It’s hard to imagine a father’s fascination with dialectics — the philosophical art of determining truth through argument — influencing his son’s next film script, but Ryan Fleck can thank his dad for doing just that.
The director was preparing the screenplay for his new film Half Nelson with writing partner Anna Boden when his engineer father’s side project, a website called Dialecticsforkids.com, inspired the duo to add a new aspect to their main character, teacher Dan Dunne (The Notebook’s Ryan Gosling).
“We knew we were writing a movie about a teacher and a friendship with one of his students,” Fleck recalls during a recent phone interview. “I thought (dialectics) is really fascinating, let’s have this be a hobby of this guy and he thinks it’s a great tool for understanding change, but it’s something he’s really grappling with himself.”
And so Dan Dunne, a drug-addled teacher who befriends a student named Drey (Shareeka Epps) after she comes face-to-face with his addiction, became a dialectics enthusiast and Half Nelson took on new dimensions.
Fleck and Boden’s main inspiration for the plot came from classic 1970s films such as Midnight Cowboy and Harold And Maude. The two wanted to craft a tale of somewhat bizarre friendships, but needed a fresh angle.
“We were just fascinated by this guy who felt that he needed to do something and he takes a great first step in terms of teaching, that could be a great, constructive thing to do, but he feels it’s not enough and it drives him to these cycles of self-destruction.” Half Nelson opens in theatres today.