Silly Mr. Holland’s Opus question

I recently lucked into another showing of Mr. Holland’s Opus on cable.  That movie arguably changed my life and played a major role in my choice of career, but that’s a story for another day.

There’s one question that has always bothered me about that movie, though.  I thought I’d ask it here, even though the only result of doing so is likely to be just the opportunity to vent my frustration.  I’ve looked online for the answer and never found it.

** Spoiler alert **

At the end of the movie, when everyone comes back for the celebration in the auditorium, we see many of Mr. Holland’s former students.  The most prominent one is, of course, Gertrude Lang who he taught to “play the sunset” and eventually became governor.

My question is, whatever happened to Rowena?  There was foreshadowing about her all over the place.  She got on the bus to New York to become a singer.  Mr. Holland himself said that one day we’d all say we knew her when.

So what happened?  Did she make it?  Did she become successful?  Was she unavailable at the end because she was in a show somewhere?  Or did something dark and terrible happen to her?

I’ve always wanted to know.  If anyone here knows, please tell me.

About Ken Kousen
I teach software development training courses. I specialize in all areas of Java and XML, from EJB3 to web services to open source projects like Spring, Hibernate, Groovy, and Grails. Find me on Google+ I am the author of "Making Java Groovy", a Java / Groovy integration book published by Manning in the Fall of 2013, and "Gradle Recipes for Android", published by O'Reilly in 2015.

33 Responses to Silly Mr. Holland’s Opus question

  1. tom says:

    I am watching MHO right now and was wondering the same thing, so I googled the question.
    One of three things happened.

    1. Something dark or shaded at least. I don’t want to think about that scenario.

    2. She received the name of a friend of Mr. Holland. So, that lays the foundation for some type of communication. Some way for Mr. Holland to at least know if she “made it”. Maybe she did, but Mrs. Holland just didn’t want to invite her…

    3. Rowena, grew up and came to the conclusion that though she did “love” Mr. Holland, she had acted foolishly. She grew to look back at that little moment of her life as very embarrassing and therefor chose to forget it and not “return” to that time.
    Maybe she realized what a great man Mr. Holland truly was, because he did not take advantage of a wide eyed young lady.
    Even after she heard about the reunion, she could not bring herself to return.

  2. Ken Kousen says:

    I’m hoping there’s one other possibility. She’s the lead actress in a Broadway show and had a performance that evening. Or maybe she’s on a TV series, or doing a movie, or touring Europe, or something like that. She simply couldn’t get there that night.

    Maybe she went totally goth, spiked her nose, joined a screamo band that went double platinum, and she was on the way but arrived too late because they got lost.

    What an entrance that would have made. 🙂 I just wish they’d tied up that loose end.

  3. Charles Kafka says:

    that old movie came back on.
    i was wondering the same question.
    obviously, the author or authors wanted to leave that as a suspenseful open ending.
    like “which of the two doors did the one he walk through lead?”.
    Ive always hated those endings.
    I’m wondering of course what the authors had in mind?
    thats my next search to hunt them down 🙂

  4. Greg says:

    I think it was just an writing or editing blunder. They simply failed to close the loop, even if merely with a vague hint, at what happened to Rowena. It could have been done very easily and quickly–a note of regret at not being able to attend for some reason, such as a play or TV or movie commitment, couldn’t get off the burger joint shift, had to make a defense before the Supreme Court, kids had a game that nite; a copy of a playbill from her Broadway play that evening inserted in Holland’s sheet music; mention by the Governor. It’s a major hole, and I think it was just a screw up.

  5. Ken Kousen says:

    The fact that it would have been so easy to fix means that either the producers forgot, the answer was something very dark, or she stayed away because his wife told her to. Of course, there didn’t appear to be a vocal part in the American Symphony #1 anyway. I just hope it wasn’t the shame of appearing on American Idol. 🙂

  6. I like Tom’s 3rd suggestion, that she grew up and realized that returning would be, at best, an embarrassing and possibly painful distraction on Mr. Holland’s big day. I like to think she did make it big, but even if she did Mrs. Holland might not have known how to contact her. This question has always bothered me as well, but I think the fact that it was left unresolved is a plus–life is usually full of open endings….

  7. Ron says:

    She grew up, got married, then reminisced much like Glen Holland’s wife about once being in love with her music teacher. That was the clue in the beginning. I just closed the loop.

  8. Spartacus Jenkins says:

    When she auditioned, Mr Holland didn’t know who she was. Then Rowena talked about how she enjoyed his class. What gives?

  9. Shawn says:

    I think the entire point was sometimes you do everything you can for a student and they move on, even in a direction that you may think is a mistake, and you never quite know what happened with them. Frankly, that idea is much more poetic to me than if she had become a Broadway star. That’s my two cents anyway.

  10. Sam Kowalski says:

    It always bothered me that we never found out what happened to Rowena. All the possible outcomes suggested crossed my mind except her being embarrassed about seeing Holland again. There was too much respect that I cannot accept this suggestion.

    There was another even more distressing part of the film. Governor Lang comes back to honor Holland when he is forced into retirement and does nothing to make sure that funding for the arts in school is preserved. Her life changed because of confidence that she acquired because of Holland and music. She became a callous human being and I was disgusted by her character.

    Sam

  11. Ken Kousen says:

    Yikes. It never occurred to me that the Governor had the gall to show up but not bring in the tiny (to her) amount of funding necessary to restore the music program. I’ll never see that scene the same way again. Sigh.

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  13. Tom says:

    I hear you Ken and that would have been a nice touch to the end of the movie. In real life there are budgets, committees, boards and a whole range of services and obligations for which a state is obliged to pay. A Governor does not control the purse strings. In this light, the movie actually stayed closer to reality. Here’s to more happy endings and a happy new year!

  14. richard says:

    I was thinking about the same thing. But remember the gershwin song she sang?

    Perhaps the lyrics were what rowena wished her life would be. For someone to watch over her. And Mr. Holland has been watching over her in his own way even though not physically present but spiritually.

    does what I say make any sense? 🙂

  15. gm says:

    I figure she was a bit upset that her teacher would facilitate her leaving high school when she probably only had a matter of weeks left to graduate instead of giving her better advice.

  16. Fooly says:

    I think it’s meant to be left unanswered. He only really knew her for a month (average practice time for a highschool play), they profoundly changed each other’s lives, and then they grew apart. That’s a huge part of the human experience Sure she was in new york 15 years earlier (previous to lennon’s shooting in 1980) but that’s a long time. Remember in 1995 there wasn’t all this social networking, so the suggestion is she didn’t make it huge or she’d have been easy to find, but that’s no reason to think something horrible happened. She may have changed her name or got married and be singing in lounges in vegas or coffeeshops or off broadway.

  17. Meghan Hill says:

    I agree…Probably Iris did not want to invite her.

  18. JJ says:

    This is the best explanation I’ve seen for it (Rowena was a personification):

    http://en.allexperts.com/q/Questions-Movies-1416/2009/12/f/Mr-Holland-Opus-1.htm

  19. Ken Kousen says:

    I agree that’s a great explanation of what the character represented, but she was still a real character in the movie. The character would have been in her 40s at the retirement ceremony anyway. It’s still hard for me to believe she would miss it, assuming somebody let her know about it in the first place.

  20. Rowena says:

    I ran into some bad people upon arriving in NYC at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and became the victim of a homocide featured on a forgotten episode of Law and Order.

  21. Kathy says:

    Oh, I thought I saw the Rewena death on Cold Case

  22. Kathy says:

    Since it was about them playing Mr. Holland’s Opus and she did not play an instrument, there was no reason for her to be there.

  23. Tom says:

    I found her… She did make it big! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ce96WQThaU

  24. Vinny. says:

    I don’t think it had to do with Holland’s wife not inviting her, since I don’t see how she would have known about them. He didn’t seem to talk about it much outside of being with her. I still think she could have went even though she didn’t play an instrument. From what I understand, the whole auditorium was filled with his former students/Co workers. I hate to say it, but there is also a strong possibility she had gotten into drugs and died because of that, or just had herself in a place where she couldn’t attend. But I don’t really think she passed away since when the kid who played the drums (can’t remember his name) passed, Mr. Holland was notified and went to the funeral, so I’m guessing the same could have been done for her.
    Also about the Governor thing, when I first saw the movie, I thought she was actu ally there to say that she was saving the music program or something to that effect. It isn’t really fair to say she did nothing, because for sure we really don’t know. She is a governor after all, she could have tried to get laws passed to help schools in her state get funding for music and arts programs after she heard the news about it being cut, and things like that do take a while, so by the time the laws were passed and actually went into effect, Holland would most likely be on the verge of retirement anway.

  25. Mr Smith says:

    I’m work in education sometimes even the good students just move on and never look back. If she had made it big I think it would have been at least mentioned. Most people who try their luck in show biz don’t make it and just disappear.

  26. kevin burke says:

    OK so I see the last post here was in Dec. But I have to point out to Vinny you seemed to have missed that as soon as Iris sees on the program who this amazing singer is she knows that her husband lied to her about Rowenna’s Theme the new part of his symphony she then notices that Rowenna is singing directly to Mr Holland she stares at him without looking anywhere else throughout the song so much so it makes Mr. Holland nervous near the end he looks away. So Iris knew something was up and he was very frustrated at this point from having no time to himself to write his music and her look and lame excuse about getting Cole home by what 10pm on a Sat. Night she knew something was going on and was at least at little worried what might happen that night so when he comes home and at a what I have to assume is a reasonable hour kisses her goodnight saying I love you she says I know and leaves off you came home like I expected

  27. Rowena’s fate was left ambigous for cinematic reasons. Her role in the movie was to show how teachers have weaknesses as well as other human beings. Also to show how the role of educator and student can often be intimate (not saying sexual) and how teachers can see themselves in students. Wrapping up the story of Rowena with a bow would be fan service and just silly. My question is did she quit school or did thee event coincide with graduation.

  28. Sandra parez says:

    NYC was a tough around that time, so hopefully her life spiral out … But that was my assumption because she was not there.

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  31. Joe Hell Yeah says:

    Fictional character I found but yeah the same thing bothers me ! Not for long though.

  32. Characters are confusing

  33. Mr. Holland has talent

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