills remains in the Western cinematography.

Such hermeneutic analysis of Western audiovisual media texts about school and university allowed the authors to integrate the structure of media stereotypes of school and university teachers in films as follows:

Stereotype structure of Western films about school and university teachers

Alexander Fedorov, Anastasia Levitskaya, Galina Mikhaleva


This research was funded by the grant of the Russian Science Foundation (RSF, project №17–18–01001) at the Rostov State University of Economics. Project theme: “School and university in the mirror of Soviet, Russian and Western audiovisual media texts”. Head of the project is professor A.V. Fedorov.


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