Sometimes the cinematic world seems to collaborate with time and space to find you, teach you, and encourage you in just the way you need. It’s the magic of movies — of all art, really.
And today BEGINNERS and the universe joined forces to do that for me. On its surface, this film is about a man trying to make sense of several things (the stories of which interweave throughout the film):
- His elderly father’s declaration that he is gay shortly after the death of his wife (and the man’s mother) after 40-some-odd years of marriage.
- His childhood, and especially his relationship with his mother, in light of this news.
- His new relationship with his father, who is also dying of cancer.
- His own life once his father has passed away.
Now, that’s some heavy material, but writer/director Mike Mills handles it all with a light touch. Ewan McGregor, as son Oliver to Christopher Plummer’s Hal, carries the film with goodhearted but overwhelmed bafflement.
After Hal’s death, Oliver finds himself becoming more and more isolated, finding companionship pretty much only in Hal’s dog (now his). It’s in this state that he meets Anna (played by Mélanie Laurent with that mysterious charisma only French actresses seem to have) after being dragged to a party by his friends who simply want him to be who he was “before.” Despair is sometimes more easily addressed and communicated when a relationship is a blank slate. When you’re in the thick of it, sometimes interacting with people who knew you before, who expect you to be the same, is simply too much. A relational blank slate can be incredibly appealing because you can be who you are now, with zero expectation. In short, it’s an opportunity for a new beginning. And that is what Oliver and Anna find in each other.
And that brings us back to the overarching theme of the movie: beginning — again and again and again. The human tendency is to get stuck in the mire that is “the end” — in Oliver’s case, the death of his mother, the death of what he thought his childhood was, the death of what his relationship with his father was, his father’s physical death, even his relationships are all plagued by the fact that he is already caught up in their ends even as they are starting.
Beginnings are always hard, because in each of them, we are always cast as beginners — inexperienced, unknowing, and even fearful. It’s entirely understandable that we want to avoid them. The idea of having to start over is often scarier than clinging to the vestiges of something long gone by. But it’s the beginning again (and again, and again) that really defines the act of living.
And this is the message BEGINNERS delivered to me, in its quirky and light-hearted way, at a time when I needed to hear it. It’s a good message no matter where you are or what you’re dealing with in life, because sooner or later, things do end, and it’s nice to remember there’s magic in beginning again.