Vendrome Pictures, 2021
📷 : Used with permission, Seven Heavens Design
Movies and TV shows with heart, positive vibes, and warm messages
From the outside looking in, the togetherness of any family can be very enviable. Many adolescents come from a home full of fractured relationships, constant arguing and emotional volatility, if not worse. This reality can make us look at any loving family as a perfect, problem-free unit.
CODA (“child of deaf adults”) examines the dynamics of a loving family that still has their differences. It centers around the only hearing member in a hearing-impaired household, Ruby (Emilia Jones, Locke & Key), who suddenly experiences a conflict of interest after joining high school choir. While she never planned on going to college, her music teacher, Arthur (Lonnie Farmer, Black Mass), believes she has the talent to audition for Berklee School of Music. He offers to train her, which makes her less available to be the American Sign Language (ASL) translator for her father and brother who are fishermen.
CODA excels in showing a family that struggles with communication, despite their love, togetherness and shared fluidity in ASL. As many teenagers do, Ruby suddenly realizes herself capable of more than she previously thought and experiences a shift in her life goals. Her parents cannot fully understand her newfound passion and are dismissive, hitting on a common truth in life. Even many well-meaning guardians are the first to dash their offspring’s dreams without realizing it. As every generation carries out what they learned, many parents who did not have as many options as their kids fail to embrace the full potential of their children’s futures. Jackie (Marlee Matlin, Children of a Lesser God) and Frank (Troy Kotsur, The Number 23), though initially unsupportive, learn to be there for their daughter with the help of Ruby’s older brother Leo (Daniel Durant, Switched at Birth).
This perspective is driven home by Ruby’s duet partner, Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Vikings). After visiting Ruby’s place and gossiping about her family to their classmates, he apologizes and admits that he envies the relationship she has with her parents. From his vantage point, her home life is sunshine and rainbows, but she, along with the audience, knows that this is an unfair characterization. In admitting his immaturity and reconciling with her, he comes to understand that every family has their issues, even if they maintain their camaraderie.
Another major takeaway from the film is the importance of not simply pitying people with disabilities. Throughout the film, Jackie, Frank and Leo display charming senses of humor, emotional fortitude and affection. Though they are the target of scorn from fellow fishermen or classmates, they still have friends, relationships, and moments of joy like everyone else. The true way to embrace people with impairments is to build relationships through communication and caring rather than harboring guilt. Leo points this out to his and Ruby’s parents, saying the burden should not always be on Ruby to translate or on the rest of them to communicate with the other residents. At some point, other members of the community should meet them halfway rather than ignore or chastise them.
The best comparison for a movie like CODA is the 2000 drama Billy Elliott, where a boy obsessed with ballet dance becomes torn between his art and his family. While his home life was turbulent in a different way than Ruby’s, it shows the same struggle between the need for creative satisfaction versus the need to take care of loved ones. Interestingly enough, both Ruby and Billy are the antithesis of a classic movie character: Michael Corleone. Ruby begins CODA accepting her role in the family business before wanting to leave it. Michael’s initial disdain for the family business in The Godfather gradually becomes a desire to take it over. As you might guess, this is not the only way Ruby and Michael would be considered polar opposites, but combined, they do provide balance in the world of cinema.