Monday, November 22, 2010

Bullying on the Big Screen

You didn't ask, but I recently saw the film Never Let Me Go, and being the Pauline Kael of blogs that go unread, I thought I'd share a review.

***MILD SPOILERS (can't be too careful)***

Like The Road, Never Let Me Go has an ambiguous, science fiction backdrop that is referenced but never mapped out.

The film centers around an English boarding school deemed "special." We follow a small group of children as they tackle the travails of pre-teen, adolescent, and young adult angst; jealously, loneliness, crises of identity. It is as young adults that the characters watch these travails accelerate in messy directions.

What is refreshing is how these travails are depicted. Unlike those much loved 1980s teen flicks, Never Let Me Go showcases real adolescent jealousy and real pre-teen insolence. It is an adult look at the road to adulthood.

I suppose you could say those cartoonish 80s films are adolescent movies intended for adolescents, but then why on God's red Mars do so many adults lap them up? And not merely for nostalgia's sake. Unintoxicated grown-ups have told me that Trapper Keeper pathos was "the way it was." Really? I was a runt in a high school that wasn't a utopia, yet I never witnessed or experienced anything like the POW-style trauma those movies present as endemic to every high school in the country.

Never Let Me Go reminded me of an even better film that gets adolescence right: Let the Right One In. Let the Right One In showcases teenage bullying without the tired and contradictory motifs normally ascribed to silver screen bullies. Cinema bullies are usually thickheaded, soft-brained, and more vicious than a torturer with a hearing problem ("No really, I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!"). Yet despite being so, so, so very stupid (which is why they're soooo jealous of those big-hearted nerds who brim with inner-beauty!), these bullies are nearly omniscient in the way they always know exactly when to strike and precisely what everyone's innermost weaknesses are.

In reality, a good bully has to be fairly clever, or else he won't manage to keep his bullying from being detected. And bullies don't always play football. They don't all come from the wrong side of the tracks or the biggest mansion in town. Let the Right One In recreates the terror bullies inflict without portraying them as idiot gods.

While we're on the subject, if so many adults remember high school as being Lord of the Flies, why all the disbelief each time there is a school shooting? If 9th grade homeroom taught Alcatraz everything it knows, then bloody, unfocused retaliation should not continually catch the nation off guard.

Anyway, go see Never Let Me Go and Let The Right One In. And keep things in perspective. What you experienced in high school was a bad year of gym class, not the Rape of Nanking.

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