Mr. Holland's Unlived Life

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In 1965, professional musician, Glenn Holland, is a young man with dreams of becoming a famous composer. However, his life circumstances make it impossible to both write music and make a salary for supporting his family. So, Mr. Holland takes a job at a local high school that is in desperate need of a music teacher. Mr. Holland bemoans the lack of musical talent at the school but begins to find small moments of fulfillment guiding a few individual students. Mr. Holland's Opus is a film that journey's through the life of the fictional Mr. Holland.

As Mr. Holland ages and becomes more established in his life as a high school teacher, his love for composing music slips away from the story. Life becomes too busy. He and his wife have a son and his responsibilities at the school increase. It is glaringly obvious throughout the movie that even though Mr. Holland is an effective educator at times, he possesses the unresolved anxiety of his unlived life. In Mr. Holland's unlived life, he is a critically acclaimed composer whose shows are an impossible ticket. He is revered by his colleagues and respected even more by the New York elites with whom he dines regularly. The tension of his unlived life is specifically considered near the end of the film when an 18-year-old student proposes he run away with her to New York and start a life together where he could fulfill his dream of practicing his art. So, it's worth asking: Between his unlived life and lived life of teaching music to indifferent teenagers, does Mr. Holland miss the beautiful, ordinary, and profound moments within his day-to-day life?

The film ventures through his 30 years of teaching, and we realize that Mr. Holland’s art has been constantly shifting. His primary art becomes his vocation: teaching. The twist of Mr. Holland’s Opus is that the film is not “about” Mr. Holland or his opus in the literal sense. As he stumbles into the auditorium in the final scene of the movie, we discover that his opus was his community. His community could not have become who they needed to be without him and vice versa. Even in his moments of existential doubt and the dysfunctions of his own perspective, Mr. Holland had created a meaningful community of people.

Our life's “art” can be our simple wonder and creativity in the midst of our vocations and community -- a deep appreciation for our role in the moment. In many ways, Mr. Holland's Opus demonstrates the meaninglessness of the pursuit of the “American dream,” which pressures people to create an "unlived life" that will be a story worth telling. Instead, we must realize that God has placed each of us in a particular space and time and invites us to embrace the beauty that exists in our present wounded innocence or doubt. It is within this space that God calls us to make our creative brushstrokes on the world, and like Mr. Holland, realize that our community and "art" are transforming us whatever our vocations are along the way.

Have you ever lived between your unlived life and your lived life?

~Ryan