By the third session with the film the students will have some empathy with the two characters, Max and Kevin. I should explain that from the beginning of the film Max talks about “Freak”, but I always refer to Kevin as his mother would, with his real name. It’s only later that we come to understand why Max calls him Freak.
I begin the third session with the scene in which Kevin offers Max five dollars to take him to see the fireworks. We read the subtitles and briefly discuss the fact that Kevin knows no one else to ask. I point out that the boys are not friends. You don’t pay a friend to go somewhere with you. Max has no friends and Kevin has no friends.
Then we are at the fairgrounds and we continue reading the subtitles and discussing what we learn about Max and Kevin. Kevin’s mother is always worrying about him. Max’s mother is “in heaven”, so it becomes clear that she has died.
Then the boys run into Blade and his gang, and Blade calls them freaks. I explain to my French speaking students that “freak show” is “la foire aux monstres” in French, that it used to be a common circus attraction. I pause so that they can see how Max tries to ignore the gang, showing that he doesn’t want any problems. Then Kevin calls the gang “cretins”. I pause so that they can see how Max, who is supposedly not very bright, quickly manages to get Kevin to safety and why the gang cannot follow. This is a form of Movie Talk. We’re translating the subtitles, but we are also discussing the actions of the characters.
The fireworks scene is a high point of the film. I ask the students why Kevin is frustrated, why he can’t see. And then Max puts him on his shoulders, and the real story starts. Usually the students catch on to Kevin’s calling out the different names of the chemicals that produce the colors of the fireworks, but if they don’t I explain.
Then the boys meet the gang again and there’s an exciting chase scene during which Kevin becomes Max’s brain and Max becomes Kevin’s legs. It’s one of the best scenes in the film. If I’ve taken too much time before the chase begins, I stop when they see the gang and wait for the next class to continue. I want to be able to include the following scene when the police take the boys home and Grim tells Max, “I’m proud of you.” It’s an important scene and I’ve noticed that the word “proud” is often definitely, permanently acquired after viewing it.
When we have finished watching it and discussing it, I give them this Embedded Reading. You will see that the first reading has words in italics and the students are to choose which word fits the scene they saw in the film. (Now I borrowed this idea from someone who posted about it recently, but when I went back I couldn’t find where it came from. If you are the author, please contact me so I can credit you.) This simple exercise of having to choose one of three words gives some variety to the Embedded Reading, and also, I find, takes some of the focus off of the new words in the text. When students are thinking about something else, new vocabulary seems to glide painlessly into their minds. Since the new words are going to come up again in Reading II and III, they will seem familiar when we’ve finished. The third version is written in the first person. If your students are up to it, you could use the original chapter from the book, Freak the Mighty, as a fourth Embedded Reading. The readings I have used are derived from it.
After the fireworks, Max carried Kevin on his back/shoulders/head. Kevin was happy. He could see nothing/everything.
Then Kevin saw Blade/his mother/the police. He told Max to go left. There were more Doghouse Boys.
Then something funny happened. Kevin became Max’s stomach/heart/brain and Max became Kevin’s legs/mouth/arms. They ran away.
There was a train. Max ran/walked/jumped across the tracks. The train stopped Blade and his gang.
The fire/police/water stopped Max and Kevin. Blade and his gang were in front of/behind/next to them. Blade had a gun/knife/hamburger. Kevin said, “Go straight. Trust me.”
Max walked into the mud/street/snow. Blade was behind them with his knife. Max had mud up to his stomach/knees/mouth. He was stuck. But Blade could not walk in the mud. He went back.
The police/teacher/dancers came. The Doghouse Boys ran away.
Kevin and Max became like a knight of King Arthur.
After the fireworks, Max carried Kevin on his shoulders. They walked through the crowd. Kevin was happy. He was high and he could see everything. “This is better,” he said.
Suddenly Kevin saw Blade and some of the Doghouse Boys. He told Max to go the other way. There were more Doghouse Boys. Kevin told Max to go left, but there were other Doghouse boys on that side.
Then something funny happened. Kevin kicked Max and he went right. Kevin became Max’s brain and Max became Kevin’s legs. They ran away and the Doghouse Boys ran after them.
There was a train coming. Freak said, “Don’t worry.” Max ran across the tracks and the train stopped Blade and his gang.
But the pond stopped Max and Kevin. Blade and his gang were behind them. Blade had a knife. They could hear Blade laugh. Kevin said, “Go straight. Go straight ahead. Trust me.”
Max walked into the mud. There was mud up to his knees. He couldn’t move. Blade was behind them with his knife. Max was stuck. But Blade could not walk in the mud. It was too deep. He went back to the shore.
A police car came. The policemen arrested Blade and his gang. They took Kevin and Max home. Gwen told Gram and Grim that Max had saved Kevin’s life. Grim told Max that he was proud of him.
Kevin and Max became like a knight of King Arthur, walking high, killing dragons and saving maidens.
After the fireworks, I carried Freak on my shoulders. We were walking through the crowd. Freak was happy because he was high and he could see everything. “This is better,” he said. “I’m taller than everyone.”
Suddenly he saw Blade and some of the Doghouse Boys. Freak told me to go the other way. But there were other Doghouse Boys on that side. He told me to go left. Then I saw another Doghouse Boy. I didn’t like his grin.
Then something funny happened. Freak’s foot hit my side and I went right. He became my brain and I became his legs. I ran away and the Doghouse Boys ran after us.
There was a train coming, but Freak said, “Don’t worry. We can beat it.” I ran across the tracks and the train stopped Blade and his gang.
But then we were on the edge of the pond. Blade and his gang were behind us. Blade had a knife. I could hear Blade laugh. Freak said, “Go straight. Go straight ahead. Trust me.”
I walked into the mud. There was mud up to my knees. I couldn’t move. I was stuck in the mud. Blade was behind us with his knife. I took another step. Then I took another one. But the mud was too deep for Blade. He went back to the shore.
A police patrol car came along. The policemen arrested Blade and his gang. They took Freak and me home. Gwen told my grandparents that I had saved her boy’s life. My grandfather gave me a cup of coffee and he told me that he was proud of me.
That is how Freak and I became like one of King Arthur’s knights, walking high above the world, slaying dragons and rescuing fair maidens.