The Miracle Worker

At age seven, Helen Keller lived a life of wordless torment. Deaf and blind, she dwelled in a dark world of objects, but had no means to comprehend them. Speech eluded her, as did the very elements of language. Then Annie Sullivan, a visually impaired teacher, entered Helen's muted sensorium. Based on the prize-winning biographical play by William Gibson, The Miracle Worker is a grand tutorial about that very human need to understand. Anne Bancroft as Annie and Patty Duke as her young ward, in Oscar-winning performances, engage in a strenuous and single-minded duet to rein in Helen's unfettered feelings and turn them toward awareness. Perhaps the real miracle here is director Penn's uncanny ability to force sentimentality out of the frame. In the revelatory scene where Helen discovers the correlation between the signs spelled in her palm and the material things of the world, she is set loose in her ecstatic realization. But it's about touch, never touching. An exquisitely composed film, Penn's ironic revelation is that a moving picture, cinema's language, can be worth a thousand words.

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