The Trotsky ***
Directed by: Jacob Tierney.
Written By: Jacob Tierney.
Starring: Jay Baruchel (Leon), Emily Hampshire (Alexandra Leith), Geneviève Bujold (Denise Archambault), Colm Feore (Principal Berkhoff), Saul Rubinek (David Bronstein), Michael Murphy (Frank McGovern), Jessica Paré (Laura).
This weekend, I was dragged to speech by a religious leader that turned into a two hour sermon. Two of the speakers, via video, were twin teenagers who wrote a book challenging their generation to do better. While I disagreed with their message – that they should be merging politics and religion – I couldn’t help but agree with them are some things. Mainly that teenagers are not as lazy, apathetic or dumb as many adults seem to think they are – and the reason that they are not doing more is because nothing is expected from them.
The Trotsky, the new film by Canadian Jacob Tierny, seems to share the same message. I’m not sure I agree any more with the main characters ideology than I did with the twins (the main character here believes he is the reincarnation of famed Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky and has modeled his life after his), but I agree with the sentiment just the same. My wife is a teacher, and she tells stories about how the curriculum is constantly being dumbed down, about how students are barely even expected to hand in assignments on time, and how students, despite what the teacher thinks sometimes, are simply passed onto the next grade no matter what work they did. Are kids today stupider then they used to be? Or do we simply expect so little from them that they can barely summon the urge to try anymore?
Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel) is a 17 year old from Montreal. During the summer, he interns at his father’s (Saul Rubinek), and within three days has his workers on a hunger strike to protest the fascist ways of management – mainly that the lunch hour seems to have only been 56 minutes instead of a full hour. The workers go along with the strike, but seem confused on the hunger aspect of it.
Leon’s father is angry, so he decides to pull him out of his boarding school for the last year of high school – and send him instead to public school. Leon doesn’t much mind this. On his first day, he joins the Student Union – not realizing that all they do is plan dances – and starts to fight against the fascists who rule the school – notably Principal Berkhoff (Colm Feore) – and fighting for the downtrodden – like the poor guy who gets a detention for having mud on his shoes.
But this is just one of Leon’s plans. He also meets Alexandra (Emily Hampshire), a newly graduated lawyer 10 years his senior and falls in love. It starts because Leon Trotsky married a woman named Alexandra 10 years his senior, but blooms into a real love. Alexandra of course hates him at the start – but then so did the first Mrs. Trotsky. Leon also tracks down old communist Frank McGovern (Michael Murphy) to get some advice. Ironically, McGovern’s ex-wife is the head of the school board (Genevieve Bujold), who of course, also makes Leon’s list of fascists. All of these characters are initially put off by Leon – he comes on too strong, he’s too weird, possibly insane, but they are worn down by him. He cannot help by admire his moxie.
I don’t really believe that much of what happens in The Trotsky could actually happen at any high school. I don’t believe that Alexandra would eventually fall for Leon, or given what Leon does at the climax of the film that he would get away scot free. But none of that is really the point of the movie – and neither is Leon’s obsession with Trotsky, which is generally played for laughs.
No, what the movie is really about is teenagers taking responsibility for their own destiny. They are constantly told what to do, what to wear, where to go and how to act. Adults are infuriated that they act like children, but then they treat them like children, so how do you expect them to act? The movie makes this point in an entertaining manner. Yes, Jay Baruchel is too old to be playing a 17 year old, but he has a baby face, and he is such a likable actor, and is so committed to this role, that we forgive him. The other characters are more one dimensional, but are still believable. So no, The Trotsky is not in any real way believable. But the movie still has a point to make – and the point is a good one.