CODA – A Review And Study Plan

Film Title: CODA
Year of Release: 2021
Directed by: Sian Heder
Certificate: 12A
Running time: 1 hours, 51 minutes

CODA movie poster

BBFC certification insight: 
“CODA is a drama in which a young woman, who is the only hearing person in her deaf fishing family, is torn between duty to them and pursuing her dreams of becoming a singer. There is infrequent strong language (‘f**k’), as well as milder terms such as ‘twat’, ‘bitch’, ‘dick’, ‘ass’, ‘asshole’, ‘shit’, ‘screw’, ‘freaking’, ‘God’, ‘hell’, ‘Christ’ and ‘damn’. A man makes a rude middle finger gesture.”

Movie trailer for CODA

Summary:
Ruby is the only hearing member of a deaf family from Gloucester, Massachusetts. At 17, she works mornings before school to help her parents and brother keep their fishing business afloat. But in joining her high school’s choir club, Ruby finds herself drawn to both her duet partner and her latent passion for singing.

CODA is an acronym for Child Of Deaf Adults

Part 1: What you felt about the film:
Sometimes young people find it hard to contribute to a group discussion. They may feel shy or that their contribution might appear silly. The first part of the session is therefore a chance for young people to think about the film and begin to develop a reaction to what they have seen in a way that everyone will have something to contribute. These are some simple, quick exercises to get everyone thinking about their reaction to the film.

Ruby

Being different
In the film, we meet and follow the story and the themes mainly through the lived experiences of Ruby, who is different to her family because she can hear. Ask the young people about their own experiences and understanding of disability.

Being each of the characters
We journey through the film through the eyes of various characters, including Ruby, but also her parents Frank and Jackie, her older brother Leo, her singing partner and friend Miles, as well as the teaching staff including music teacher ‘Mr. V’.  Which character do the young people feel closest to?  Is there one they like most? Or dislike most? Why?

Part 2: Key themes in the film:
Young people with family members who are disabled, diverse or different can find life at school hard, as being different isn’t always understood by others, leading to bullying and rejection, but it is also possible to find ways to connect with people and to make friends, to be accepted, to create their own identity.

Making big decisions about the future can be very hard for anyone; Ruby has to make huge choices about whether to continue to support her family or to follow her own dreams. This can be a choice that many young people have to face, perhaps even members of the youth group watching this movie, and it can be a very difficult choice to make.

This section gives the young people a chance to explore these issues in more depth.

Being different
Ruby, the main character in the film, is the only hearing member of her family; her parents and brother are deaf. The introduction to the film shows Ruby, her brother, and her father, on the family fishing boat. Ruby is singing, but when the three of them communicate they do so by sign language. Ruby is the only one that can use the boat’s radio.

Watch the clip    01:28 – 05:05  (Note: Timings taken from the Apple TV version of the film. Please also note that there is some offensive signing and language from the start.)

Q. What do the young people understand about disability, especially deafness. Having seen the clip, how does it make them feel about the three characters that they have met so far? Be sensitive to members of the group who may have additional needs themselves but see if they are willing to share something of their own lived experience.

Now watch the next clip showing another part of Ruby’s life, school, which she attends once the fishing boat is back at the harbour:

Watch the clip    05:19 – 05:51  Ruby asleep at school

Q. How do the young people think that Ruby copes (or doesn’t) with being part of the family fishing boat crew and also still being at school? How does this help them to understand some of the pressures that young carers might generally experience?

Watch the clip    12:20 – 15:29  Ruby attends the choir audition

Having enrolled for the school choir, Ruby attends the audition. The choir leader, ‘Mr. V’, asks each pupil to sing ‘Happy Birthday’, but when it’s Ruby’s turn she freezes and runs from the room. She goes to her ‘safe space’ by the lake and sings ‘Happy Birthday’ on her own there… wonderfully.

Q. Do the young people understand those feelings of anxiety that Ruby experienced at the audition? Maybe she wasn’t sure if she was good enough, she had only sung in the presence of her deaf family before; have the young people experienced those feelings of not knowing if they were good enough? Have they got a ‘safe space’, like Ruby, where they can truly be themselves?

Q. Does being different have to be negative? Are there some positives for Ruby in being different to her family, yet also being different to her classmates?

You could look at the following scriptures if you want to encourage the young people to see what the Bible says about this…

Bible verses:
Genesis 1:27
1 Samuel 16:7
Jeremiah 1:5
1 Corinthians 12:12-25
1 Corinthians 14:10

“Do you have something to say?”
The narrative builds with the tension Ruby experiences between supporting her family and seeking to follow her passion for singing.

Watch this clip: 18:10 – 25:01  Ruby goes to speak with Mr. V

Ruby goes back to see ‘Mr. V’ the choir leader, to try again to join the choir and pursue her love of singing. Mr. V asks her “Do you have something to say?” meaning does her voice, her talent, have a way out, a way to express itself.

‘Mr. V’

In the second part of this clip, Mr V. draws Ruby’s voice out of her, and when she sings it is wonderful, she has a real talent.

Q. Do the young people sometimes doubt themselves? Do they have a wonderful talent but have not yet been able to truly express it? Why not? Do they see some parallels with Ruby’s story? Do they “… have something to say?”

Q. Do they fear failure? Do they think that they just can’t do it, that it’s not even worth trying, that they are not good enough? Does something hold them back?

You could look at the following scriptures if you want to encourage the young people to see what the Bible says about this…

Bible verses:
2 Timothy 1:7
Psalm 73:26
Philippians 4:6
Philippians 4:13
Proverbs 3:5-6

Choices
Mr V. asks Ruby “What are you doing next year?

Watch the clip: 1:22:45 – 1:26:53  Mr. V suggests that Ruby could study music at college

Mr V. is offering Ruby the opportunity to get ready to apply to attend Berklee Music College in the next year, a wonderful opportunity that he wants her to take because he believes she has the talent to succeed there.

He asks her “How do you feel when you sing?” Ruby struggles to articulate her answer in words, so she signs her reply to him, showing him that singing sets her free and takes her to new heights. It’s a powerful moment in the film, and a hint of something we see towards the end.

Q. What dreams do the young people have? When they are following their dream, doing what they love to do, how does it make them feel?

Q. Does God give us gift and talents, things that we are good at? What should we do with them?

You could look at the following scriptures if you want to encourage the young people to see what the Bible says about this…

Bible verses:
Ephesians 2:10
Exodus 35:10
James 1:17
Proverbs 22:29
1 Peter 4:10-11
Matthew 5:14-16

Consequences
The narrative of the tension Ruby experiences between her family and her singing continues to build and isn’t helped by an embarrassing incident involving Ruby’s singing partner (and love interest) Miles. The rift develops further as the family discuss how they could make more money from the sale of their fish.

Miles

Watch the clip: 53:00 – 53:45 (then pause before the next clip)  The family discuss their options

The family discussion/argument about how to sell their fish ends with them needing to talk to the other fishing families, and the only way to do this is through Ruby, which puts huge pressure on her.

Q. How do the young people feel that Ruby is coping? What would they do, and why?

Watch the clip:  53:46 – 56:55 (continuing from the last clip)  Ruby trying to balance everything

Ruby’s alarm goes off at 3am so she can get herself and everyone else up to go fishing, she then has school, then singing/choir. The family is taking on selling the fish directly, adding more pressure on Ruby who is trying (and failing?) to balance everything.

Q. Have the young people faced having so much to balance that however hard they try they just can’t keep everything going? What has ended up falling? How has that made them feel?

Watch the clip:  58:24 – 1:02:26  The TV interview vs Ruby’s music lesson

A real conflict point comes, when Ruby has music practice but her family need her to be there for the TV interview. It leaves Ruby late for music practice with Mr V. and he crossly tells her she wouldn’t last two days at Berklee and he won’t tutor her unless she is able to prioritise music.

Q. Have the young people ever had to make a tough choice like this? Having to choose one very important thing in their life over another? What advice would they give to Ruby in her situation, and why?

“I want to go to college!”

Watch the clip:  1:02:28 – 1:03:45  The heart of the dilemma

Ruby decides that she wants to prioritise her singing, to apply to Berklee. She tells her family “I want to go to college!”, but they tell her “It’s not a good time.” Her response sums up the whole situation, “There will never be a good time. I can’t stay with you for the rest of my life.” And then she adds “Singing is what I love.”

Q. At first viewing, it could be seen that Ruby is saying that she loves singing and doesn’t love her family. Do the young people feel this to be the case? If not, what is Ruby trying to say to her family? Have the young people ever had to give hard to receive news to their family, something they know would be difficult for them? How did it go?

The narrative around the choice Ruby needs to make continues as she misses fishing for a day to go out with Miles. It proves to be disastrous for her family as that turns out to be the day that the fishing inspector goes out with them, and the coastguard also boards their boat. Their fishing license is suspended and they receive two fines. The family blame Ruby, because she wasn’t there to be their ears.

Q. Is the family’s reaction fair? Why/why not? How do the young people feel if they are blamed for something that wasn’t really their fault? Ruby offers to delay going to Berklee; do the young people agree with her decision, or not. Why?

Watch the clip: 1:17:13 – 1:20:11  Ruby and Jackie’s heart-to-heart

Ruby and her mum (Jackie) have a heart-to-heart conversation, during which Ruby asks her mum “Do you ever wish I was deaf?” This conversation is telling as it brings to the surface tensions that have been there all of Ruby’s life.

Ruby and her Mum, Jackie

Q.  Ask the young people to put themselves in Jackie’s position, how do they feel? Have they ever had tough conversations like this with their family members? (Be sensitive to anyone in the group that might be adversely affected by this part of the discussion.)

You could look at the following scriptures if you want to encourage the young people to see what the Bible says about this…

Bible verses:
Jeremiah 29:11
James 1:5-6
Psalm 32:8
Joshua 1:9

Performance
The rehearsals are over and it’s time for the school choir performance.

Watch the clip: 1:22:54 – 1:28:30  The much anticipated school choir performance has arrived

There is a stark contrast between the joy that Ruby and the other pupils experience in sharing their performance, that great reaction from the audience, and the utter bewilderment and puzzlement of Ruby’s family. They can’t take part in what is going on and have to take their cues from the rest of the audience to know when to applaud. There is a particularly profound moment at 1:27:10 to 1:28:10 when the sound fades and shows what the family experiences – silence.

Q. Could more have been done to include Ruby’s family? How did that moment of silence make the young people feel? Did it change their view about Ruby’s family at all? How?

Watch the clip:  1:31:05 – 1:33:25  Ruby and her Dad

Ruby’s Dad, Frank

Ruby sings her song for her Dad, allowing him to touch her throat so that he could feel the vibrations of her vocal chords. The song is ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’ and includes the lines…

With my arms open wide,
I threw away my pride
I’ll sacrifice for you
Dedicate my life for you


I will go where you lead
Always there in time of need
And when I lose my will
You’ll be there to push me up the hill


Q.  What do the young people think is relevant about these words for Ruby and her Dad (and family) How sacrificial are they in their family and friendships? Do they always put their family and friends before themselves? Why/why not?

You could look at the following scriptures if you want to encourage the young people to see what the Bible says about this…

Bible verses:
Philippians 2:3-4
1 John 4:7-8
Romans 12:10
John 15:13

Berklee
Ruby’s family take the decision out of her hands and decide that she must go to Berklee.

Watch the clip: 1:33:28 – 1:34:45  Heading to the audition at Berklee

Q. What do the young people think has changed their minds? Why are they now ready to let Ruby go?

Ruby arrives with her family at Berklee for the audition.

Watch the clip: 1:36:01 – 1:43:07  Ruby’s audition

Ruby chooses to sing ‘Both Sides Now’ by Joni Mitchell, which includes the lines…

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions that I recall
I really don’t know love 
Really don’t know love at all


Mr V. is there to support her, and her family sneak in to watch. Ruby signs the words to the song for them as she sings; it’s beautiful.

Ruby signing for her family as she sings at her audition for Berklee

Q. What is the difference for Ruby’s family between this audition and the school choir performance? How were her family better included? How might this help the young people to think about how to include disabled people in what they are doing?

You could look at the following scriptures if you want to encourage the young people to see what the Bible says about this…

Bible verses:
John 13:34
Romans 15:7
Hebrews 10:24-25
1 Peter 3:8

Ruby is offered a place at Berklee, to the joy and delight of Mr. V and her family. There is a scene towards the end of the film where she is with Miles at the lake and they jump off a high cliff into the water.

Watch the clip: 1:43:10 – 1:44:07  Ruby and Miles take a leap of faith

Q. Is this symbolic of a ‘leap of faith’, jumping into the unknown and trusting that it will be OK? Have the young people ever taken a leap of faith? What happened? Was it OK?

Part 3:  Comparing the story
The third part of the session is a chance to compare the story of the film with a story in the Bible. What are the similarities and differences, and what does this tell us about God’s Kingdom?

Young people may not grasp all the theological points that could be made, but it’s important for them to begin to get used to the idea of critiquing what they see and holding it against the values and beliefs of the Christian faith.

Some of this reflection may come from an open discussion and as seen above, there are many themes and directions that this could take.

There are many Bible stories that the young people might be aware of around the themes that emerge from the film ‘CODA’: Being different, family, having to make tough choices, following their dreams/callings.

Mary is a good comparator here, making the choice to accept God’s will for her to be the mother of Jesus. Her husband, Joseph, is another one; accepting what Mary (and the angel) told him and choosing to bring up Jesus as his own son. Abraham had to make a terrible choice when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac, but he trusted in God and his trust was rewarded. Esther in choosing to stand up for her people also comes to mind, or Daniel and his friends choosing to stand up for their faith. What other Bible characters do the young people know that might be relevant comparators to Ruby’s story? How do the young people compare themselves to these Bible characters? What can they learn from them?

Mark

p.s. here’s a podcast I recorded about CODA and including children and young people with additional needs with Steven Mitchell at Reel Faith:
https://anchor.fm/reelfaithpod/episodes/S1-E14-CODA-e1givkd/a-a7makqb

See also:
Wonder – A Review And Study Plan
https://theadditionalneedsblogfather.com/2020/01/26/wonder/

The Walk That Made Me – A Review And Study Plan
https://theadditionalneedsblogfather.com/2021/08/18/the-walk-that-made-me/

All images and movie references © Apple. Blog text © Mark Arnold/The Additional Needs Blogfather

2 thoughts on “CODA – A Review And Study Plan

  1. Hi,
    May I request if I could get a good file of that painted image of Christ’s hand reaching out to the children. If it is allowed to use it in our school. I am from an International Catholic school in Taiwan. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

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