The Student is a little film that tackles some of the heaviest and far-reaching issues that we currently face as a society. Via the medium of religious fundamentalism, we see what the consequences are of strictly abiding by the words of the Bible, and how these changes impact upon a seemingly normal high school.
The film also takes a look at relationships, both familial and social. We first meet our protagonist, Venya, when he’s having an argument with his mother (who is almost constantly at the screaming limits of emotion). We follow Venya throughout his growing obsession over the good book, taking very public and loud demonstrations against what he perceives to be a broken system. His school bends over backward to accommodate him, with only his biology teacher Elena standing up to him.
When it starts, Venya’s observations are petty and innocent enough. As the film progresses, he becomes more adamant in his protests and actions, stripping off in sex ed class and dressing as an ape whilst being taught about the theory of evolution being two standout examples. Through his interactions with other classmates, we see how his own beliefs influence them, and what they truly think about him and religion in general. One nice little touch is that whenever Venya quotes a passage from the Bible, the chapter reference subtly pops up as if to confirm its authenticity. The arguments between Venya and Elena are truly captivating, with Venya flying the flag for religion whilst Elena attempts to counter with scientific reasoning.
Another reason why I think this film gets away with tackling such serious issues is that we see things from Venya’s point of view as he interacts with everyone else, rather than the other way around. He takes on the nature of a professional boxer, searching for a worthy opponent. His school begins to warp in line with his extreme beliefs, his principal in particular. The soundtrack is a haunting thing which complements the growing disbelief of Elena as these seemingly ridiculous beliefs of Venya’s are given precedence over her own.
I’m not too proud to admit that the ending lost me. I’m not sure who ‘won’ if anyone. By that point, Venya’s actions had affected everyone around him, destroyed relationships and friendships alike. Bear in mind, however, that all the while Venya is never truly an individual. The majority of his dialogue is straight from the Bible, with Venya acting as a direct line to God, and It’s only when he starts to think for himself and begins to interpret the Bible himself, that people get hurt.
Overall, The Student is an interesting and interpretive film that explores whether religion has a place in our current society. I grew to dislike Venya as a character, but not strictly because of his religious views, more for how he punishes others for being different. Whether the filmmakers intended this reaction, I do not know, but The Student definitely highlights the shortcomings of religious fundamentalism when placed within our modern, inclusive society.