Release Date: June 03, 2011
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher
Plummer, Melanie Laurent,
Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox,
Mary Page Keller, Keegan Boos,
China Shavers, Melissa Tang
Runtime: 104 minutes
Distributor: Focus Features/Comcasr
Director: Mike Mills
Executive Producer: Joan Scheckel
Producer: Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech,
Miranda de Pencier, Jay Van
Hoy, Lars Knudsen, Fran
Giblin, Geoff Linville, Kasper
Writer: Mike Mills
Address Comments To:Brian L. Roberts, Chairman/CEO/President, Comcast Corp.
James Schamus, CEO
Focus Features (A Division of NBC Universal and Comcast)
65 Bleecker St., 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 539-4000; Fax: (212) 539-4099
Were it merely a depressing film about a father dying of cancer or a man who, scarred from childhood, is unable to handle long-term relationships, BEGINNERS perhaps would have been bearable. Were it even a film discussing marriage, art, love, or social issues, it might have been at least viewable. However, the movie only sporadically uses dark humor to offset its jumble of mid-life crisis, death, cancer, loss of identity, loss of love, and utterly Anti-Christian beliefs. In fact, this is a joy-sucking project that, while originally meant to be thought-evoking and inspiring by its Writer/Director Mike Mills (the film is based off his life), merely serves to drown out feelings of certainty, happiness or morality.
The plot of BEGINNERS follows the story of Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a 38-year-old single artist who just lost his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer), to cancer and inherited his subtitle-speaking Jack Russell Terrier, Arthur. The entire film flips back and forth between two timelines: the story of Oliver and his father’s last three years of life; and, the current story of his romantic relationship and life after Hal’s death.
Beginning with the first plot line, the twist is that his father, who had been in a dysfunctional marriage with Oliver’s mother for 45 years, announces at the age of 75 that he is, in fact, homosexual and always has been. This leads the movie down the path of revealing the relationship between father and son and the history of their relationship therein. Hal, an art museum curator who largely was absent from Oliver’s childhood, is now a man very open and dependent on his son. With only three years to live, Hal becomes a “loud and proud” activist in the homosexual community. This plotline brings up many issues, delicately depicting the fractured and unhealthy relationship of Oliver’s parents, and how his outgoing and eccentric Jewish mother suffered mentally and emotionally, and how she forced a young Oliver to become her partner in crime and co-dependent. This is depicted in various ways, for example allowing a 9-year-old Oliver to regularly drive the car, leaving him alone in a room to scream his feelings away, encouraging inappropriate behavior for a child, etc. It is his mother – her beliefs, mannerisms and attitudes on life – that Oliver emulates in his adult life, and it is through the knowledge acquired through his mother’s broken marriage that now govern his actions.
Meanwhile, regarding other recurring themes, Oliver’s best friend Elliot talks him into becoming a spray-paint graffiti vandal and says “What, do you like being a good citizen?” To which, of course, Oliver responds by spray-painting “1988 Bush Finds Jesus” on a building wall. This politically correct, anti-church, pro-anarchy stance is echoed throughout the film, especially when it comes to the homosexual rights movement and gay pride parades, petitioning for and supporting openly homosexual government officials, and Hal even finding solace in the arms and through the guidance of an openly homosexual priest.
Perhaps, the most tragically wasteful and unnecessary part of the movie comes as Hal is sitting at his kitchen table with his clearly lesbian secretary to dictate to her his book. As he dictates the ending of the book, the audience discovers that it is his re-telling of the story of Jesus, but with Jesus as a mere mortal saying that “he eventually grew old and died.” There are also other references to Jewish people, saying that “the least Jewish people have the least emotions,” and “Black music is the deepest because they suffered the most – them and the Jews.”
Elderly Hal also gives perverse fatherly advice by telling Oliver to “put out a personal ad like I did for sex.” This language is continuous throughout the movie with things such as “Are you threatened by a gay man?” “If my boyfriend is not monogamous, then why should I be?” “At least, I’m the Number One boyfriend,” etc., usually followed by a lot of homosexual kissing.
Meanwhile, in the current storyline, Oliver and his new companion, adorable Arthur the Jack Russell terrier, meet a girl named Anna (Melanie Laurent) at a costume party where she cannot speak because she has laryngitis. Dressed as Freud, a meta-textually appropriate costume for our anti-hero, Oliver is overflowing with sadness, which is what Anna notices in his eyes. This also serves as the catalyst for their relationship.
Still in silence, they eventually go to her hotel room where they just sleep next to each other and awake to discover that even though they have a connection they haven’t even learned each other’s names. Anna informs him she’s a French-born actress living between L.A. and New York and that she would like to see him again.
They eventually have sexual relations (during which she weirdly bites his arm) and thus the relationship begins. Filled with books of pornography entitled “The Joy of Sex” and misquoted verses from The Velveteen Rabbit, their relationship is a unique one – living out of her hotel room and seeking fulfillment from each other. Anna even tells Oliver at one point, “You’ve lost so much. How can I make up for that?” To which he simply replies with an expletive.
They decide to live together until Oliver, in his inability to handle relationships and accept or offer love, drives Anna away out of fear. He later realizes his mistake and goes to New York to find her, only to discover she’s in L.A. They obviously get back together and reunite (with Arthur) as a happy little sort of family, but in reality the feeling is completely melancholy as it’s a love story without purity, hope or joy. They only have each other in the world and are always going to be in some way alone because that’s who they are – deprived souls who seek and find comfort only in each other’s mirrored reflections.
Ironically, the healthiest relationship portrayed within the movie is that of Oliver and his father’s dog, Arthur, who acts as if he’s human, speaks via subtitles, and loves Oliver so much he cannot bear to be away from him and cannot be left anywhere by himself. It’s Arthur that Oliver has to be responsible for and ultimately becomes his healthiest companion, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. The only other person that Arthur likes is Hal’s much younger boyfriend Andy, presumably because Arthur loved Hal, and Hal loved Andy, so, therefore, Arthur MUST love Andy.
All in all, BEGINNERS is undoubtedly artistic in its flashbacks, uses of popular culture and even some heartfelt drama and comedy, the movie lacks the Good, the True and the Beautiful. That fact is temporarily forgotten thanks to some good acting, unique directing and pregnant pauses. However, BEGINNERS is filled with abhorrent, immoral values and a politically correct, anti-Christian agenda. Thus, the movie’s few funny and touching emotional moments are vastly overshadowed by an overwhelming sense of depression. Media-wise viewers wanting more uplifting content can skip BEGINNERS.
BEGINNERS is undoubtedly artistic in its flashbacks, uses of popular culture and even some heartfelt drama and comedy, but the movie lacks any redemptive value. That fact is temporarily forgotten thanks to some good acting, unique direction and pregnant pauses. However, BEGINNERS is filled with abhorrent, immoral values and a politically correct, anti-Christian, homosexual agenda. There’s even an openly homosexual Catholic priest. Thus, the movie’s few funny, touching moments are vastly overshadowed by an overwhelming sense of depression. Media-wise viewers wanting more uplifting content can skip BEGINNERS.