Half Nelson

Institute History


“Three things you need to know to understand change.”
Dan Dunne, an inner-city, junior-high social studies teacher, shows his students how change works – from the bursting of a balloon filled with too much air to the integration of the public school system to the graduation of a once failing student.

Number One: Everything is made of opposites.
One morning, Dan wakes up on his couch, drool dried to the corner of his mouth, big blue bags under his eyes, and a pounding headache. Though Dan inspires his students and connects with them, outside the classroom he shuts himself off. With drugs, alcohol, and other extracurricular activities, Dan manages to push away a foggy past and to avoid developing relationships that might imply a future. A strung out role model, he juggles his hangovers and his homework, and keeps these lives precariously separated.

Number Two: Consistent change leads to turning points.
As Dan’s personal life continues to degenerate, he finds himself in the girl’s locker room after a basketball game, getting high in a bathroom stall. When one of his students, Drey – a badass tomboy with cornrows and baggy jeans – goes back inside to use the bathroom, she stumbles upon Dan with a crack pipe and lighter in hand. In a single moment Dan’s separate lives collapse into one another.

Drey, intrigued by Dan’s secret life, gravitates towards him, and as drugs begin to break up her own family, she looks to Dan for some kind of understanding. As Dan and Drey struggle awkwardly to help each other in a variety of everyday ways, Dan slowly lets Drey into his life.

Number Three: Change moves in spirals.
When Drey begins getting too close, relying on him too much, Dan pulls away and retreats back into his cycle of drug abuse and solitude. As he continues to self-destruct, and Drey threatens to follow her brother’s path of drug dealing, the two grasp for something solid in each other, some kind of comfort.


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