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Film Analysis: Yesterday 1

Learning Project: Film Analysis of "Yesterday"

Oluremilekun Ojo EADU 7020 ­ DR. Robert Hill

Film Analysis: Yesterday 2


This is an analysis of a film called `Yesterday.' Yesterday is a Zulu foreign language film set in South Africa in a village called Rooihoek. The paper explores and reflects on the learning and interactions that take place within the film. There is an exploration of its main characters, including the central female character, Yesterday, for whom the film was named. A deliberate attempt is made to relate and connect what the characters learned to the topics discussed in the course required texts (Merriam, 2001 and Mackeracher, 2004). There is also a review from an audience perspective about the learning that occurred in this emotionally charged film. One of the significant discoveries is the idea that the context setting for the film influenced the types of learning and interactions that took place. The films' overall tone relates more towards motivational learning. Despite having contracted the HIV virus, Yesterday is determined to endure long enough to see her daughter commence her formal education in a school environment.

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Learning Project: Film Analysis of "Yesterday"


For this learning project, I am going to employ the use of a movie analysis to explore my perceptions on adult learning and instructional development so far. The required course texts by Mackeracher (2004) and Merriam (2001) will serve as my literary guide. Although I was presented with different application options for this project, it is interesting to me that I gravitated towards film analysis without too much perplexity. I hesitate to read too much meaning into this because it might initially lead more into a discussion about my own learning preferences rather than the learning that takes place within the film. I am not too sure that both issues are not somehow related, this angle is however not on our menu for this paper. At this juncture it is of some importance to give an explanation of my choice of film. I'm not sure that I have enough experience in the field of adult learning to fully articulate every reason why I chose this film. It does tie however into some of what Hillman would refer to as the "imaginal method" (as cited in Merriam, 2001, p.68). I am drawn to this film which I have seen before because I feel a connection to it as an African, a woman and a mother. This film taught me and took me out on a journey somewhere I had never been yet I could relate to it was "a deep emotional and spiritual connection" (Merriam, 2001 p. 69). This paper will attempt to analyze and explore how learning is facilitated in the film and the role of the environment in the learning. It will delve into details on four individual characters and a group of characters within the film. It will describe the learning that takes place from their perspectives and it will also explore the learning that takes place from the perspective of an audience watching events in the film from the outside. The film ­ Yesterday is an HBO film in association with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. It is written and directed by Darrell James Roodt and originally aired in 2004. It is subtitled in English and is a Zulu foreign language feature film. Yesterday is about a woman and how she discovers that she has contracted the HIV virus. It shows us a snippet of her life before and after the fact. It is about her decisions and her relationships.

Film Analysis: Yesterday 4

Learning and Interactions

The context of this film is vital to the learning that goes on within and outside it. Wilson states: Learning is an everyday event that is social in nature because it occurs with other people it is `tool dependent' because the setting provides mechanisms (computers, maps, measuring cups) that aid, and more important, structure the cognitive process and finally, it is the interaction with the setting itself in relation to its social and tool dependent nature that determines the learning (as cited in Merriam, 2001, p. 44). The visible contexts for the film feature seasonal, and cultural environmental settings. The setting is in South Africa and for the most part the learning is in a village called Rooihoek. The film is divided into seasons and it starts in the summer and ends the following summer. This section will analyze the learning and interactions that take place in the film context, from the perspective of the main characters Yesterday, the teacher, John Khumalo, the doctor and the villagers. Each learning and interactions analysis will be in sequence with the films' storyline.


The film is centered on Yesterday, a middleaged lady with a young daughter. As is probable in all film plot/ storyline, she learns and facilitates learning in different sections. Yesterday is a villager in the film she is an ordinary lady with no special attributes. She is trying to find out what is wrong with her. She is ill. She travels to the subject matter expert ­ Doctor to learn what is wrong and presumably get treatment. Whatever it is that is wrong with her she doesn't feel that she has enough knowledge to understand it and cure it. This type of inquiry and learning can be categorized using Bates Reese, and Lipsitts' learning and development factor called "life events" (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p. 26). Whilst interacting with her daughter (Beauty) she is the primary source of learning for her daughter. The daughter is extremely inquisitive and the mother ­

Film Analysis: Yesterday 5 Yesterday is her source of reference, her facilitator and teacher. In this type of learning interaction, Yesterday is using Anthony Grashas' "expert style" of teaching (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p. 225). This type of teaching can also be classified using Dan Pratts' "nurturing perspective" (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p. 225). Yesterday acknowledges that she learns at the watering hole in the village. It is where women keep up with the village events and learn about other issues. It would clearly relate more to Toughs' "informal learning" (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p. 24). According to Merriam (2001), this "informal or incidental learning generally take place without much external facilitation or structure" (p. 30). At the watering hole, there are no clear numbers of learning participants at any point in time. What is learned there is dependent entirely on the topic of discussion or the current village events for that moment. The watering hole is one of the main points for interaction with other village members. It is one of the communal areas where the primary intent is a daily chore but its significance is much deeper for practically all the villagers. It is akin to what Wilson describes as "situated learning" which we are told "is always social or relational because it occurs with other people" (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p. 201). Learning in this environmental context can also be likened to Lave and Wengers' "communities of practice" (as cited in Merriam, 2001, p. 48). Yesterday is determined to plant seeds even though she is clearly ill, coughing incessantly. This Tough identified "self directed learning project" (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p. 24) is possibly due to the fact that she feels a sense of responsibility since she is at most times the only adult at home. There is also the factor of the vegetation being the main source of food for herself and her daughter. An additional point could be the seasonal factor that planting season occurs at particular times whatever issues at stake, she is determined to plant the seeds. Yesterday interacts with her surrounding environment. She has learned when to plant the seeds, to get her desired results. Yesterday has bonds with the villagers and she bonded quickly with the newly assigned village teacher. It is a bond that enables her play both facilitator and learner at different scenarios in the film. Yesterday facilitates the teachers' entry into the village circle she is a resource for the new teacher. She engages the teacher in "informal

Film Analysis: Yesterday 6 mentoring" (Merriam, 2001, p. 49) and support to assist the teacher with her adjustment to living with other villagers and in the village. Yesterday knows from whom she wants to get her information. She is shown in consultation with the village herbal doctor (Sangoma) but is extremely cautious of her diagnosis of anger. This scene depicts "the exploration phase" described by Gavin and Taylor (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p.66). Yesterday interacted with the Sangoma "to identify relevant information and find alternative solutions" but she is unconvinced once she has "withdrawn." (Mackeracher, 2004, p. 66) Yesterday is frugal, she economizes her money and she cannot fathom why she will need to take a taxi to go and see a doctor that is more than two hours (walk) away. This aspect factor could be associate to Maslow's described "deficit needs" (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p. 132). When Yesterday eventually sees the medical doctor, she is also wary of the blood test and has to be reassured and relaxed before the process is completed. Here we identify Yesterday as a learner that is not comfortable in the learning situation. She is unable to read and write. She is uneducated she doesn't understand anything but her Zulu language. Yesterday eventually gets comfortable in her interactions with the medical doctor, as she is made safe in the environment. She is responsive to inquiries made from her and she is also inquisitive. She is an eager learner and who has "learning needs related to current life situations" (Mackeracher, 2004, p. 27) Once Yesterdays' HIV infection is confirmed, her disposition changes, she is not too forthcoming to all the other people she interacts with. She plans a trip to the city. According to Toughs' adult classification we can express that Yesterday plans "a wide variety of learning activities in response to" her "daily needs and problems" (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p.25). She takes charge of her learning. She completes her project to inform her husband and she returns back to the village. On the way back to the village bruised and battered, Yesterday is reflective of the way things were earlier on in her marriage, her information comes from her "episodic memory" (Mackeracher, 2004, p. 107). This is a way for her to accept the new situation she finds herself she finds some way to associate her present and past. Here Yesterdays' "learning and memory are

Film Analysis: Yesterday 7 context driven" (Merriam, 2001, p. 75). It also confirms Mackerachers' (2004) statement that "most adults start new learning experiences under some stress and arousal" (p. 126). Further on, we confront a physically weaker Yesterday who is very much mentally in charge of her learning. She is undaunted by her predicament and very much active in her role in the family and within the village. She still participates in her communal duties. She is quiet in the midst of seeming ruin. Her colleagues do not make day to day activities comfortable for her. They are incessant in their queries about her husbands' return. She is careful, withdrawn, and not overly responsive to her colleagues. Yesterday's spirit is infallible she is seemingly unable to hold a grudge against her village antagonists and her husband. She has a motivational factor which she discloses only to her physician. She is determined to see her daughter go to school before she dies. The motivation supersedes all other issues. In her mind she has control over the spread of the disease until her daughter is in school. Yesterdays' motivation is better described by Jones as "a tendency to function autonomously or independently in the environment, and a tendency to function harmoniously in interdependent relationships with others in pairs or groups" (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p.133) Yesterday learns to mask her pain and infection from everyone but alone she succumbs to grief. She is overwhelmed. The only person she is able to confide in is the new village teacher and this is only after she is quizzed about her husband. Yesterday is wary to share her infection and her husband's status because of what she has heard happened in other villages. It is probably from one of the village stories that Yesterday learnt what happened to the woman in Bergville who contracted the HIV virus and was killed. The past experiences of others have become a negative learning experience for her. Once she confides in the teacher, Yesterday makes her new decisions. This fits with Taylor's assumption that "such anxiety can be partially addressed by naming the fear or perceived danger, thus making it `real' and less threatening" (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p.125). Yesterday decides to build a new shanty hut outside the village. She enlists the help of passerby migrant workers. She cares for her husband till the end. She buries him and tends to his grave. She feels a deep connection to him and chooses to focus only on the good aspects.

Film Analysis: Yesterday 8 In the final screen shot of Yesterday, she sees her daughter start school and waves and smiles before walking away. Her learning is complete. She accomplishes her set goal and objective, to see her child start school, and have access to the formal education she didn't have.

Village Teacher

The teacher meets Yesterday at the beginning of the film while out job searching with her colleague. Yesterday gives her directions to the village. This type of learning and interaction is similar to making an inquiry from a subject matter expert. The teacher learns about the village life from Yesterday. She is mentored by Yesterday. The teacher maintains a relationship with her mentor. The mentoring process is reciprocated because the teacher at one point speculates that maybe Yesterday has diabetes. The teacher has to explain this diagnosis to Yesterday. This interaction and learning from this teacher's perspective in a new town has its own motives. Mackeracher (2004) states that "interdependent behaviors can benefit the individual by providing a secure base from which to launch autonomous behaviors" (p.133). The teacher is also a source of support for Yesterday when she needs to go to the hospital and when she needs to collect her results. She is a source of support when Yesterday needs to go to the city. She is a comfort to Beauty Yesterday's daughter. The teacher is respectful of Yesterday's privacy and pride and perceptive to Yesterday's needs. She facilitates some of Yesterday's learning and is always displaying qualities of a good facilitator. The teacher is sensitive to Yesterday's plight and pride and has empathy for her. She is not overly curious when Yesterday refuses to give any information about her visit to the city (Johannesburg). The teacher fits Mackerachers' (2004) description of what a good facilitator is "Good facilitators are aware of signs signifying downshifting and take time to help the learner deal with the associated distress." (p. 103). The teacher refuses to let other peoples' information or gossip sway her about Yesterday. She is direct and comes directly to approach Yesterday for what the update is. The teacher is physically supportive of Yesterday's needs once the teacher learns of Yesterdays' HIV infection, the teacher has empathy and tries to educate the villagers. She volunteers to adopt Beauty whenever the end is for Yesterday.

Film Analysis: Yesterday 9 The interactions and learning between the teacher and Yesterday take the form of Tannen's "rapport talk" (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p. 185).

The husband ­ John Khumalo

Yesterday's husband, John Khumalo is a hardworking individual. He works in the mines at Johannesburg. He doesn't have a set schedule of when he comes back to the village. He may be there once a month or after some months. When introduced in the film, he is cautious of his wife's visit to the city. He thinks automatically that it must be about their child or about money. His thinking is routine, he has a set pattern. As a learner, he either believes he already knows or he is unwilling to learn. Once John discovers Yesterdays' reason for visiting him, he is violent towards her. He beats her up. He is unable to reconcile with the truth. It is not within his reasoning. In "Taylor's learning cycle" John encountered a "disconfirming event" and he "is thrown into a disorientation phase" (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p. 64). When the husband returns to the village with full blown AIDS he tells his wife, how the manifestation of his symptoms' and eventually the evaluation by a physician forced him to accept the truth. Mackeracher (2004) states "conflicts that cannot be resolved will be integrated into existing knowledge only very slowly, if at all (p. 38). In John's case if he had not been forced due to his symptoms to get a diagnosis from a physician, he would never have accepted that he had the HIV virus. John's character uses a lot of "narratives" (Mackeracher, 2004, p. 184)once he arrives back in the village. Mackeracher (2004) believes that "narratives about one's self provide images that can be contemplated to bring greater meaning and coherence to one's sense of self" (p. 184). John does not interact with the villagers. His disease progresses fast and he becomes repentant and reflective as he faces death. He focuses more on the past and doesn't let himself learn anything new. He dies delusional and euphoric.

The Doctor

The doctor is a subject matter expert, she uses the tools of deduction that are available to make Yesterday's diagnosis. In her interactions with her patient ­ Yesterday

Film Analysis: Yesterday 10 ­ the doctor facilitates learning. She forms a relationship with her patient in an attempt to make the learning experience a safe one for the learner. She speaks the local Zulu language and is quite perceptive of her patient's circumstances. Once Yesterday is unable to complete a consent form for a blood test because she cannot read or write, the doctor is quick to change the mode of consent and delivery to oral consent. The doctor relaxes her patient for the blood test. The doctor monitors the progress of her patient as time goes on. She uses medication, resources and counseling to assist her patient. The doctors' character is talented and knowledgeable, as Merriam (2001) states knowledge is an expression of power (p. 59). She uses the "directing strategy" (Mackeracher, 2004, p. 207) at the initial interactions with Yesterday. As the doctor monitors Yesterday's progress, her facilitator style changes more towards a "collaborating strategy" (Mackeracher, 2004, p. 209).

The villagers

The villagers are a source of learning. They form a kind of collaborative structure where they are able to learn from one another. It is an informal learning center and one never knows what will be learnt at any point in time. There are different facilitators at different points in time and most of the learning takes place using stories of what has happened to others. According to Mackeracher (2004) "Narratives are used frequently by individuals who are novices in an area of study" (p. 111). Another way to phrase these village interactions and learning is given by Mclellan who states that "telling stories as a type of `expert system' for storing linking, and readily accessing information whenever a new situation calls for it" (as cited in Mackeracher, 2004, p. 202). The villagers form a kind of power structure within the village. This would be what Mackeracher, 2004 classifies as "power relationships" which are "from a "social structuralist perspective" (p. 196). The herbal doctor ­ the Sangoma is a part of the village learning cycle. She is seen as the local diviner with the power to understand, counsel, and cure whatever ailments the villagers confide in her. She is a powerful "voice" (Mackeracher, 2004, p. 196) in the village learning cycle. The villagers start off as friends, neighbors, sisters

Film Analysis: Yesterday 11 within the same community, they end up as antagonists and anxious to create a distance between themselves and Yesterday's family.

My own learning and reflections

The focus of this paper till now has been based on my perspective of how each film character interacts and learns within the film context. It has been about my personal perception of each character or group from the images projected on the screen. Other viewers may agree or disagree but I'm sure that any other focus on learning and interactions would definitely be different from mine. That notwithstanding my discussion so far has been from inside the film. This final section focuses more on my take of the film from an audience perspective (from an observer looking in). From the outside watching this film, I see beyond the main story presented. I come away with my own personal learning caused by what Mackeracher (2004), would classify as "stimulation or arousal" (p. 130). In the film, I am struck by the living conditions in the presumably fictional village. I am awed by the lack of infrastructure such as roads, water and communication (telephone) health care facilities, schools and employment. Not that such lack of infrastructure is unusual in African villages but South Africa is ranked among the developed countries. This film leads me to believe that the disparity amongst those living in the city and the majority living in the townships and villages must be huge. Another issue that resonated with me about the village was the fact that the village was predominantly occupied by women. All the men had to go and work in the city and only came home once in a while to see their families. All of these notables highlight to me, the viewer, some of the racial, cultural and class disparity that has been created by the apartheid era in South Africa. It is my belief that there are lots of intentional contrasts in the film. One of the contrasts was between the village and the city of Johannesburg. There is also some kind of comparison between the two physicians (local natural physician and the medical physician). There was also a fact that the diagnosis from both physicians had some kind of relevance to the film.

Film Analysis: Yesterday 12 Yesterday the film is an emotional drama, although it doesn't have the usual effects that frequently come with big budget films. It is a simple story that somehow resonates with me personally. It strikes a chord on many levels as I have already described earlier. The film is set in a vast area of land that seemingly exists in its own time and with its own code of ethics. Throughout the film, Yesterday ­ the lead character comes across as an indomitable character. Her sense of responsibility and duty is overwhelming. She is strong in the face of adversity of disease and abandonment by peers and community. Mackeracher's (2004) description of self direction truly summarizes Yesterday the person Self direction as a personality characteristic or trait involves such activities as conceiving goals and plans exercising freedom of choice using critical reflection using will power to follow through assessing plans, choices, and outcomes exercising selfdiscipline and carrying out these activities without having to depend on others for encouragement and reassurance. (p. 49) All these traits are visible in Yesterday's character in one form or another it is what reverberates throughout the film. The films' final tone is hopeful for a better tomorrow.

Film Analysis: Yesterday 13


Merriam, S. B. (Ed.). (2001, Spring). The new update on adult learning theory. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Number 89. San Francisco: JosseyBass. (ISBN 0787957739)

Mackeracher, D. (2004). Making sense of adult learning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. (ISBN 080203778X)


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