Taglines: Love has a language all of its own.
Sarah Norman (Marlee Matlin) is a troubled young deaf woman working as a janitor at a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in New England. An energetic new teacher, James Leeds (William Hurt), arrives at the school and encourages her to set aside her insular life by learning how to speak aloud.
As she already uses sign language, Sarah resists James’s attempts to get her to talk but she is resistant because of a history of rape. Romantic interest develops between James and Sarah and they are soon living together, though their differences and mutual stubbornness eventually strains their relationship to the breaking point, as he continues to want her to talk, and she feels somewhat stifled in his presence.
Sarah leaves James and goes to live with her estranged mother (Piper Laurie) in a nearby city, reconciling with her in the process. However, she and James later find a way to resolve their differences.
Children of a Lesser God is a 1986 American romantic drama film directed by Randa Haines and written by Hesper Anderson and Mark Medoff. An adaptation of Medoff’s Tony Award–winning stage play of the same name, the film stars Marlee Matlin (in an Oscar-winning performance) and William Hurt as employees at a school for the deaf: a deaf custodian and a hearing speech teacher, whose conflicting ideologies on speech and deafness create tension and discord in their developing romantic relationship.
Marking the film debut for deaf actress Matlin, Children of a Lesser God is notable for being the first since the 1926 silent film You’d Be Surprised to feature a deaf actor in a major role.
After meeting deaf actress Phyllis Frelich in 1977 at the University of Rhode Island’s New Repertory Project, playwright Medoff wrote the play Children of a Lesser God to be her star vehicle. Based partially on Frelich’s relationship with her hearing husband Robert Steinberg, the play chronicles the turmoiled relationship and marriage between a reluctant-to-speak deaf woman and an unconventional speech pathologist for the deaf. With Frelich starring, Children of a Lesser God opened on Broadway in 1980, received three Tony Awards, including Best Play, and ran for 887 performances before closing in 1982.
It received five Academy Award nominations, including Matlin’s win for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. Only 21 years old at the time, Matlin is the youngest actress to receive the award in this particular category and the only deaf Academy Award recipient in any category.
About the Title
The title of the film comes from the twelfth chapter of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. The stanza in which the line is contained reads as follows:
I found Him in the shining of the stars,
I marked Him in the flowering of His fields,
But in His ways with men I find Him not.
I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would,
Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
But that these eyes of men are dense and dim,
And have not power to see it as it is:
Perchance, because we see not to the close;—
For I, being simple, thought to work His will,
And have but stricken with the sword in vain;
And all whereon I leaned in wife and friend
Is traitor to my peace, and all my realm
Reels back into the beast, and is no more.
My God, thou hast forgotten me in my death;
Nay—God my Christ—I pass but shall not die.
Children of a Lesser God (1986)
Directed by: Randa Haines
Starring: William Hurt, Marlee Matlin, Piper Laurie, Philip Bosco, Allison Gompf, John F. Cleary, Georgia Ann Cline, William D. Byrd
Screenplay by: Hesper Anderson
Production Design by: Gene Callahan
Cinematography by: John Seale
Film Editing by: Lisa Fruchtman
Costume Design by: Renée April
Set Decoration by: Rose Marie McSherry
Art Direction by: Barbra Matis
Music by: Michael Convertino
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: October 3, 1986