Beginners: Passed Down from Father to Son

As people, we are constantly trying to learn how to love each other. It’s a funny thing, love; it can be both beautiful and messy, incredible as well as painful. One day it can seem so real, so tangible, and just when we think we have a hold on it, it slips right through our fingers. In the end, we’re pretty clueless where to start when we fall in love.

‘Beginners.’ That’s what we are, and that’s what ‘Beginners’ is all about. However, the movie doesn’t approach the subject with cynicism, but sincerity. It is so heartfelt and alive; a beautiful love letter to the idea of Love itself.

It is about an artist named Oliver (played by Ewan McGregor) and his father Hal (played by Christopher Plummer). After Oliver’s mother dies, Hal tells his son, after 38 years of marriage, that he is gay. He tells his son that he no longer wants to be ‘theoretically gay,’ that he wants to ‘do something about it.’ 4 years after telling this to his son, Hal dies of cancer (by the way the audience is told all of this in the very first scene, so don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything for you).

The film is chronologically centered around the death of Oliver’s father. Half of it views their relationship in retrospect, focusing on the years between Hal’s coming out and his death. The other half is focused on a romantic relationship that Oliver develops with a young woman named Anna (played by Melanie Laurent) that begins shortly after Oliver’s father passes away.

That is the story of ‘Beginners,’ and as far as the story goes, it is so simple. But don’t be fooled; I can’t say enough good things about this movie. It deals with so many deep and complex themes. It discusses how we learn to love from our parents, how happiness is not as simple as it looks, and how it is better to love deeply and passionately than to never love at all.

The true spirit of ‘Beginners’ lies within the honest and authentic relationships that the characters develop.  Oliver and Hal bring so much truth to the father and son relationship. The authenticity of this relationship is vital when the viewer begins to discover that Hal’s last few years have changed how Oliver views his entire life; past, present, and future.

The movie itself is partly autobiographical. The writer and director Mike Mills wrote the script after his father came out to him following his mother’s death. To me, this makes ‘Beginners’ such a personal and brave film that shares such a intimate life experience. It is done with such subtle grace though that it feels real to the audience. It is Mills’ life experiences deconstructed for the screen. So in a way, the film reads as almost an homage to his father; how his father’s honesty changed how he sees love.

There are also brilliant little pieces of filmmaking where Oliver reflects on his relationship with his mother. All of these scenes are of Oliver’s childhood and are rich with of bitterness and regret. With these moments we see the true conflict that is happening within Oliver; his mother is the parent of his childhood, the one who really raised him, while Hal is the parent of his adulthood, who seems much happier now that is mother is gone. With his mother he sees the negative side of love, a side that was caused by his incapable father. In his last few years with his father, he is able to see the joy that comes with finding love for the first time. He learned what love was from his parents, and his parents are working in opposition to each other, even in death.

Although sometimes sad to watch, the film as a whole carries a note of optimism. It makes us believe that if we continue to search for love, that love with eventually find us, and when it does, we should fight for it.

Christopher Plummer is so incredibly brilliant in this movie. Think about how difficult this role is: play a gay man, who was married to a woman for almost forty years, and is a father to a middle aged straight man, and is also on his death bed. To have this role and not make a caricature of gay pride, but an honest look at what it means to lie about being straight for so long that coming out can be just as confusing. This past year, he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this performance; he deserved every bit of it. By the way, if you’ve never seen an interview with Christopher Plummer, check that out. He is just delightful.

As I’ve been reflecting about this movie, I’ve also thought about my own relationship with my parents. Anyone who knows my family knows that I am my father’s son. I have his voice, his walk, and his laugh. But I also know that there is so much of my mother in me; her passion, her heart, and her eyes. But rather than working in opposition with each other, they work in harmony within my spirit. I’m glad that I learned to love from them, because they’ve become pretty skillful at it. I hope someday I can learn to love as deeply as they love each other.

My Note: ‘Beginners’ one of the most honest, heartfelt, and authentic movies that you’ll ever see.

My Grade: A+

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