Beginners

Again, Christopher Plummer proves why he is a lot cooler than any of us will ever be in Mike Mill’s semi-biographical film Beginners. If he does not receive an Oscar nomination for his role as the just-out-of -the-closet-after-forty-years-of-marriage father of Oliver (Ewan McGregor’s character), then the Academy will be receiving a short letter of complaint reading,

To whom it may concern,
But who exactly makes the executive decision on these nominations? Plummer is more deserving than these other underwhelming performances you placed on the ballot.
Sincerely,  
Unimpressed film enthusiast

He pulled a Sean Penn (when he played Harvey Milk in Guz Van Sant’s Milk) in that I was left unsure whether or not Plummer is actually a homo-sexual. He played the role with such an effortless sophistication, creating a highly loving, spiritual, emotional, and infectiously buoyant character in Hal. From the delightful scarves to the excitement over house music, you watch his character grow and fully embrace his life as a man without boundaries, emotionally and physically.

Plummer with his young boyfriend. The scarf is fierce!

The message is clear in that we should all strive to live a life with the same amount of energy, compassion, and uplifting optimism as Hal does in his final years. What makes this film even more engaging is that it is based on the director’s personal experience with his father. It strikes me a very tragic to live almost an entire life without being completely honest about who you are, yet on the other hand it makes you question your being and mortality, constantly wondering if you are really leading the life you desire.

The movie aims to show that we have fewer restrictions and barriers in terms of how we should behave when it comes to love and who we are permitted to be affectionate towards, yet it appears that we build our own barriers to prevent our fragile selves from the qualms of amour. This is clear in the relationships that Oliver has encountered in his short 38 years. Still single, he has no desire to meet a girl and settle down because of past relationships that ended in heartache, thus he just pushes them away (this is also influenced by his parents relationship which he knew was fake and not fulfilling, resulting in his desire to not settle for anyone). This is where the power of editing comes in, as we cut from the far past (his childhood) to the recent past (his fathers last months) and his present, where he meets the intoxicatingly beautiful and enthralling character, Anna (Melaine Laurent). The impact of his fathers honest living once his mother passed away had a profound affect on his life, which is clear by the end of the film as Oliver chooses to embrace an existence full of love rather than sadness (which follows him everywhere–most clearly illustrated in his place of work as a graphic artist).

Melanie Laurent and Ewan McGregor as Anna and Oliver. These two made such a wonderful onscreen couple.

The most effective use of the editing was the way it depicted various decades, from the 30s when his parent were born, to the 50s, and to the present, 2003. The images show the way things were idealized and expected to be, and how both of his parents essentially had to veil their real identity in order to survive the time they grew up in. There were more restrictions, along with prejudice and hatred towards anything that strayed off the socially constructed path. With these images, the audience is permitted to reflect on the pasts way of thinking and realize how fortunate we are in our freedom to love and wear our true colours, whether we meet that so-called status-quo or not. Yes, there are still biases in our society and judgment towards those that appear different, however there is no doubt that the amount of tolerance for these things between Hal’s and Oliver’s generations are polar opposite.

So with this truth, why is it that so many of us still find reasons to hide away and pretend to be something we are not? What are we scared of? Let us learn something from Hal, that being your genuine self is the only route that will bring you unmitigated happiness.

Another way Mill’s effectively illustrated the way happiness, love, and the allure of a significant other fades is through visual repetition. For instance, the first time the audience sees Anna in her blue robe, she is strikingly beautiful and almost angelic. She emulates that old Hollywood glamour and effortless beauty. However, the more she wears the robe, the more we become accustomed to it, thus its charm slowly diminishes. Also, this image of Anna and Oliver eating breakfast is another visual repetition that Mill’s incorporates later in the film when the two are dining in Oliver’s home. In the hotel (where they are pictured above) they are excited about each others company as this is a new experience. However, once they have reached Oliver’s home and sit down to breakfast, you can almost cut through the tension and dissatisfaction with the situation. It is weird to see that once they have found what essentially we all seek (comfort and stability in a home with the one we love) they are unsatisfied with the redundancy of this act, illustrating how these feelings fade once familiarity approaches.

So what is there to do? We are left with the questions concerning love and its value. What is the purpose if we will eventually become bored, rejected and hurt? Yet even with the reality that everything fades, Hal teaches us that it is all worth pursuing until your final breath.

A tid-bit of trivia for those who are interested:

Lovell House. You could never tell the film was shot here!

Hal’s home in the film is actually the infamous Lovell House, built-in the 1920s in the International Style by architect Richard Neutra. This house was seen previously in the unforgettable L.A. Confidential (1997) and has been occupied by the Topper family for forty years. Mills had this to say about the shooting location,

“I made sure not to shoot the super-signature Lovell House things…Instead I stuck to the smaller parts of the house, so a lot of the Topper family’s stuff is in there. The clutter in the kitchen is their clutter.”

Ewan McGregor said the building has a, “nice, lived-in feel…It’s not been modernized in any way, and the kitchen has the kind of patina that life puts on over the years.”

Pretty neat, oui?

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