MovieChat Forums > Children of a Lesser God (1986) Discussion > So many people seem to misunderstand why...

So many people seem to misunderstand why Hurt repeats what she signs...


A lot of people here are saying that it's a shame the movie opted to have the James Leeds character repeat everything that Sarah is signing to him verbally, instead of just showing their conversations in subtitles...

Most people say that this is the result of the film-makers trying to pander to the notoriously short attention spans of mainstream audiences or else that the film-makers were too afraid to depart too much from the original Broadway play.

This may be true, but people have forgotten there is a very important dramatic reason why William Hurt's character repeats verbally what Marlee Matlin's character is saying...

The whole point of the film is that James Leeds wants to assimilate Sarah into his world, he thinks that by doing so he will be doing her a big favour... the unspoken implication being that she is something broken that needs fixing.

Leeds' way of verbalising what she's signing is a manifestation of his unconcious arrogance - his "selfish altruism", as it were...

Basically, what I am trying to say, it is an important part of his character.

Not having James repeat to himself what Sarah is signing would make him into a very different character indeed... having James and Sarah's signing conversations unfold in total silence with subtitles would make him a different character:
- It would show him making a more genuine effort to live in Sarah's world and understand her way of living.
- Likewise, it would make Sarah's disgust and indignation at his behavior less reasonable if the film had shown him making that much of an effort to enter her world... rather than just paying "lip service" to her world as he does in the movie, whilst simultaneously holding out hope that he can somehow coax and manipulate her into being part of his.


Am I alone here? Am I the only one who thinks that having Leeds speak what he's signing was not simply a device for the filmmakers to avoid using subtitles?

Am I the only one who thinks that removing Leeds' verbalisations would throw much of the dramatic arc of the story way out of whack?

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I think the main reason they did it was to avoid having to use subtitles. Remember, this started out as a stageplay, where no subtitles were available. And I imagine the filmmakers decided to keep that convention to make it more accessible to mainstream audiences.

That said, they did an adequate job of explaining it. He says his signing is rusty and it helps *him* to assimilate information by repeating it, and as you note, it's also part of his attempt to assimilate *her* into his speaking world.

Would he do this in real life? I don't know. But the explanation works for the purposes of the film.



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>I think the main reason they did it was to avoid having to use subtitles.


Agreed, especially since everyone else repeats it too, not just him.

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I agree as well. I can understand someone speaking while they sign, but I can’t think of one good reason why every character would repeat what she signed other than avoidance of subtitles.

I am watching the movie now, and quite frankly, the monologue convos are driving me a little nuts. However, I prefer it to the subtitles because I am also doing other things while I listen to the movie.

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I've always figured it was simply because subtitles would fail to get the inflection across of James' reaction to what she was saying. When he's repeating her words for us, we hear not only what she is saying but also what he thinks about it at the same time.

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I saw this film for the first time today. I never heard a word about it. The four star rating caught my attention and I was taken aback with how remarkable it is 21 years later.

I agree with your opinion (benjaminorchard) that having Leeds just sign and not speak would have changed the dynamic of the film. The climactic scene where Matlin speaks would not have made sense.

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So glad to see a deaf person, with guts.
As a wheelchair user, I am so tired of having gone from one extreme, helpless victium to another, We are just like everyobdy else, We are not. We have done things which would kill most people, and I am sick and tired of being expected to be grateful for what society allows me to do.
I don't have to proof my right to exist by constantly achieveing goals like a trained horse

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I agree with the original poster. I just saw this movie tonight and was actually debating the same arguement in my head while the movie was playing and after it finished. I think that if they would have used subtitles to show what Sarah was saying, it would have taken so much out of the movie. For some reason, the fact that he was repeating what she was signing made the film all the more enjoyable. Maybe it's because I'm such a huge fan of Hurt and he can do no wrong as an actor in my eyes... I don't know. I just thought it brought more to the film somehow.

"Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth." -Thoreau

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Finally, someone who gets it. Thank you! Subtitles are for foreign films. "YAWN"

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wow.. no one here is deaf?
it never crossed your mind that he is just reading out loud? and by doing so it easier for him to read sign??using diffent parts of brain...visual, audial, launguage.. who knows what works for him the best?
i know a lot of hearing and deaf people who do this.

i do it half the time myself with fast signers.

and yes, i talk and sign at the same time..
simple reason.. i dont know how bad YOUR hearing is. and i sign to just about everybody..

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I've had very little experience with deaf people, but it seems obvious that if a signing reader repeats back verbally what he is reading, it gives the deaf person a chance to read his lips and correct any misreading he may have done.

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That's my thinking, and having been a hearing person who was a part of the local deaf community for a number of years, my r-u-s-t-y sign language skills were often helped along if I also verbalized what was being signed to me...

As the deaf sometimes told me, my signing skills were good, but similar to learning any other language, learning how to speak the words can be fairly easy, but to comprehend what someone is saying much more difficult...

It's been 20 years since I first became a part of the deaf community through my ASL classes, but to this day it's my signing that comes easier - to understand what is being signed to me is another issue, though Marlee Matlin does sign very well (clearly), and I found is easier to understand than the deaf teens or adults that I knew personally who sometimes sign so fast that it's hard for me to follow along (similar to the "finish my opening speech" scene where Sarah's being sarcastic with James - that's the usual signing speed for a deaf person when signing to another deaf person - fast)...

Glades2

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When they first dance together, Sara asks james why he talks and repeats what she says, James replies something like, "I must like the sound of my own voice".
Watch it carefully.

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