Double Vision: ‘May December’ and ‘A Teacher’

Hello friends!

It’s a new year, new me, new you, new ongoing series for your favorite lil semi-regular movie email: Double Vision will be a recurring series exploring media that would make for delicious double features. The first installment technically includes a TV show so it’s not exactly a “double” situation straight out the gate but we’re gonna have fun anyway!!

Let’s talk May December (2023) and A Teacher (2020), two pieces of media that tell the story of an older woman acting as a predator to a younger man, have fantastic performances, and include mic drop lines/soundtrack beats that made my jaw drop.

Surface-level observations aside, I found both works to be absolutely breathtaking portrayals of the ways our personal narratives shape our own little worlds.

Director Hannah Fidell’s A Teacher (2020) follows high school teacher Claire (Kate Mara) as she begins a predatory relationship with her 17-year-old student Eric (Nick Robinson). I first wrote about the series following its release on Hulu for the feminist film site Screen Queenz:

With each episode of the series punctuated by warnings for its depiction of sexual abuse and grooming, we understand right from the start that this is a story of predation, not of a misunderstood couple fighting for their love, a common off-tone message in Lifetime Original Movies of the same theme. The setup of the series itself a modernized response to society’s collective (and on-going) re-understanding of sexual abuse, a woman, particularly an attractive white woman, being the abuser never plays here as the token gender-reversal stories saturating big budget takes. Instead, it opens the door to a subtlety in how abuse manifests and more powerfully, how the lines of consent can quickly blur.

I love how the series explored this theme in a nuanced way, completely sidelining melodrama for cold, hard reality. That approach did such fantastic justice to a situation the culture at large thinks it knows everything about; it’s surprising and thought-provoking.

Todd Haynes’ Netflix exclusive May December (2023) takes the discarded melodrama of A Teacher and fills a picturesque lake with it for its own successful take. It drips with it decadently, each scene another exploration of the way humans haggle with power. Loosely inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau scandal, Natalie Portman stars as an actress who travels to meet and study the life of the controversial woman (Julianne Moore) she is set to play in a film—a woman infamous for the 23-year-long relationship with her husband (Charles Melton) which began when he was 13 years old.

Melton, who is best known for Riverdale but was completely new to me here, is a revelation. His facial expressions alone break my heart into a thousand pieces each time he appeared on-screen, even his silence was a commanding presence. His and Robinson’s performances each bring their respective characters to life with a startling depth. Both offer a study in the emotional impact abuse can have on a male victim with a tenderness, a downright earnestness, each quietly confronting societal expectations of masculinity.

The women at the center of each story deserve their own essays, but I’ll leave it here for now — go watch these two pieces of work, each engaging in a fascinating conversation about consent on a whole lot of different levels.

‘Til next time!