Making the Grades
Somewhere between life and death is a world known as The Dust Factory. Ryan Flynn (Ryan Kelly) finds himself in this magical place after a rotting board on a rickety bridge fails to prevent him from falling into the water below.
At first his surroundings look a lot like home. Still, there are some differences. To begin with, there are not many other inhabitants. Also, he can talk - something he hasn't been able to do since he witnessed his father being killed by a train a few years earlier. Even more amazing, so can his Grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who happens to be there too. The elderly man has been stricken with Alzheimer's and unable to communicate for as long as Ryan can remember.
Perplexed by the situation, the young boy asks the obvious question, "Am I dead?" Although assured he is not, Grandpa leaves further answers up to Melody (Hayden Panettiere). Roughly the same age as Ryan, the pretty blonde happily takes her new chum to a mysterious circus tent. Inside, a group resembling nightclub clientele gathers around the center ring. High above their heads a trapeze artist swings out to catch the person poised to jump from the opposite platform. In whispers, Melody explains those who make the leap successfully move on, while those who fail to catch the outstretched hands go back.
There seems to be little logic in what Ryan sees, but this much he knows for sure. Falling to the floor and vanishing into a puff of dust has got to hurt. Consequently, he has little interest in attempting the feat himself. Nor has Melody or Grandpa. However, as he continues in the idealistic realm of perpetual sunshine, he begins to wonder why he is there and what purpose this existence serves. He also senses the nightmarish Ring Master (George De La Pena), who often interrupts his dream-like pastimes, is trying to force all of them to stop dawdling and decide if they are coming or going.
For young viewers, some of the film's fanciful images may prove frightening. These include a brief reenactment of the accident that claimed the life of Ryan's father (the crash is implied more that shown), some freaky-looking clowns, and scenes where characters are being pulled into a dark hole by long, black tentacles. Other content concerns may be a few profanities, a couple of kisses, some superstitious sentiments, the showing of a deceased woman in a casket during a funeral, and the removal of a fishhook from a boy's backside.
Given its premise, I expected The Dust Factory to be a thought-provoking look at life. And it tries to be. Yet no matter how perfectly Armin Mueller-Stahl plays his part as the wise mentor, the script lacks substance equal to the deep philosophical quandaries it introduces. Messages about not fearing pain, and finding paradise in hard work remain hazy, even after the dust has cleared.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Dust Factory.
Why does Grandpa tell Ryan the tale of the Fair Footed Flick? How does the moral of the story cause the young boy to reassess his definition of paradise?
Why was Grandpa reluctant to leave the Dust Factory? Why was Melody dawdling there? What helped each of them decide to move on?
Home Video Viewing Alternatives
Here are some ideas for home video titles that are related to The Dust Factory.
Armin Mueller-Stahl plays the role of another grandfather who is a close companion of his grandson in the movie Avalon. The purpose and meaning of life is the central theme of The Five People You Meet in Heaven.