Directed by: Mike Mills
Starring: Ewan Macgregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent
Review: ‘Beginners’ is a movie about life. Lots of movies purport to be about life but actually find themselves using life as a way to tell whatever story they have decided to tell. From what I am told, all of the events that take place in this movie actually happened to the writer/director himself Mike Mills. Sometimes real life is stranger than the fiction that people can come up with and in this case that holds true. While I wouldn’t term the events of this movie ‘strange’ I would say that they are unusual and are events that most people don’t experience in their lifetimes.
After his mother dies in 2003, Oliver finds himself with just his father Hal (Plummer) left who shares with his son that he is gay and always has been. He loved his mother but that part of his life is gone and he wants to explore this part of his life. He expresses no regrets for the way he lived the previous 75 years of his life and holds no resentment towards the people that put him in that position, he simply wants to live out the rest of days allowing himself the happiness that he was not allowed in his previous years.
This experience of finding himself is not shown through his views; rather, it is shown through the view of his son. His son sees the nervousness, the excitement, and his father feeling things he’s never felt in his life before and chooses to interpret it the best he can. He loves his father and knows his father loves him, but is he witnessing his father admit that he was dissatisfied with his life to this point? Oliver continually flashes back to points in his life that stuck out as memories and things start to take shape that this truth about his father was right there in front of him, and could possibly be the reason he has struggled in his relationships because he saw his father and mother in a basically love-less marriage.
This is what Oliver struggles with the most. His father tells him multiple times that he loved his mother and didn’t regret his life, but that it is important to him to explore this side. Oliver can’t quite compute that his father can’t be bitter about what he would see as 75 wasted years. His father does not see it that way. To his father, this is not a start over in his life, it’s just a new beginning. Oliver is consumed with the sadness of his past and his memories to the point where he can’t be like his father. Just as his father’s dog Arthur follows Oliver around after his fathers death and won’t let Oliver leave the house without him, Oliver’s past and past sadness follows him around and won’t let him leave either.
We are told from the beginning that Oliver’s father has died and all of the scenes with him are seen through flashbacks that Oliver has that parallel the current relationship he has. Oliver is petrified that his life will end up like his parents and that feeling is preventing him from taking the next step in his relationship. Oliver continues to try to move forward with his life but can’t ditch his past.
The ultimate resolution that Oliver has to come to is that our life experiences are just that, experiences. They are not instances that must constantly weigh on us and factor in to our decisions in everyday life but are things that we go through to learn about ourselves so that when that time comes we can begin completely anew.
As Hal Christopher Plummer plays a phenomenal role. As a man who admitted to himself about his sexuality long ago, he has the look of a tortured soul on his face. However, as a man who has finally admitted to everyone that he is homosexual, Hal shows that he is truly happy for the first time in his life. He has a boyfriend and he has found what was always missing in his life. Oliver finds it hard to see at times as he remembers how unhappy his mother was in their relationship and how different it is to see his father so happy. Plummer gives the best performance of the year so far and shows a range of emotion that is quite impressive.
Plummer’s performance is flanked by a solid performance from MacGregor, who gives the best performance I have seen from him in quite a while. As Oliver he shows a son who is struggling for happiness but wouldn’t even know it when he finds it because he was never showed what happiness looks like by his parents. It is his father’s awakening in his new lifestyle that spurs his own awakening to see what happiness looks like and possibly reach happiness himself with the current relationship he is in.
He is in a relationship with Anna (Laurent) who is played very well as a counterpoint of Oliver’s who both see a little bit of themselves in each other. Both have struggled with happiness but seem to find a glimmer of hope with each other, and although past experiences tell them to stop, something inside them forces them along as they recognize that they have a chance in each other to right their past wrongs in relationships.
There is quite a bit of subtext here but nothing that is too deep that you wouldn’t be able to handle. The performances were great and the writing was sharp and I would say it’s definitely worth your time.