One of the hardest bouts of growing pains experienced by adolescents is that rite of passage known as the high school experience. In high school one is subject to discovering their own sense of self-identity and purpose. In fact, sometimes the social factor is crucial because the cost of belonging in social-related circles is vital in a four-year commitment to belonging among your peers.
The tension is high to belong and get along as your search for excellence in good grades, social interaction and the overall learning experience is important. However, not every youngster can cope with what they are faced as the obstacles to excel are demanding in high school. Hence, the potential to become “an outsider” is inevitable and the unlikeliest label that no one can overcome no matter how much they try.
The movies have been instrumental in capturing such heavy-handed angst and frustration of the tortured high school existence for the troubled kids in need of direction. The role of outsider in high school has a vast umbrella of categories: geeks, slackers, anti-social wanders, over-achievers, junkies, hell-raisers and bullying victims. In Classroom Chaos: Top Ten High School Outsiders we will look at the sorry-minded cinema students of alienation as they struggle to make sense out of their miserable high school “prison sentence”.
The selections for Classroom Chaos: Top Ten High School Outsiders are (in alphabetical order):
1.) Alex and Eric from Elephant (2003)
CLASS ACT: Filmmaker Gus Van Sant’s chilling high school drama Elephant showcased a couple of dangerous high school outsiders in Alex and Eric (Alex Frost and Eric Deulen) as they took their quiet disenchantment with high school hostility one step further towards dismay and destruction. As pushed around targets by jocks and other bully types that look to make mincemeat walking jokes out of them the gun-toting tandem decide to take shocking matters into their own deadly hands and shoot up the school, faculty and fellow classmates that they held responsible for their outsider-induced misery. Only an associate, John McFarland (John Robinson), got fair warning from the disgruntled duo to clear out as they stage the horrific carnage on an unsuspecting high school they deemed no more than an educational torture chamber. Perhaps the fact that John was an outsider that both the misguided Alex and Eric could sympathize with him and not want to do harm to a fellow “teased victim” suffering from the same psychological pain. Elephant was loosely based upon the real-life ghastly 1999 incident at Columbine High School in Colorado.
2.) Napoleon Dynamite from Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
CLASS ACT: If there was anyone that was the ultimate outsider within his personal high school hell was Preston, Idaho’s own curly-haired, bespectacled geek Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) in co-writer/ director Jared Hess’s sleepy hit about the exasperated coming-of-age geek that marches to the beat of his own dullard drum. Napoleon is an easy target for pushing around and being ridiculed. The long and lanky Napoleon wears moon boots, draws hybrid creatures and shows impatience for his pet llama Tina and unbearable older brother Kip and self-absorbed Uncle Rico. It is when Napoleon finally finds some unity in fellow outcasts Pedro (a transfer student) and Deb that he finds some relief from his otherwise sullen disposition. Napoleon Dynamite beautifully profiled the awkwardness and indignities of a gawky high school outsider with low-key, self-deprecating flair. Thankfully, Napoleon’s empowered nerd found his niche and confidence in being someone that rises–if not briefly–about the caustic classmates that wanted to take him down. Get the message Summer Wheatly and Don?
3.) Tracy Flick from Election (1999)
CLASS ACT: There is nothing wrong with chasing ambition and wanting to be the best that you can be while being unapologetic. After all, making the best out of your high school experience should be something that one needs to strive for as a goal. However, if you are Alexander Payne’s created over-achieving high school hussy Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) in Election then ambitious intentions can be poisonous and pompous. Tracy was an outsider because she took no prisoners and felt entitled to whatever high schooling triumphs she felt would boost her reputation for college recruits. She was disciplined and determined but underneath her achievements Tracy was cutthroat and commanding. History teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) saw through the calculating Tracy and could not stand her unpretentious and phony-minded bubbly facade. Thus, McAllister wanted to take Tracy two notches down off her snooty high horse when she sets her sights on running for class president–something that should seal the cherry on top of her celebrated sundae. Rolling over other students in pursuit of classroom excellence and self-absorbed supremacy makes Tracy Flick one of the most polarizing outsiders in secondary school to ever grace the big screen with impish manipulation and moxie.
4.) The Nerds from Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
CLASS ACT: Technically, the nerds from Revenge of the Nerds were situated in a college environment more so than high school. Still, these spastic characters were nerds in high school as they approached their freshman year at Adams College. The very definition of being a high school outsider (entering college in the case of the nerds) is not relating with the majority of the in-crowd. And certainly the nerds fit that sentiment with their over-sized eyeglasses to match their brainy clumsiness. The nerds–Lewis (Robert Carradine), Gilbert (Anthony Anderson), Booger (Curtis Armstrong), Poindexter (Timothy Busfield) and Takashi (Brian Tochi)–were former high school outcasts about to face more outside adversity from the usual bothersome sources of egotistical jocks and indifferent faculty. Hey…there can be something said for Nerd Power, correct?
5.) Thomas Sams from Lean On Me (1989)
CLASS ACT: Newly hired principal “Crazy” Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman) had his hands full butting heads with the streetwise cretins trying to infiltrate his problematic Eastside High School while tackling the scheming city bureaucrats doing nothing to combat the deterioration and disillusionment of the school and the majority of low-income students attending Eastside. The one student in particular that got a stern wake-up call from a no-nonsense Clark was Thomas Sams (Jermaine “Huggy” Hopkins), a chubby-shaped huckster whose dabbling in occasional drugs, blatant rowdiness and poor school-related studies were quite telling. Sams was a menace to Eastside High as one of the many corruptible forces that made the maligned high school unbearable. Sams, an outsider in the form of a shady rabble-rouser and conniving kid destined for a life of crime and possibly early death, got a hardened lecture from Clark that threatened to expel him from school. Clark gave Sams the realistic lowdown (in a memorable rooftop scene) of what his doomed future would entail if he kept up his self-destruction of taking drugs, following older thugs and not taking his studies seriously. Suffice to say that Sams finally got Joe Clark’s harsh message of redemption (and funny constant pleas to put up his drooping pants and stop stealing lunch from others in the cafeteria).
6.) Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
CLASS ACT: Good ole Jeff Spicoli (Sean Pen). What can one say about Spicoli’s outsider status in Mr. Hand’s (Ray Walston) classroom? Yeah, Spicoli was an enigma in the high school halls to believe your disbelieving eyes. Penn’s slacker (or was he also a stoner?) was the high school outsider that served as an outside walking joke for both his fellow students and faculty alike. Jeff Spicoli was definitely in his own world and his lack of awareness for schooling (i.e. ordering a pizza in the middle of Mr. Hand’s class instruction) was both curiously hilarious and quite sad. Sure, Spicoli was the comic relief and possible realistic heart behind the surging mockery at Ridgemont High School. Spicoli embraced his outsider indifference and irreverence with an affinity for individuality and goofy-minded rebellion. In short, sometimes a Mr. Hand can make a difference to the Jeff Spicolis of the world, sometimes not. Nevertheless, Spicoli’s clueless classroom shenanigans did register for any of the big screen high school outsiders willing to checkout as a convoluted way in summoning an unconventional peace of mind.
7.) Jim Stark from Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
CLASS ACT: Let’s face it folks, Jim Stark (James Dean) were an outsider both within and outside of the high school classroom in Nicholas Ray’s rebellious teen drama Rebel Without a Cause. Dean’s Stark represented a revolving confusion and conflict for teenagers trying to make sense out of the grown-ups demanding high expectations from them. In just hearing Stark’s anguish of exclamation of “You’re tearing me apart! You say one thing, he says another, and everybody changes back again.” it definitely signifies the stagnation of young folks that rings true even to this very day. Thinking of Jim Stark as a high schooler is kind of strange anyway (Dean’s Rebel character had moved from one place to another) but in terms of an outsider (at least for the older authority) he was resolute in this role as the flustered voice of the disenchanted youth.
8.) Artie West from The Blackboard Jungle (1955)
CLASS ACT: English teacher Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) had the tedious task of trying to take on the angst-ridden baggage of the angry students at the tough inner-city high school he is assigned to teach. Dadier is challenged constantly by the cynicism of his classroom minions looking to give him grief at every turn. The high school hooligans were a collective bunch of outsiders alienated by distrust and distraction. Of the main students to aim his confrontational barbs at the bewildered educator is Artie West (Vic Morrow), a ballistic kid with an ax to grind. Dadier and West were at verbal war and it becomes clear that audiences really did not know who the actual high school outsider was between the disciplinarian classroom commander Richard Dadier or the punished Artie West and his corrosive colleagues?
9.) Carrie White from Carrie (1976)
CLASS ACT: Nobody suffered the slings and arrows of high school outsider strife that the awkward and meek Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) faced at the horrific hands of her cruel classmates. Carrie’s hellish high school existence was for the harsh picking by a bunch of bullies that felt compelled to destroy her perceived weirdness. Little did these petty antagonists realize that so-called outsider Carrie White had a critical secret that would lead to the bloody mayhem where the supernatural siren would have the last lethal laugh. A humiliating bucket of pig’s blood at the high school prom produced an eerie aftermath that audiences would never forget in the Brian De Palma-directed, Stephen King-created Carrie where terrifying telekinesis made the shy and sheepish outsider an insidious insider taken to the abusive limit at school and at home.
10.) Dawn Wiener from Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996)
CLASS ACT: Filmmaker Todd Solondz’s gently disturbing and slightly coated comical coming-of-age Welcome to the Dollhouse told the sordid tale of a 17-year old geeky-looking Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) whose outsider livelihood is shaped by the miseries at high school and at house where her negligent quotient mounts daily. She is nastily nicknamed “Wiener-dog” and is piercingly invisible to classmates at school and at home where Dawn gets looked over routinely for her adorable little ballerina sister with a mean streak not to mention a verbal punching bag for her equally geeky older brother. Poor Dawn finds it difficult to act upon her crush for her brother’s bandmate who coldly rejects her affection. She is on the creepy radar of a school bully who instructs her that she will be his “girl” to rape without any sense of conscience. Dawn Wiener is in a state of hopelessness; she’s the alienated puppet of perversion and a psychological persecution where her instilled insecurities and quiet despair serve Solondz’s Dollhouse as one of the most brutal, off-balanced and honest observations at high school castration in cinema.
Lucas from Lucas (1986)