Beyond Silence (Jenseits der Stille)

First released in Germany as Jenseits Der Stille, Beyond Silence is the story of Lara, a hearing child of deaf parents Martin and Kai. (The parents converse in German Sign Language, but since the actors who play them are American and French, I have it on good authority that their signing is accented.)

Frequently called upon to serve as sign language interpreter for her parents, young Lara translates meetings, parent-teacher conferences, soap operas, and phone calls for them (though they have a TTY, they are only seen using it once). It is not a good idea to have a child acting in this capacity, though, as Lara avoids translating anything that will get her in trouble or cause a conflict. Martin and Kai realize they’re being fooled, but only bemoan the lack of professional interpreters.

Beyond Silence, at the bank

Lara translates for her parents at a bank, but refuses to ask for early withdrawal of their money.

Furthermore, Martin constantly asks what things–flags, snow, the sunset–sound like, and Lara gamely tries to describe them in terms he can understand. “What would we do without you and your ears?” he asks Lara affectionately.

Lara insists that her mother Kai learn to ride a bicycle, telling her “Every real mother can ride a bike.” Despite inner ear balance problems, Kai practices in a meadow.

In a bit of foreshadowing, Kai narrowly avoids danger while learning to ride a bicycle.

Martin and his sister Clarissa have a strained relationship stemming from a childhood incident where Martin began laughing hysterically during one of her clarinet recitals. Clarissa resents Martin for the way he was allowed to misbehave without consequence, not realizing young Martin acted out of frustration at his inability to communicate with anyone in his family. His own parents were advised not to learn or teach him sign, as the prevailing wisdom of the times was that it would make them less likely to read lips or learn speech.

Martin embarrasses his sister at her clarinet recital, and is forcibly removed by their father.

Though early in the movie we see Martin fixing and adjusting a radio for Lara to listen to, when Clarissa gives Lara a coveted clarinet he worries that he’ll lose her affections and sours on the idea of having music in the house. From then on, any time she turns the radio on or tries to practice her clarinet, he orders that the noise be stopped. This only furthers Lara’s attachment to Clarissa, and once Lara is older Clarissa invites her to stay with her in Berlin so she can practice for an audition at a music conservatory. Martin is furious, but the family overrules him.

While in Berlin, Lara happens to see a man and a young girl conversing in sign at the market, and follows them to strike up a conversation. She initially assumes she’s seeing a girl much like herself, but discovers the little girl is deaf while the hunky guy is her elocution teacher. Like Lara, Tom is a hearing child of deaf parents; though he seems a bit better adjusted than she. He talks about Gallaudet with reverence, saying that “The Americans recognize [sign] as a language. They’re at least 20 years ahead of us.”

Tom suggests Lara become a teacher for the deaf as well, but Lara happens to attend a concert and falls in love with klezmer music. Her future career decided, she prepares to audition for a conservatory. Her relationship with Tom blooms while her relationship with Martin continues to deteriorate. But a sudden death in the family forces a confrontation, and the strength and stability Lara has begun to learn from Tom leads her to understand her father better. They reconcile as they talk across the auditorium while she auditions, Martin saying “I may not be able to hear it, but I’ll try to “understand” it.” Perhaps he’ll always rely on Lara and sister Marie to interface with the hearing, but at last the family has realized the folly of trying to force their children into their respective worlds.


Passchendaele was the name of a town and of one of the bloodiest battles of World War I.
Public sentiment in a town in Canada was very much against men of military age who were not in the service, and a young man with the humble job of typesetter and the condition of asthma (and who was thus medically excused from the draft) was feeling the shame. He has the idea that he has a chance for excitement and glory in war. He wants to impress the girl he is engaged to, and more importantly, her father, a powerful and wealthy newspaper editor/publisher.
It is made clear later on in the movie that the powers-that-be recognized that those with asthma were less likely to survive the poison gas attacks on the part of the Germans for which this war was noted, and thus gave them medical exclusions from military service in WWI.
This movie did a good job of portraying the kind of war fever that went along with a country’s participation in this conflict; there was a public event at which men of draft age who were not in the military were publicly shamed, a woman of German ancestry had her house splattered with red paint and word “Hun”, in spite of the fact that she was a nurse in the war, and if you articulated the fact that there were certain drawbacks to war itself, every opportunity was taken to question your courage, your patriotism, and your sanity.
One person who was the target of this sort of thing was Sgt. Michael Dunn, a soldier sent back to Canada after having participated in a particularly bloody battle, with a diagnosis of “neurasthenia” or “shell shock”, now known as PTSD. He is seen recounting and regretting particularly graphic acts of violence. He appears to have a conscience, and this is a problem for those above him. The brilliant minds higher up on the chain of command kept him in the service and made him a recruiter. As such, he refused to recruit the young man whose asthma, according to regulations, precluded his participation. His immediate superior, who later lets the young man with asthma join in spite of the fact that it is unlikely that the asthma magically went away because the fiance’s father wrote a medical clearance, throws Dunn’s diagnosis in his face when he objects to the fact that the superior officer just broke his own rules for recruitment! Dunn later gets his own back. At a time when he has the element of surprise, Dunn threatens the superior officer and gets him to sign papers and send him back to the front, as he intends to serve as protector for the asthmatic boy, who is a relation to the nurse who is Dunn’s love interest. Before both of them leave to rejoin the war, Dunn helps the nurse kick her morphine habit, acquired during her last tour of duty. Dunn also socializes with a man with an amputated arm. The man lost the arm in an accident in a sawmill, “but the ladies don’t know that”, he says. Indeed, when the battle of Passchendaele itself is portrayed, it is shown that in this particular war, with its heavy use of artillery similar to that used in today’s wars, but without today’s medical technology, losing a limb in the war was not an uncommon fate. It helps that at one point in the movie there is a medical lecture concerning what artillery shells do to the human body. (It was, in fact, during World War I that the term “basket case” originated. It did not initially refer to the mental or psychological paralysis it implies today, but to someone who had managed to have every extremity shot away or damaged beyond repair, who had to be literally carried around in a basket.)
In spite of Dunn’s efforts to protect him, the boy with ashma dies, though not of asthma-related complications ensuing during a gas attack. In fact, the use of poison gas is suprisingly absent from the battlefield portrayal in the movie (perhaps because a heavy rain is falling for much of the time the armies are in the field).
He is strong enough to hand Dunn a neck chain and medal his sister gave him, which later hangs on the marker for Dunn’s grave.