Mr Holland`s Opus



In 1995, a beautiful film made its way to the cinema. “Mr Holland’s Opus”, a heartfelt drama that chronicled the life of a music teacher and frustrated composer, starred Richard Dreyfuss in the titular role as Glenn Holland. Directed by Stephen Herek, the film examines themes such as passion and sacrifice. It also looks at the transformative power of education and the realisation that while teachers dedicate their lives to their pupils, the pupils can give something back that’s just as valuable.

Plot Summary

We join the story in the 1960s and observe Glenn Holland taking a job as a high school music teacher. His reluctance in the role is clear through his language and actions. However, over the decades, we see his influences grow as the once disillusioned educator becomes a beloved mentor to his students. The film recounts Holland’s challenges through life, including the struggle to connect to a deaf son but ultimately he finds his true calling. The culmination of the film is an emotional finale of Hollands past students gathering to perform his finally completed ‘American Symphony.’


Of all the sublime performances in this movie, the standout is Richard Dreyfuss. Known for his body of acting including Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this role is something different. His portrayal of Glenn Holland from frustrated composer through to fulfilment in life is a stunning evolution. The nuances and empathy that Dreyfuss applies to his performance make Glenn Holland relatable.

Richard Dreyfuss as Glenn Holland with Alicia Witt

The supporting cast of the late Glenne Headly as Holland’s wife Iris, as well as Olympia Dukakis and William H. Macy as Principal and Vice Principal uphold their roles well. However, there should be special mention for Alicia Witt as the young Gertrude Lang. Her vulnerabilities were portrayed well and resonated with everyone who has ever picked up a musical instrument.

The other cast members that were particularly exceptional were Nicholas John Renner, Joseph Anderson and Anthony Natale, the three gentleman that played Cole (Holland`s son) at varying ages. Their performances were exquisite in portraying the issues of deafness and the frustrations that this can bring to a family.


“Mr Holland’s Opus” is a triumph of the world’s educational unsung heroes. Teachers often have a profound effect on students lives. That passion and effect can often be unrecognised by the student until later on in life. I’ve heard the saying ‘school is the best years of your life’ and I wonder how many of you reading this are thinking of a special teacher, I know I am.

A prevalent theme in the film is sacrifice. The balance of personal commitments versus a job in education nurturing young minds is often a tricky one. But it is one that is seen clearly in the journey of Glenn Holland. Hollands journey is a testament to the ideas that success and fulfilment that can come from many forms. Those forms are not just achievements, whether they be personal or professional; they are also in the lives that we touch along the way.


The emotional draw of this film is through not only the plot, but also the music. Music is central to the film and is its beating heart. Michael Kamen`s sublime score combines with classical and contemporary pieces. These combinations underscore the highs and lows of the film. The perfect example of this is the titular ‘Opus’ which is the metaphor of Hollands lifetime of work and his dream. In this film, we also witness another of Glenn Holland’s masterpieces: his students. They are the true centrepiece of the story, embodying the lasting impact of his dedication and passion.

Cinematography and Direction

Stephen Hereks direction is simple and straightforward. It is that simplicity of direction which allows the focus of the film to remain centralised on the storytelling and development of the characters. The cinematography captures the passage of time gracefully, reflecting the changes in society and in Holland’s life. The film’s pacing allows for a deep connection with the characters, drawing the audience into their struggles and triumphs.


“Mr. Holland’s Opus” is an underrated classic film. It constantly surprises me how many people have never heard of it.  “Opus” is a tribute not only to educators of the world but also to the enduring power of music. It’s a film that resonates with anyone who has ever been inspired by a teacher or has found solace in the arts. With its strong performances, compelling story, and emotional resonance, it remains a beloved classic that celebrates the beauty of teaching and the legacy left by those who dedicate their lives to others.