It may be an ill-judged search for a dead body in the woods or the hazy last day of school, it might come after a sudden, unavoidable tragedy or maybe it is the lightning bolt of love finding its mark for the first time but there is a defining moment when the world we know ends and a new one begins. The coming of age film is a staple of cinema, the rites of passage are an essential human experience, spanning centuries and cultures, inspiring directors from Truffaut to Spielberg, Bresson to Besson, and thousands of characters have stood on the cusp on adulthood. And jumped.
Whether the epiphany occurs at the bottom of a heap of drug-addled fellow teens, at the bitter end of a dead relationship or a lawnbound stargazing session keeping the dawn at bay the particular events of countless movies are there solely for that life-changing moment to happen. Characters who fill the frames before the credits roll are very different to those we welcomed as the titles faded a couple of hours previously. We, too, are changed. You don’t need to have plunged your favourite body parts into a warm apple pie to understand the tiny explosions of sexual shenanigans and revelations which formed the basis of The Weitz Brothers’ greatest hit. You don’t need to be a genius to understand why the absence of Will Hunting was so good.
Dozens of films which stand under the umbrella of ‘Coming of Age’ are released each year, and with wildly varied agendas. The young absurdity of Moonrise Kingdom is no less touching than Shaun’s tough ride through Thatcher’s Britain in This Is England. The suburban skies and cheap VHS thrills which inspired the Sons of Rambow are a million miles away from the scorching sands of Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout but the internal spark ignited by the changing worlds is the same. Sally El Hosaini’s debut film, My Brother the Devil, hinged on the collision of the insular world of young adulthood and the bright, open future beyond. One brother watches as the other changes beyond recognition knowing that his own choices will soon have to be made, just as we watch our movie brothers and sisters master the shifting sands of their lives we know that moment will come for us too.
We may experience a hundred such shifts in our cinematic worlds before our own personal one catches up. Much of the joy of watching The Goonies as a kid is in watching our on-screen peers face, falter and then overcome their challenges, so far distant from our own untroubled worlds, and yet accessible enough that we celebrate with them come journey’s end. Likewise when we are older we can recall the indistinct fears and the frustrating naivety of our younger selves, knowing that when the revolution came we made it through and knew ourselves all the better for it.
To celebrate the home entertainment release of 21 and Over on Monday the 9th of September we’ve gathered five of the best coming of age tales as experienced on the big screen.
Peter Weir’s film may stray too close into Mawkish country for some but at its heart is the strength, power and beauty of the written word and how the individual worlds become transformed by new ideas. If you’re with it at the end the closing scene is a fine reward.
Robert Bresson’s bleak 1967 film has one bright shining star in amongst the misery – Nadine Nortier. Her sullen resentment and downtrodden vigour convey the internal struggle of adolescence perfectly while Bresson throws her through the myriad external pressures. It’s a tough watch and the oppressive tone may distance some viewers but it’s a masterpiece of evocative filmmaking, right to the very last moments.
It’s hard to avoid this film here given the championing of it above. This scene in particular is the pivot on which the whole film rests and brings a rare moment of tenderness and honesty, giving voice to the one thing which unites them all.
It may be Guillermo del Toro’s most accomplished cinematic fairy tale and Ofelia, like Mouchette, is the calm centre of a dark storm. While the world outside crumbles her wander through the fantasy of the labyrinth is a beautiful evocation of the danger and the darkness and the riches beyond.
The Dardennes have spoken of their desire to tell the story of the avoidance of the grim destiny of the orphan boy who is growing up in the shadow of his abandonment, and here they conjured a masterful story of a boy at odds with the world. The balance of the opposing forces of good and evil at work on Cyril are each given their moment but despite the shades of fairy tale the film is never obvious, nor is it anything less than completely spellbinding.
From the writers of The Hangover, college comedy 21 AND OVER is out on Blu-ray and DVD from September 9, courtesy of Entertainment One.