3 STARS – THOUGHT-PROVOKING
John Lennon is one of the tragic figures of modern time. A genius whose tumultuous childhood was literally going nowhere, Lennon (Aaron Johnson) turned to music to express his pain and ambitions. This decision ultimately brought together Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster), George Harris (Sam Bell) and Ringo Starr to create the incomparable band, The Beatles. Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood, “Nowhere Boy” is a snapshot into Lennon’s life at the end of his high school years and the beginning of his music career.
Based on the biographical book by his half-sister, Julia Baird, the screenplay is by writer Matt Greenhalgh. He has chosen to focus on the year in which Lennon lost his beloved uncle George (David Threlfall) to a premature death, and it is at the funeral that he sees his birth mother standing just outside the group gathered at the graveside. Running away in part from the austerity of his aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) who had raised him since the age of 5, Lennon walks into a relationship with his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) when he is told by his cousin that she lived literally within walking distance.
A fragile woman who struggles with what appears to be a bipolar disorder, Julia is overjoyed when her beloved son appears. However, she flirts with him as a young man more than parents him as a mother, and her reintroduction into Lennon’s life only accentuates the differences between herself and her sister Mimi. It is being torn between the opposite natures of the two “mothers” in his life, along with the loss of his father and his father figure Uncle George, that puts Lennon into deep turmoil. It is also what drives him into music when his birth mother introduces him to rock and roll, and teaches him to play her banjo. A brilliant person, Lennon quickly realizes the power music has to change his life and, when he sees how women respond to Elvis, he starts his own band.
Although the film explores only a very short period in his life and centers around the women in his adolescent years, it is a fascinating film which gives us insights into what made this unique man who he was. It also helps explain why, later in his life, he would connect so completely with Yoko Ono and why he reconciled with Mimi as she had reconciled with Julia.
Understanding our musicians helps us understand their music and their impact on all of our lives. We want the film to continue Lennon’s story when it comes to an end and take us through the next decades in Lennon’s life to see how his early struggles worked themselves out in his poetry and his music. Perhaps Sam Taylor-Wood will continue this very well-done study and give us even more insights into who Lennon and his band mates really were and how they impacted their generation so profoundly.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The film suggests that Lennon turned to music more as a means to an end than as a passion in itself. It also suggests that Paul McCartney loved the music more purely. Do you think this is an accurate portrayal? Why do you answer as you do?
2. When two sisters are opposites and yet try to raise the same little boy, it is understandable that the boy would struggle. If you had been one of the sisters, what would you have done?
3. There is no spirituality or faith portrayed in either of the homes in which Lennon was raised. What difference do you think a church community or pastor would have made in John’s life?