Tuesday 25 February 2014

Motifs in Cinema 2013- "Coming of Age"

       I chose the motif of "Coming of Age" for Andrew’s Motifs in Cinema blogathon for a number of reasons: 1) It’s one of my favourite sub-genre of movies, in any year, 2) this year had a really interesting crop of these kind of movies, 3) the other motifs were harder and so on. The biggest reason why I chose it though is because, and I know how profoundly douchebag-y this is probably going to sound, I came of age in 2013. It wasn't after some major traumatic event in my life; it was a truly random moment, the kind I have had thousands of times before, and a thought suddenly came to my mind and I understood what it meant and that was it.

         Don't worry though, I have no intention of going all philosophical on you. I am not going to write about that thought because I feel it’s different for everyone, much like the movies that I have chosen.

      I have a list because I like lists :)

Honourable mentions: The Kings of Summer and The Way, Way Back, both of which were a lot of fun, but they were more stereotypically “coming of age” and I wanted to pick some more unusual films.


There has been a lot said about the visuals, acting, Hitchcockian influences, Matthew Goode's oozing sexiness etc. in Park Chan-Wook's Stoker, but ultimately the movie is a "coming of age" tale where India Stoker, played to icy perfection by Mia Wasikowska, comes to a conclusion about her dangerous true self and how embracing it is the only way for her. The film opens with her whispery proclamation, "Just as a flower does not choose its colour, we are not responsible for what we have come to be. Only when you realise this do you become free. And to become adult is to become free." Though that may seem almost too in-your-face, the events that lead up to that declaration just validate it even more. One of the things that come with growing up is the understanding of who you are, which in India's case is *SPOILERS* that she's inherently a psychopathic murderer *END SPOILERS* but you know, at least she's happy being who she is. Right? :/


Immediately after I saw Jeff Nichols' Mud for the first time, one of my professors started her lectures on James Joyce's short story 'Araby'. It was impossible to read the latter without thinking about the former. Both of them are about young adolescent boys who have a romanticized notion of the world and then have to come to terms with reality. Tye Sheridan's Ellis is someone who has such faith in the idea of true love and how it never ends, even in the face of real danger, that the bitterest cynics cannot question his innocent belief. We all know that that moment is coming when his trust will be broken and when it does, it is nothing short of shattering: partly because of the script and the way it is handled, partly because of Sheridan's prodigious ability to show so much pain so sincerely, and partly because I think we have all felt that way at some point in our lives- when the fairytale ends and what is left is much stranger and sadder. It is a cruel realisation that is an element of growing up.

Spring Breakers

Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers is a great many things, one of which is the "coming of age" of our young heroines. The film starts with the starlets, who play college students, bored with their monotonous life, one which is shot in dull, hospital-like colours. They dream of an escape, the ultimate escape- spring break, and are ready to do anything for it. The spring break is in contrast painted with vivid hues, as though it is life itself for the girls, but of course it is not real. When they get arrested and subsequently "saved" by a gangster named Alien (James Franco's best performance to date), this limitless dream world comes to an end, even if all of them don't realise it. Two stay and two leave, but all of them are changed through their experiences. For Selena Gomez's Faith, the spring break reaffirms her, well, faith and for Rachel Corine's Cotty, it literally wounds her and she has to learn from her mistakes. As for Ashley Benson's Brittany and Vanessa Hudgens' Candy, though they proclaim their slogan "Spring break forever bitches" till the end, they have perhaps come the longest way, accepting their inner criminal, darker selves, much like India above. Spring break may well last forever, but do you stay the same person throughout it?

The To Do List

One of the reasons this is an odd year for films with the "coming of age" theme running through them is because they have focused more on girls. Usually, such movies are about a boy's journey into manhood and that is accompanied by sexual discoveries. In Maggie Carrey's The To Do List, these gender roles are reversed. The ambitious and determined Brandy Klark, played by Aubrey Plaza, wants to be completely sexually proficient before she starts college and so she makes a to-do list, full of various sexual acts and embarks upon achieving all of them during her summer break. Even though the film was uneven as hell, it tackled issues like virginity and female sexuality with a frankness that I have rarely seen before. Much of this is thanks to Plaza's natural deadpan style that is both funny and nonchalant. The "coming of age" element comes when amidst all her sex-capades, Brandy realises that while sex is important, there are more essential things in life that one cannot do without. Sexual maturity is almost always thought if in relation to actual maturity and it was refreshing to see a girl's handled so well.

Frances Ha

All the other movies in my list so far have revolved around teenage characters because ideally, that's when we are supposed to "come into our own" and "become the person we are supposed to be". Frances Ha however shows a 27 year old, "which IS old" as one of her roommates reminds her, as adrift in her life as she is when it comes to finding living arrangements. It was impossible not to connect with Frances, never more than when she says "I am not a real person yet." She is shown as almost regressing in her life in the movie, going from someone with a dream to someone who has to make-do with living in her old college. This is because she is constantly finding someone to hold on to since her previous anchor, her best friend Sophie, has moved on in her own life. Of course, Frances realises that the only person she really needs is herself and the film shows this subtly and beautifully. It is the kind of phase a lot of people go through, especially in this day and age when we are constantly told that anything can be achieved, but life, obviously, has other plans. The way by which we cope with this truth is what helps us to become the person we are supposed to be. 

The World’s End

In contrast to these "coming of age" movies, there are some which show the failure in crossing this threshold of maturity. 2013 gave us the king of all man-children- Gary King. Gary was the coolest guy in town when he was 17, and so he decided to stay that way forever, not realising how lonely that would make him once everyone else grows up. Deceptively sold as a comedy, The World's End is a bleak look at people like Gary, who are ultimately tragic in their inability to accept reality and themselves, giving in to things like alcohol in order to forget that. They hold on to the "good ol' days" and can manage to cause a lot of pain and hurt to themselves and those who care about them. Of course, the end of the movie and of Gary is more hopeful, but the portrayal and ideas are still sad and dark.


  1. I'll admit I was hoping for some love for THE KINGS OF SUMMER because that lovely movie deserves to be talked about but kudos for highlighting some unusual notions on the coming-of-age. I'm not quite enamoured with MUD but on a purely objective level few recent films attack the coming-of-age trope with as much drive.

    And, what a great way of using FRANCES HA here. I mean, 27 IS old but Frances is only now growing up. What luck she has, though, that her coming-of-age is relatively painless compared to the others you mention.

    1. Well, the truth is that I really need to rewatch Kings of Summer. I did think it was great though.

      I really adored Mud largely of the trope.

      Haha, no, Frances' growing up isn't half as painful as others :P Still, she is kind of miserable.

  2. this was quite an interesting year for the coming of age film. i'm glad that you didn't go for the obvious ones. i didn't love frances ha, but in looking at it like a coming of age story i have a better appreciation for it.

    1. It is. Yeah, I originally thought of Frances Ha as more of a romance between two friends, but it became more about coming-of-age the more I reflected upon it.

  3. Ya Kings of Summer should be here

    1. It *almost* was :P
      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Great choices! This was a good year for that Motif!

  5. Nicely done! It's great to see The World's End and Frances Ha included with more traditional coming of age films like Mud and Stoker.

  6. Mud I can really relate to because I was Ellis's age once too and I know precisely what he went through. And I love that the film still finds a way to end on a hopeful note in spite of it.

    And everything you say about Frances Ha is so spot-on. It seems like such an easy breeze of a film at first, but the more you think about it and dig around with it, the more complex it becomes and opens up. Trying to become a real person. Not as easy as it sounds.

    1. I think I went through it too but for me it was more like "What happens in Bollywood movies doesn't happen in real life? Whaaaat?" But yes, loved that it ended in a hopeful note.

      That film is soooo layered. I didn't get the coming-of-age angle at first but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. And nope, definitely not easy being a real person.