Extract from Teacher's Commentary: 

SEQUENCE 1 (DVD Chapter 1: 7 min’s) Welcome to Carrigmore Let the film roll until Rory shouts “It’s robbery!”

As the screen lights up we hear a woman’s voice saying “A prima ballerina is a ballet dancer, the chief ballet dancer, the most important dancer of all, who dances all by herself.” She speaks in an exaggerated tone, as if she is talking to children. The reference to dancing in the title of the film is picked up and repeated three more times. This will become an important metaphor later in the film. Then we hear the squeaking mice from the 1974 children’s television series Bagpuss. Another voice introduces “The marvellous, mechanical prima ballerina” and an electric floor polisher glides smoothly from the right of the screen. The music is gentle. Single notes pick out the dreamy, melancholic theme. The ability of the prima ballerina to move on her own initiative across the dance-floor and the smooth motion of the polisher combine to suggest independence and freedom of movement. One of the principal themes of the film is being introduced to us.

When we cut from the polisher we see a woman covered in a blanket and sitting motionless in a wheelchair. Her gaze follows the cleaning lady using the polisher. The camera tracks back and Michael is presented to us in the foreground. We cut to a reverse shot of him sitting apart from the other people in the room. The source of the patronising voice (and the squeaking mice!) is revealed when we see a television set at the top of the lounge. It is the focus of attention for all those present apart from Michael and the cleaning lady. All are silently intent on the images and sounds coming from the television set. The slow musical theme reflects the air of passivity in the room. The people are obviously residents in a home or care centre. Many are in wheelchairs. One resident is annoyed by the cleaner as she bangs into his chair. When we cut back to the medium shot of Michael, the framing sets him apart from the others. He is lit more brightly and is facing away from the television. Like the other residents, he sits in silent passivity but, unlike them, he refuses to give his attention to the children’s television programme.

A lady enters, Eileen. She looks business-like and greets the residents. The dreamy music stops as she asks if anyone wants to go to mass. As the polisher’s cable snags in one of the wheelchairs, we see it from Michael’s point of view. The camerawork positions us, the film audience, the better to empathise with Michael’s rising panic as he senses the potential danger of the snagged cable. On the other hand we are being positioned to view Eileen as well-intentioned but bungling as she fails to detect the cause of Michael’s agitation. She makes various guesses before resorting the Michael’s principal means of communication, his alphabet card. The music from the television programme gets louder as she tries to decipher Michael’s message. He says ‘cable’ in his garbled way but Eileen fusses with the card. As she points to the letters the voice on the television calls “Be careful!” The fact that we have seen the source of Michael’s rising agitation privileges us. We know more about the situation than Eileen does. The resultant dramatic irony is at her expense. This irony is increased by the soundtrack, the camera angle and the consequent framing of Eileen bungling in the foreground as Annie enters. Add in the frustration of the man in the wheelchair, Tommy, who is prevented from seeing the screen by the cleaning lady, and it is obvious that we are being positioned to view the carers in this home as well-meaning but inept. Annie is full of admiration for the beautiful flowers. The camera frames Eileen in the foreground struggling to understand Michael’s message. The climax of the irony comes when Eileen asks “Cable? What cable?” Then, as Annie flies through the air, we hear a reference to the prima ballerina from the television! The effect is farcical, cartoonish. The ineffectiveness of Michael’s means of communication with the world is highlighted by this episode. The camera tracks in to emphasise his frustration and this movement draws the audience to him and encourages us to identify with him. He is surrounded by people who are well-meaning but inept, caring but incompetent. A reference to Bagpuss bookends this opening scene - the first sound we heard was from the television and we return to it for closure. (Each episode in this series of programmes starts with Bagpuss waking up and ends with him falling back asleep again. In the course of each story a toy that had been broken gets fixed.)

A musical theme consisting of single notes picked out on the piano comes onto the soundtrack. It is very similar to the one we heard over the credit sequence. We cut to an ambulance approaching the home. On the right we see the sign declaring “Carrigmore - A special home for special people”. The leaves on the trees in the background suggest that the action is taking place in autumn. The piano theme is poignant and melancholic like the opening one, but it is accompanied by staccato strings playing bass notes as the ambulance driver opens the doors. There is a suggestion of hidden intensity, of suppressed energy.

Inside the ambulance, behind a metal grille, sits Rory. The way he is introduced suggests that he is trapped, caged in. At first he is out of focus. The grille moves and we realise it is, in fact, a ramp. Rory comes into focus. We now see him more clearly. His hair is spiked and he wears a ring in his right nostril. On the soundtrack we hear the clank of metal and the buzz of a motor. In a reverse, over-the-shoulder shot we notice his leather jacket. Eileen approaches, again full of care for her charge, as Rory’s chair is lowered to the ground. We might recall the reference to the freedom of movement of the prima ballerina who dances all by herself. Her independence acts as a counterpoint to the lack of freedom of Michael, earlier, and now Rory. Rory dresses to declare himself rebellious and independent. Both he and Michael have in common the fact that they have a sense of their own individuality and independence. The different degrees of how convinced they are of this independence will emerge as the story develops.

Eileen welcomes Rory to his new “home”. This word has already featured in the sign outside Carrigmore and it will come into the dialogue again as the story progresses. The fact that he will not be given a key signifies for Rory that Carrigmore will not be a proper home for him. Eileen is once more presented as someone who is well-intentioned but incapable of understanding one of her charges; Rory and Michael have this much in common. What is more, they were both introduced with similar musical themes. An obvious difference is, though, that Rory is far ahead of Michael in his ability to use language to communicate his thoughts.

When we cut to the lounge again, we see Michael set apart from the other residents. They are playing board games and watching television while he stares out the window with his back to the television. As Eileen starts to introduce Rory, the carer who has been supervising the room rises from her chair and lowers the volume on the television. Once again the good intentions of the staff of Carrigmore are highlighted. Eileen’s attempt to integrate Rory into the life of the home are scuppered when he proceeds to use shocking language as he introduces himself to the other residents. He has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy and his movement is severely restricted. He speaks to shock more than to communicate. Eileen reprimands him on his use of coarse language. She has standards and will insist on them being maintained. In the reaction shots we see various degrees of bemusement and amusement among the residents. It becomes obvious that Rory’s linguistic skills and penchant for verbal irony are a long way ahead of his extremely limited motor skills when he asks if it is somebody’s birthday.

Rory’s reference to the penthouse as Annie shows him his room in the next scene is equally ironic. She will have none of his sarcasm and defends the home. Rory’s retort is a pun as he remarks on people “… dying to get out” of Carrigmore. This is the first reference to ‘out’ in the film. It will feature quite a bit in the story and imagery of the film. Rory consoles himself with the presumption that the arrangement will only be a temporary one.

The theme of independence and freedom is referred to again in the next scene as Michael is prepared for bed. He is almost totally dependent on others for all his physical needs - he has to be bathed and Annie has to clean his teeth for him. His freedom of movement is a long way from that of the prima ballerina.

As the home and its residents settle down for the night, a racket is heard from Rory’s room. He is playing Frontier Psychiatrist by The Avalanches on his stereo. (They are an Australian electronic band). We hear references to a Dexter and to the fact that a decision has been made to expel him from the whole education system. We might draw a parallel with Rory and the way he was reprimanded by Eileen for his language. Both Dexter and Rory are failing to integrate themselves into the systems in which they find themselves. This is emphasised by the prop that we see on the left of the screen as the camera looks out the door of Rory’s room. He has had a poster with the word Misfits put up on the wall. Shortly we will see another poster for Slipknot on the mantelpiece. (These are both punk metal bands.) Rory is using his music, hairstyle, costume, language and posters to declare his rebelliousness. This puts him at odds with a system that values conformity. As Eileen takes away his stereo he resorts to coarse language. It is shocking to Eileen but ineffective as a means of getting her to do what he wants. Once again Rory consoles himself with the assertion that this arrangement is temporary and that he will be getting his own room soon. Eileen accepts this possibility but will insist on him conforming to the rules in the meantime.

Rory’s attempts to get the support of the other residents by communicating his plight in coarse language is also ineffective. His call for support for “The Carrigmore One” is immature and overstated. The use of coarse and ironic language fails as a means of communication and undermines his efforts to win sympathy for his plight. By using this title from the cases like The Guildford Four and The Birmingham Six, he reveals that he views Carrigmore as a prison and himself as a hapless victim of the system. Michael also sees himself as set apart from the general body of residents in Carrigmore but, unlike Rory, he is not driven to take action that would declare his independence. It would appear impossible for Rory to reach the apparent level of stoic resignation to his plight that Michael has attained.

Very often in a narrative a world is presented to us at the start of a story. Then something or someone disrupts the equilibrium of this world. Rory is the outsider who has come to Carrigmore and disrupted life inside of the home. Imagery is used to reinforce a narrative and to illustrate its themes. The contrast between inside and outside has been introduced into this film. Inside, represented by Michael, is passive and controlled collectivity, whereas outside, represented by Rory, is active and unconstrained individuality. The clash between these opposing forces will yield victory for one side or the other, or a compromise. The outcome is an enigma. Very often, such an enigma is introduced early in a narrative and it becomes the engine, as it were, that drives the plot to its conclusion while maintaining the interest of the audience.

Extract from Student's Guide: 

STAGE ONE

SEQUENCE 1
Welcome to Carrigmore
Read the following questions and then let the film roll until Rory shouts “It’s robbery!”

What are the first words we hear on the soundtrack* as this film starts? What kind of a ballerina is introduced? What is the main characteristic of this type of dancer? What is the first prop we see? Can you make any connection between it and the reference to the ballerina? How would you describe the music that is playing on the soundtrack?

We cut to an interior. What kind of a place is it? How are the people in the room presented to us? What are they doing? What is the atmosphere in the room like? How does the music add to this atmosphere? What kind of an institution is this? How does Michael fit in with the other residents? What might the framing be suggesting about him? When does the music stop?

How many people in the room notice the electric cable­? Why does the woman who comes into the room (Eileen) approach­ Michael? What might this tell us about Michael? How does Michael communicate? Is this method effective? What is Michael trying to say to Eileen? What is the irony in the line that comes from the television as she points to A, B etc? How does the black-haired man (Tommy) feel about the lady cleaning the television screen? What might this be saying about the institution? How does the director achieve dramatic irony as Eileen guesses “Cable … What cable?” What are Michael’s feelings when Annie trips over the cable? How does the camerawork emphasise this? How are we being invited to view the people who run this institution?

What music is on the soundtrack­ as we cut to the ambulance? Have you heard it before now? Look closely at the first shots of Rory. How are we, the audience­, being invited to view him? Can you think of any symbolic reading for the way Rory is photographed as he sits in the ambulance? Why do people dress in certain ways? Why does Rory dress like this? Do the sound effects bring anything to mind as the ambulanceman­ gets Rory out? Think back on the opening shots. Is there any connection between them and this scene? How does Rory’s introduction into the film compare with Michael’s? What part does Eileen play in the two scenes? What has Rory to say about Carrigmore as his home? What are the differences between Rory and Michael?

How is Michael presented when we cut back inside? Why does one of the nurses gets up from her chair as Rory is introduced? What does this tell you about her? What condition has Rory? How does Eileen react to Rory’s description of himself? What kind of a person is she? What is Rory’s aim as he introduces himself? How is he using language? Does he use anything else in the same way? What is Rory’s impression of the residents­? How is their reaction filmed and presented to us? What do they think of him? What does he mean when he asks if it’s someone’s birthday?

What does Rory think of his room? How does Annie defend Carrigmore? What is Rory’s reply? What kind of arrangement does he refer to?

As Michael is prepared for bed, think back to the main characteristic of the ballerina. What was it? How does Michael compare­ with such a dancer in this scene?

Can you catch any of the soundtrack as the camera shows Michael reacting to the noise coming from Rory’s room? What question is asked about Dexter? What decision has been made about him? How might this reflect on Rory? Can you make out the black and white posters that Rory has put up inside the door of his room? How does it fit in with your impression of him so far? What kind of language does he use to Eileen? Are you surprised? What is he getting soon, in his own opinion? What must he do in the meantime, according to Eileen? What is her solution­ to the playing of the loud music so late in the night?

What do you think of Rory’s appeal for support for “… the Carrigmore … one”? Do you know where he got this phrase from? What does it suggest about his opinion of himself? … of Carrigmore? Do you agree with him? What kind of a person­ is Rory? What is motivating him? How does he compare with Michael? Is Carrigmore the right place for him, do you think?

SAMPLE MODE ORDINARY LEVEL - COMPARATIVE MODE: HERO/HEROINE/VILLAIN

Choose one of these roles for this mode e.g. ‘Hero’. This term refers to the main good male character in a text - in this case Rory or Michael. We are positioned by the camera, the editing and the music to identify with them. In this film Rory and Michael go on a journey of self-discovery. Rory is searching for a place that he can call home, a place where he can live and be independent. He expresses this yearning for independence in every way he can. He has a secret that makes it very important to get started on the road of independent living. Michael, on the other hand, has no sense of independence at the start of the film. He is introduced to the world outside of institutions by Rory. He has never questioned his enclosed existence up to this. The film tells the story of how he grows emotionally to the point where he is well adjusted and capable of living independently in the world.

* Choose three or four key moments (i.e. scenes or sequences) that show how Rory/Michael deals with situations that face him on the road to independent living.

* Get familiar with the key moments you have chosen by watching them again.

* Check the notes in your Response Journal for these key moments.

* Answer all the questions in Stage One that deal with your chosen hero in these key moments.

* For each key moment ask yourself questions like:   
What stage is Rory/Michael at as this key moment starts?   
Does any change come over Rory/Michael in the course of the key moment?   
What kind of a person is Rory/Michael?   
What do I learn about Rory/Michael in this key moment?   
Is there any change in my opinion of Rory/Michael as a result of what he says or does in this key moment?   
What is motivating Rory/Michael at this point?   
What is Rory/Michael’s attitude to the other characters in this key moment?   
How does Rory/Michael relate to the other characters in this key moment?   
What is the attitude of the other characters to Rory/Michael in this key moment?

* Imagery 
For each key moment ask yourself:   
How is the mise en scène, camera, sound and editing (see Page 29) used to show Rory/Michael in this key moment?   
What impression of Rory/Michael does the discourse (Page 29) invite us to form?   
Are the cinematic codes (Page 29) simply getting the story across or can some features be read as a metaphor, or a symbol?

* Repetition 
A director may repeat actions, camera angles, music etc. for a number of reasons. What examples of repetition can you spot in the key moments you have chosen? Do they form a pattern? What is the director’s purpose in such repetition? What effect has it on the film audience’s view of the hero?

* Irony 
Irony has to do with appearance and reality in language and/or action. A plot might take an ironic twist and surprise us. We might know more about a situation than characters involved in the action - dramatic irony. Note the references to irony you made in your Response Journal. What effect has this on the way we view the hero in the key moments you have chosen?