Dismissed (2017) | Film Review | Recommendations, Discussion & Spoilers
Dismissed is a thriller/horror film that was released in 2017. Netflix released the film via instant streaming on February 19, 2018. Dismissed is a film about a teenage boy who is a perfectionist, striving to get perfect grades in every subject in school. Underneath his perfect facade lies a sociopath who has learned over time to wear a mask in order to manipulate those who he feels can help him achieve his goals.
In the very beginning of the movie, during the credits, we see a boy practicing facial expressions. It is not explained what he is doing at the time, but we later learn the reasons for this, and the reasons are very disturbing.
The movie starts out from the perspective of a high school teacher who is married, and recently had a baby. The man is unhappy with his work at the high school, as he feels that his students are not passionate about learning, and feels that he is wasting his potential at a high school. He tells his wife that he has heard of an opening for a professorship at a local college, and wants to pursue teaching college students as a career. His wife is supportive, and he sets about preparing an application for the professorship.
The man goes to his job at the high school, and is surprised to see a student already seated in the classroom. He soon learns that the student has transferred from a school in California, and the student has taken initiative to complete past assignments. The student hands him several multiple-page assignments, which look very tidy and have clips at the top, which is very different from the messy pages his students usually pass in.
The teacher is impressed by the student's initiative and professionalism, and is pleased to learn that the student is one of the only students who answer questions in class and provides insightful and thoughtful responses.
Later in the day, the teacher is shown in another classroom, teaching students chess. He is the leader of the school's chess team, and is happy to see that the student in his English class is interested in joining the chess team. After he discovers that the student is accomplished in chess, he asks him to join the chess team.
The teacher goes home that night and tells his wife that he hopes to mentor the student, as he sees real promise in the student and believes the student to be lonely. The next day, the teacher reminds his students that their English papers on Othello are due, and he is impressed when the student hands in a thick report bound in a dark-green cover.
Later that night, he begins to grade papers, and is so curious about the student's report that he digs it out of the pile and reads it first. After grading all the papers, the teacher is shown at the school passing the papers back to the students.
The student is horrified to learn that he has received a B+ on the paper, and harshly demands an explanation from the teacher. The teacher is alarmed by the student's reaction to his grade, and sits down next to him to explain his grade in a rational manner.
The student grows more unhinged as he attempts to explain why he wrote what he wrote in his paper, and attempts to force the teacher to change his grade to an A. The teacher refuses, and the student gets so angry that he stalks out of the room. The teacher, understandably shocked, watches the student leave and begins to think differently about his opinion of the student.
The movie continues to follow both the student and the teacher in the aftermath of the grade the student received. The student goes to great lengths, using manipulation in order to try to get the teacher to do what he wants.
If you love this movie, you might also love:
Fatal Attraction (1987)
The Fan (1996)
The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992)
You Get Me (2017) (Netflix Instant)
One Hour Photo (2002)
The Good Son (1993)
Below, I've included information about film content and spoilers. Spoilers begin after film content and end before the discussion.
Yes. A woman is found dead on the floor of her kitchen with bruises around her neck. The murder is not shown. A teenage girl is pushed off of a roof by a teenage boy and they show her body on the ground for a few seconds. There is blood shown around her head, but the shot is from far away, and there is minimal gore. A man takes pills and drinks alcohol, committing suicide in front of his son.
Yes. A teenage boy interferes with a science experiment, blinding another student with chemicals. A boy throws his belongings around his room while in a blinding rage. A teenage boy pushes a girl off of a roof forcefully. A teenage boy is hit with a glass object and blood is shown coming out of his head. A man chokes a teenage boy with his hands.
After the teenage boy receives a B+, he begins to try to manipulate everyone around him once he discovers he cannot manipulate the teacher to his liking. When the teacher sends in the application to the college he wants to work at, the student writes a different essay for the application, and switches the essays before the application is sent out. The teacher gets an immediate interview at the college, only to discover he has not gotten the job due to the inflammatory essay the student wrote in his own essay's place, thus ruining his chances for a professorship.
The student then tries to manipulate a teenage girl he befriends into seducing the teacher, but the teacher responds by telling her she is overstepping the boundaries between a student-teacher relationship. The teenage boy responds by seemingly comforting the girl by hugging her on the roof of a building where they regularly meet for lunch. He suddenly throws her off the roof of the building, then writes a note that makes it look like she committed suicide because she was so in love with the teacher, trying to get him to lose his job.
The teacher goes to the student's house, and even though the student's dad protests, the teacher goes upstairs and searches the student's room. He looks through the student's shoes and finds a small camera. The camera has a video on it of the student preparing to film the confrontation between the teenage girl he had manipulated into attempting to seduce the teacher and the teacher. The teacher brings the camera to the principal at the school, and the student is subsequently expelled.
The student goes home to find his dad on the couch, drinking alcohol with several empty pill bottles around, crying and watching a video. This scene is absolutely heartbreaking because the video the dad is watching is of the son when the son is very young, and the son is stating emotions out loud and practicing facial expressions to match. It demonstrates that the son has always been a sociopath, and even though the dad loves his son very much, he knows his son is an empty shell of a person, and always will be. The dad slowly succumbs to the pills and alcohol as the son watches, emotionless.
The teacher is then shown at home, greeting his wife and baby, thinking the whole ordeal is over. He goes to take a shower, and while he is in the shower, the student breaks into the house while the wife is preparing a bottle for the baby. The student attacks the wife and baby off camera, and the teacher comes out of the shower and sees several objects in the house have been knocked over. He goes into the kitchen after seeing his wife's legs on the floor, and walks in to discover bruises on her neck and her eyes open wide, murdered by the student. He discovers a blanket next to his wife, and is horrified because he is sure his baby is dead next to his wife, but discovers that there is a bunch of towels inside with a chess piece sitting on top. He realizes that the student wants him to go to the school, and travels to the school quickly to save his child.
When he arrives at the school, he finds his baby and the student in the classroom. The student threatens to stab the baby with a pen several times, but the teacher attacks the student before he can. He hits the student in the head, dazing him, and starts to choke him. He only stops when a man with a gun tells him to release the student, and the student is then arrested.
I thought the film was great in some ways and mediocre in others. I thought the actor who played the unhinged student, Dylan Sprouse, did a phenomenal job of playing the sociopathic student. I felt that he was subtle in the beginning; I was sure that there was something false about his demeanor, but wasn't quite sure what he was doing as an actor that made me feel that way.
I think it was that he was too perfect. I think back now, and I think that it was weird that he was at school very early before anyone got there, was wearing a suit, and had multiple papers from past assignments all prepared for the teacher. I mean, what kind of kid does that?
I always turned in papers on time and knew answers in class, but if I had transferred to another school mid-semester, there's no way I'd do extra work if I didn't have to. I mean, what did he do for fun if he had all that time to write all those papers? It's weird.
As far as Dylan Sprouse's acting, I felt like there was an undercurrent of anger coming from him from the very beginning. I think it was a smart way to portray the character, because a sociopath can wear masks; they can appear happy and nice, but it's all false, and I think from the beginning Dylan Sprouse made me feel that the character was false in some way.
I thought the other actors did fine jobs with their roles, but Dylan Sprouse really stood out for me. I felt like whenever he was in the scene, he stole the show. He even made me feel a little sorry for him in the end, because he portrayed the character as someone who truly didn't understand why people didn't see things from their perspective or understand them.
The material was engaging, interesting, and tense at times, but I kind of felt like it was an expected thriller film for me. I wasn't very surprised with the way things turned out in the end, but I never felt like I wasted my time or anything.
Iago and Othello
I really liked that there was an emphasis on how the student identified with Iago, who is the villain in Othello. It really showed how he really did not understand that there was something wrong with him. He had learned how to imitate emotions in order to appear normal to others, but never could emote the feelings because he never had them to begin with.
He identified with Iago because he thought Iago never apologized for who he was and could be himself, and I believe the student desperately just wanted to be accepted for who he was and not have to apologize for it. The student couldn't see the evil within Iago, because he himself didn't believe Iago's actions were evil. If the student couldn't empathize with others and understand emotions, he could not possibly understand evil and evil intentions, thus aligning himself with other's whose actions mirrored his.
Empathizing with the Antagonist
I really didn't think I'd ever watch anything that would make me pity a sociopath, but I really did pity the student in the film. If you were born missing emotions, is that your fault? No, I don't believe so. I believe people like that blend into society by mimicking other's emotions and learning that if you want to get by in society and succeed, you have to pretend to be just like them, all while not really understanding why they are so different.
The student did put a lot of work into his English papers, only to be told that what he was writing was disturbing. He did support his writing with quotes from Othello, but you could tell he genuinely didn't understand why the teacher didn't understand his point of view. It was hard for me to watch that scene, because even though it was disturbing to learn that the student was devoid of true emotion, it showed how desperate he was to be understood and accepted.
I can't imagine how I would feel if I put a lot of work into something, and had a certain perspective about a subject, only to be told my views were disturbing and wrong. What I really didn't understand why they were wrong? I would feel that no matter what I did, I couldn't be myself and would have to lie about everything in my life, including who I was as a person.
Sociopaths in Society
This is what is so difficult about this thought process for me; sociopaths do live in society, and most blend right in, so you wouldn't know who they are outright. The problem becomes if they become deviant and commit crimes. They can appear like the student, as perfectionists and are generally manipulative in order for their carefully crafted lives to continue to look a certain way, or they can go off the rails like the student did at the end, not caring about appearing to be "normal" anymore.
So the question is, can they be allowed to be themselves? I don't know; I don't think most of society would accept them and understand what it's like to be devoid of emotion and empathy. For me, it's difficult to be a caring, empathetic person, and know that there are people out there who are born without those qualities. I know how important it is to feel accepted and to know people accept the true you, but if you know people won't, what does that do to you long-term?
It really brings to light my knowledge of sociopathic serial killers. They lack empathy, so killing others doesn't affect them like it would affect others. I question what sociopaths who appear normal would do if they didn't care about blending in. Is the law and knowing what would happen if they got caught committing a crime the only thing preventing them from committing crimes? I don't know, but it is interesting to think about. Research on anti-social personality disorder is very limited, so learning about what an effective treatment for the disorder has been almost non-existent at this point.
With people who suffer from anti-social personality disorder, I know I feel pity for them, and am glad this movie allowed me to examine my thoughts about feelings about the personality disorder, because it is very thought-provoking, interesting, and illuminating.
What did you think of Dismissed? Did you like it? Did you feel empathy for the teenager or were you glad when you saw the ending? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.