EFL Movie Study Guide for:
from www.krigline.com www.krigline.com.cn
Jamal, a 16-year-old black basketball star, befriends a shy, elderly man
(Forrester, played by Sean Connery) who turns out to be a famous author.
Jamal’s writing and athletic talent earns him a scholarship to an
exclusive private school, but his teachers question whether a black kid
from New York could really write THIS well. Meanwhile, his unlikely
friendship with Forrester helps both reach their dreams. Themes include
the place of sports in education, plagiarism, fear, prejudice, teenage
relationships, urban change and English writing. (2000; actors include 3
Oscar-winners; Columbia Pictures; drama; PG-13; 136 minutes) Director: Gus
Manhattan and the Bronx, two of the five districts (technically called
boroughs) of New York City
In scenes with African-American characters, you will see that they don't
always speak standard American English. Think of this as an American dialect
sometimes called Ebonics or African American Vernacular English. Some of the
characteristics of this dialect include:
use double negatives ("I ain't seen nothing change" instead of "I haven't
seen anything change")
or neglect to conjugate "to be" ("Why you gonna send him here?" instead of
"Why are you going to send him here?" or “he be laughin’ ” instead of “he is
“l” and “r” (“hep yo-sef” for “help yourself”)
“d” or “t” instead of “th” (“dis one is wid me” for “this one is with me”)
neglect to show verb tense (“he see us, man” for “he sees us”)
They also use some nicknames (like
"baby," “boy,” "killer," “nigga” or “dog”) that could be considered
offensive if used by non-black people. One important aspect of Jamal’s
character is that he must be fluent in both his dialect (to fit in with his
friends) and in “standard” English (to become “successful” in mainstream
society)—see quotation 12. (Similarly, a successful Chinese person needs to
be able to speak Mandarin [普通话]
as well as his/her dialect).
Don’t worry if you can’t understand the African-Americans talking quickly at
the beginning of the film; it is sort of like trying to listen to a
conversation in Cantonese, when you don’t speak that dialect (see note 1).
They are talking about Mr. Forrester, whom they call “the Window” because no
one knows anything about him; he often looks out his window but never leaves
the building (there is even a rumor that he killed someone many years
The characters in this film (and many American movies) cuss and
a lot, saying things like “God,” “Goddamn,” “s-h-i-t” and “f-u-c-k,” which
are particularly offensive to many people (below, I’ve shown them as “s--t”
and so on). Script writers often use these terms to show us how angry a
character is in a certain circumstance or to demonstrate a lack of
education. However, English-learners should never use these terms—in
international business or communication, it is especially important to NOT
A partial preview (to help you understand what you will see).
The underlined words are defined in
the vocabulary section below.
Jamal’s assessment test shows that he is extremely smart, but his
mom says that “all he talks about is basketball” because that is “where he
gets his acceptance” among his friends. A private school sees Jamal’s high
test scores and offers him a scholarship, hoping he will also play
basketball there. Meanwhile, Jamal’s friends dare him to steal
something from The Window’s apartment (see note 2); while doing this, The
Window (Forrester) catches him and Jamal runs out of the apartment without
his backpack, and thus without the notebooks he writes in. Forrester “marks”
the notebooks (like a teacher) and throws the pack out the window. Jamal
then goes and asks Forrester to “help me with my writing.” At first,
Forrester says “no” (very angrily), but he is intrigued by this young
man’s talent and eventually agrees. Later, when Jamal starts attending the
private school, Claire befriends him (their white/black relationship is also
a minor part of this story). But one of Jamal’s teachers (Prof. Crawford)
thinks that Jamal may be cheating/plagiarizing, which is a main focus
of the last part of the movie. Along the way, we discover that Forrester was
deeply hurt when his brother died (while driving drunk), and simply chose to
remain isolated in his apartment for decades thereafter. He lives on the
royalties from his famous book, and for many years after he wrote it,
publishers begged him to write another—which he never did.
You can also find a plot summary at
People and proper nouns:
Jamal Wallace (or J to his friends): a
16-year-old African-American, with a talent for basketball and for writing
William Forrester: a reclusive (隐逸)
elderly man. Crawford describes him: “When William Forrester was 23, in
1953, he set out to write his first book. A lot of aspiring authors talked
about writing the great 20th-century novel; well, William
Forrester did it, on his first try.”
Prof. Robert Crawford: Jamal’s writing
teacher at the private school; Forrester describes Crawford in quotation #10
Claire Spence: a rich student at Jamal’s new
school, daughter to one of the school’s leaders; she and Jamal like each
Terrell (or T to his friends): Jamal’s big
brother; he had dreamed of “playing college ball” but wasn’t good enough (or
maybe didn’t have good enough grades), so now he is a parking lot attendant
beside a sports stadium, and he raps
Mailor School or Mailor-Callow School: an
exclusive, 100-year-old prep school in Manhattan (downtown New York)
The Bronx: one of the five districts
(technically called boroughs) of New York City. I don’t know much
about the Bronx, but movies like this one make it look like a place where
minorities (black, hispanic, etc) live and work because it is less expensive
than other parts of New York.
Manhattan: one of the five districts
(technically called boroughs) of New York City; Manhattan has the
tall buildings, “Wall Street” stock market, etc., so it is the business
center of the city. It is expensive to live there, go to school there, or
operate a business there.
Sherlock Holmes: [福尔摩斯]
a famous, fictional detective (“Stamford introduced Sherlock Holmes to Dr.
Nouns/verbs (vocabulary): (*means these are particularly important
describes something that gets faster and faster (“The acceleration in your
writing ability is remarkable.”)
*assessment test: a
standardized exam or series of exams that helps a school evaluate a
student’s academic ability; the results also help the government evaluate
the effectiveness of one school compared to another
BMW: Bavarian Motor Works--a German company,
who’s expensive cars are often bought so the owner can show off his/her
wealth (some people refer to the cars as “beemers”; in the film Jamal tells
Forrester’s arrogant lawyer about the history of BMW)
*boys: “my boys” is a
Ebonics (see note 1) term for “my friends”
*cancer: a serious and
often deadly illness in which the body’s cells stop acting in a normal way (癌症)
constipated: a medical condition where
someone has difficulty getting rid of your body’s solid waste (when
Forrester marked up Jamal’s notebook, sometimes he wrote “constipated
thinking,” i.e., “this section shows that your ability to think is
*to cuss: to use
language that offends some people, especially when you are angry (发出诅咒?
Important: remember that using a particular word will offend some people but
not others, depending on their level of education, religious beliefs, race,
etc. See note 1.
to dare: when sb (esp. a child) challenges
another person to do sth dangerous; in this movie, they also call this “the
call” (“I dare you to go up there, into The Window’s place, and bring
something back.” “Yo, I think I’m going to pull the call [i.e., cancel this
dog: a term some black men use to address a
black, male friend (a bitch is a female dog, and some black women use
this to address other black women—but “bitch” is a terrible insult if a
white person uses it to talk about a black person)
*foul shots: after a penalty in basketball,
this is the chance to get a point by shooting the ball from a certain line,
without anyone trying to stop you (also called a “free throw”)
*intrigued: to be interested because sth is
strange, mysterious or unexpected
*to kick in: to begin
to take effect or start working, even though it was already there (“Jamal’s
writing gift really kicked in after he met Forrester.” “It took ten minutes
for the pain medicine to kick in.”)
*mascot: an animal or “cartoonish” figure that represents a team, squad,
etc. (“American football teams normally have mascots like animals,
historical characters, and special people who work in the area:
bears/horses, pilgrims/Trojans, oil-workers/steel-makers.”)
plagiarize: to use a passage, sentence, outline, or even a group of phrases
from the Internet, a book, or any other source, without telling where you
“borrowed” from. Plagiarism is a crime because it violates the author’s
intellectual property rights; in this film, plagiarism (in a writing
contest) was treated seriously because it gave Jamal an unfair advantage
over students who do not cheat
*prep school (preparatory school): (AmE) a
private secondary school that prepares academically gifted (or wealthy)
students to enter the best universities. (In BrE, a “preparatory school” is
for 6 to 13-year olds, preparing them for boarding school.)
*probation: (AmE) a period of time in which a
student or worker must show improvement (in ability) or change (in
behavior), without which he will be forced to leave that school or job
(“Bear in mind, the school’s Board does have the authority to place those
who plagiarize on academic probation, which would prevent you from playing
basketball here in the future.”)
*procrastination=delay; waiting to do
something because you don’t really want to do it
program: a booklet sold at sporting events,
giving details about the players, teams, etc. (“Hold on, let me get a
tap: (sound of two hard things hitting each
other) “She heard a “tap, tap, tap” coming from The Window’s place.”
rap: a type of music in which words are
generally spoken in a certain rhythm instead of sung; this is popular among
urban young people
*rumors: things people
say based on what someone else said, not necessarily based on the truth (流言?)
when someone pays some or all of the educational expenses for gifted
students or athletes
1. When you were a child, did you and your
friends dare each other to do things? Tell your partner about it. If not,
tell your partner about a dangerous event in your life.
2. In different contexts, Jamal had to use
Ebonics (see note 1) and “standard English.” If you are an English-learner,
you speak more than one language, too. When do you speak each language, and
3. Do you think it is unfair for Jamal to
have to speak “good English” (or for a Chinese person to have to speak “good
Mandarin”) to be successful in his country? Or do you think being able to
speak your “mother tongue” (母语)
ought to be all you need?
4. Describe the “unusual friendships” in this
movie. (Jamal and Claire; Jamal and Forrester; are there others?) Then talk
about an “unusual friendship” in your own life.
5. Tell your partner about an older person (a
relative, neighbor, teacher, etc.) who has helped you in some way.
6. Jamal merely used Forrester’s title and
first paragraph, but his teacher and the school’s Board saw this plagiarism
as a serious academic “crime.” Did this surprise you? Why or why not? What
do you think about the practice of including the words or thoughts of others
in your own writing?
7. The serious attitude toward plagiarism
shown in this film is very common in countries where English is a native
language. If the attitude in your country is different, explain. Also talk
about what this attitude means for people who wish to study abroad or work
with people from English-speaking countries.
8. The description of this film says Jamal’s
unlikely friendship with Forrester helped both to “reach their dreams.”
Explain this statement, or say why you don’t agree with it.
Sentences/dialogs from the movie:
(in part from
imdb's website is a great place to find movie facts and more)
Say these dialogs out loud with your friends;
it will help you prepare to watch the movie. Blue
parts below are particularly important. The underlined words
are defined in the vocabulary section above.
1. Jamal: Well, I was wondering, maybe I
could bring you some more of my stuff… or maybe I could write something
Forrester: How about 5000 words on why
you’ll stay the f--k out of my home!
2. Forrester: Bolt (lock) the door, if
you're coming in. (This strange sentence is how Forrester first invited
Jamal into his home.)
3. Forrester: How old are you?
Jamal: I’m 16
Forrester: Sixteen! And you’re black.
(Forrester looks at Jamal’s essay.) It’s remarkable.
Jamal: Remarkable? What? It’s
remarkable that I’m black? I mean, what does me being black got to do with
Forrester (pointing a knife at Jamal):
You don’t know what to do right now, do you? If you tell me what you really
want to tell me, I might not read any more of this. But if you let me run
you down with this racist bulls--t… what does that make you?
Jamal [backing away]: I’m not playing
this game, man.
Forrester: Oh, I say you are playing
it. An expression is worth a thousand words. But perhaps in your case, just
4. Claire (responding after Jamal says the
school leaders want to see how well he plays basketball): It’s just like
college, right? You get an education, and they get what they want. Or maybe
you both get what you want.
5. Forrester: Stir the soup
before it foams up.
Jamal: How come ours never
gets anything on it? (Forrester takes a video of a bird, which he apparently
does a lot.)] Do you ever go outside to do any of this?
Forrester: You should have
stayed with the soup question. The object of a question is to obtain
information that matters to us and to no one else. You were wondering why
your soup doesn’t foam up? Probably because your mother was brought up in a
house that never thought of wasting milk in soup. Now that question was a
good one, in contrast to, “Do I ever go outside?” which fails to meet the
basic criteria of obtaining information that matters to you.
Jamal: All right, man. I
guess I don’t have any more soup questions.
6. Forrester (giving the conditions for his
continued tutoring): There’ll be no questions about me, my family, or why
there was only one book.
7. Jamal (after Forrester’s lawyer drops
off weekly supplies, including new socks): Why don’t you give that guy a
break and do your own shopping? And why are your socks inside out?
Forrester: Because socks are badly
designed. The seams are on the inside. Hurt the toes. In some cultures, it's
considered good luck to be wearing something inside out.
Jamal: And you believe that?
Forrester: No, but it's like praying:
what do you risk?
8. Forrester: Why is it that the
words we write for ourselves are always so much better than those we write
for others? Go ahead.
Jamal: Go ahead and what?
Forrester (now happily
Jamal: What are you doing?
Forrester: I’m writing. Like
you’ll be when you start punching those keys. (Jamal just sits there for a
while.) Is there a problem?
Jamal: No, I’m just
Forrester: No thinking -
that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You
rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is... to write, not to
(Jamal can’t get started, so
Forrester gives him an essay from his files, entitled “A Season of Faith’s
Jamal: What’s this?
Forrester: Start typing
that. Sometimes the simple rhythm of typing gets us from page one to page
two. And when you begin to feel your own words… start typing them. (Jamal
starts to lightly, slowly type a few words; Forrester gets upset and
shouts…) Punch the keys, for G--'s sake! (Jamal starts typing faster.)
You're the man now, dog!
(After quite some time,
Jamal finishes typing. He starts to put his essay in his backpack but
Forrester stops him.)
Forrester: Jamal, whatever
we write in this apartment, stays in this apartment. No exceptions.
9. (Jamal and Forrester are watching a
popular TV game-show where the players choose a topic by saying something
like “I’ll take ‘Birds’ for $400, Alex.” Then they see an answer and
must give the question. Forrester assumes that Jamal has never heard
of a particular writer, and Jamal is a bit offended by this wrong
Jamal (sarcastically): I'll stay with
‘Poor Assumptions’ for $800, Alex.
10. Forrester: [Prof. Crawford]
wrote a book a few years after mine. And all the publishers rejected it,
which was the right decision. And instead of writing another one he took a
job teaching others how to write. Just keep in mind that bitterly
disappointed teachers can be either very effective or very dangerous.
11. Jamal: What’s hard is growing up in a
place where the cops (i.e., police) don’t even want to be after dark. What’s
hard is knowing that you’re safe there, because the people you need to worry
about know you got nothing to give them.
Claire: So it’s a good thing you’re
here (at Mailor).
Jamal: Yeah, but these people don’t
think I got anything to give them either.
12. Jamal: I ain't seen nothing change.
Forrester: You ain't seen nothing? What
in the hell kind of sentence is that? Huh? When you’re in here, don’t talk
like you do out there.
Jamal: I was messing with you, man. It
was a joke. Go ahead, I want to hear about the neighborhood back when people
were still reading your book.
Forrester: What did you say?
(Forrester sends Jamal to the public
library; if all the copies are already checked out, Jamal has to buy dinner.
Jamal loses this bet because all 24 copies have been checked out.)
13. Jamal: They got some contest at school.
This writing thing. [Did] you ever enter one of those?
Forrester: Writing contest? Once, a
long time ago.
Jamal: Did you win?
Forrester: Well, of course I won.
Jamal: [Did you win], like, money or
Forrester: The Pulitzer. (the top
international prize for writers)
Jamal: Oh. Well, they make all the
students get up and read in front of everybody.
Forrester: What the hell’s that got to
do with writing? Writers write so that readers can read. Let someone else
14. Forrester: The key to a woman's heart is
an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.
15. Forrester: My brother and I, we were here
(at the Yankee baseball stadium) for every game, till he left for the war. I
thought it’d be the same when he came back, but he talked a little less and
drank a little more. I promised my mother I would help him get through it
all. So, I caught up with him this one night; I was already half a dozen
drinks behind. So we had a few more. And after a while he tells me he wants
to drive me back to the apartment. I said, “No, thanks.” We were all still
living there then. I just stood there and watched him drive off. He makes it
through the whole g--damn war, and I let him drive (while drunk). Later that
night the nurse was typing whatever it is they type, and you know what she
tells me? She tells me how much my book meant to her. My brother’s getting
cold in the next room, and all she can talk about is a book. Well,
everything changed from then on…. We’d spent our summers here, and if we
were lucky, the fall (for the championship playoffs).
Jamal: A lot of falls with those teams.
Forrester: Yeah. Not enough.
Jamal: "The rest of those who
have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow." You
wrote that in your book.
16. Prof Crawford (this speech,
using rather formal language, is telling Jamal that his teacher thinks he
has been plagiarizing): The question concerning your most recent work
isn’t whether it’s good. It’s whether it’s too good. The acceleration
in your progress from your old school to this one is unusual, to the point
that I’m faced with drawing one of two conclusions: either you’ve been
blessed with an uncommon gift that has suddenly decided to kick in or
you’re getting your inspiration from elsewhere. Given your previous
education and your background, I’m sure you’ll forgive me for coming to some
of my own conclusions.
Jamal: I wrote those papers,
Prof. Crawford: Then you
won’t mind showing me. The next assignment is due in two weeks. I’ll
schedule some time for you to come to my office. I’d like to have you write
17. Forrester: A lot of writers know the
rules about writing, but they don’t know how to write.
18. Prof. Crawford (to Jamal): Perhaps your
skills do extend a bit farther than basketball.
Crawford: I’m sorry?
Claire Spence (to Jamal): Don't...
Jamal: You said my skills extend
"farther" than the basketball court. "Farther" relates to distance,
"further" is a definition of degree. You should have said "further".
Crawford: Are you challenging me, Mr.
Jamal: Not any more than you challenged
Crawford: Perhaps the challenge should
have been directed elsewhere. "It is a melancholy truth that even...
Jamal: "Great men have poor relations"
Crawford: "You will hear the beat
Crawford: "All great truths begin...”
Crawford: "Man is the only animal...
Jamal: "That blushes, or needs to."
It’s Mark Twain. Come on, Professor...
Crawford (shouting at first): Get out!
Jamal: Yeah. I'll get out.
19. (After Jamal embarrassed Crawford in
class, Crawford discovered that the title and first paragraph of Jamal’s
essay were plagiarized from a published article written by Forrester; Jamal
asks Forrester to help him, but he refuses because Jamal broke the rule
about not taking essays out of his apartment. They are both mad, and are
cussing at each other.)
Jamal: You wanna (want to) hear the
real bulls--t? How about you let me take it on this one ‘cause you're too
damn scared to walk out that door and do something for somebody else. You're
too damn scared, man! That's the only damn reason.
Forrester (throws glass against wall
and breaks it): You don't know a g--damn thing about reason. There are no
reasons! Reasons why some of us live and why some of us don't. Fortunately
for you, you have decades to figure that out!
Jamal: Yeah, and what's the reason for
having a file cabinet full of writing and keeping the s--t locked so nobody
can ever read it? What is that, man? I'm done with this s--t.
20. Forrester: My name is William Forrester.
(He looks at a wall full of pictures of famous writers, and points at his
picture.) I'm that one.
21. Forrester: I’m thinking you’ll make your
own decisions from here on.
Jamal: I’m thinking you’re about to say
something more like, “I always could.”
Forrester: No, no. No more lessons. But
I have a question, though. Those two foul shots at the end of the
[basketball] game... did you miss them, or did you miss them?
Jamal: Not exactly a soup question, is
22. Jamal: Where you off to?
Forrester: Well, I have a homeland I
haven’t seen for too long.
Jamal: Oh, you mean Ireland?
Forrester: Scotland, for G--'s sakes!
Jamal: I'm messing with you, man. Be
sure to write.
(Note: this is a clever play on words. “Be
sure to write,” meaning “write and send me a postcard,” is a common way of
saying that you will miss someone while they are on vacation. In this case,
it is also advice from a young writer to an older writer, who stopped
“writing” many years ago.)
The film ends with a new version of a famous
song about “dreams coming true” from the 1939 classic movie, The Wizard
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high,
And the dreams that you dreamed of, once in a
Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly,
And the dreams that you dreamed of, dreams
really do come true…
Someday you wish upon a star
And wake up where the flowers are far behind
Where trouble melts like lemon drops
High above the chimney tops
It’s where you’ll find me
Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly,
And the dreams that you dared to… why oh why
Then it turns into
the classic song “What a Wonderful World.”