Thursday, May 21, 2020

Review: The Last Stop

Release date: April 19, 2017 (U.S. Digital Release May 18, 2020)
Running time: 111 minutes

The Last Stop looks at the controversial Elan School, which was a last stop for many children.  Set deep in the woods of Maine, Elan delivered unconventional therapy to troubled teens.  However, as the documentary shows, some of these teens were troubled, some just came from extremely conservative families, and others weren't getting the kind of therapy they needed to succeed.  The Elan School itself was a meat grinder of raw emotion and harsh discipline, with controversial methods that some said caused permanent change and others say caused permanent physical and emotional scars.  

The documentary is mostly told with recollections and recountings by former Elan students.  These testimonials are powerful, and the film does a great job of finding a diverse set of former students to share their experiences.  The students describe some pretty horrific and controversial teaching methods, from a gauntlet of verbal abuse, to bizarre punishments, to a "ring" where the negative emotions were literally beaten out of the students.  It is such a bizarre method of teaching you would think that this was from many years earlier, but the Elan School closed in 2011.  The former students recount their experiences and also what brought them to the Elan School.  And their experiences show that there was no one path to get there.  Each student seemed to have a different avenue to the school, and also mixed results when arriving there.

This documentary is powerful and provides some disturbing methods.  But one thing that was surprising is that despite these horrific teaching methods, the documentary stays balanced.  It gets recollections from both students and teachers who thought that these controversial methods were ultimately productive.  Some students thought you had to get broken down before you could address the problems.  And there were many many other students who thought that the toll that Elan took on their lives was not worth it.  The sheer number of testimonials and the diversity of those individuals was refreshing to see.  From older students to younger students, to those who left the school and went back to their bad habits, and those who changed for good because of it, the film has a wide array of viewpoints.  The pacing of this documentary is slow, but it provides a lot of information and testimony.  It also does a good job of adding new information and experiences that build on what you have already learned.  And although some information about Elan's founder was included, I would have liked to hear some more about this controversial man who started these schools.

The Last Stop is an emotional roller coaster that takes a surprisingly balanced look at the controversial and horrific methods of a school that might have caused more harm than good. 

Rent it.
For additional information about the film and to rent / buy it, check it out here.

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