In The Kindergarten Teacher, the titular character, Lisa, is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Increasingly detached from her job and family, she finds a child in her class, five-year-old Jimmy, who appears to spontaneously produce poems while pacing the floor.
Jimmy’s seeming works of art allow her to relive the creative, bohemian life that she feels she never got to experience, but her fixation gradually becomes unhealthy and dangerous. The film also leaves us to decide for ourselves what this creative process Is. Is Jimmy really a budding poet? Is he just reciting poems from his uncle? Are these poems actually any good? Can he really be thought of as a creator at such a young age? If a five year old can create amazing poetry, then what is poetry itself?
Where the film itself is filled with ambiguity, Lisa’s insistence on Jimmy’s talent feels like it’s the only firm ground. Her belief in Jimmy increasingly causes her to destroy everything else around her.
It’s a film I’ve found hard to process. Gyllenhaal is outstanding, and the film itself is well-written, making for what amounts to a taught thriller about the odd topic of a pre-school poet. However, the film’s ability to project the deep discomfort Lisa feels about her own life, and the way that one follows the steps of her descent so closely, means that the relatively short running time is almost entirely excruciating. Sara Colangelo has made a film which pulls the audience into Lisa’s loss of grounding in a very uncomfortable way.
Although a film I’m not sure if I ever want to revisit it’s stuck with me in a way few films can, and is well worth watching.