It’s that bridge you cross when you leave innocence behind and learn to face the harsh and confusing realities of adulthood. It can be a smooth transition or come as a jolt; however it occurs, something is lost, perspective changes and we learn to make our own decisions, accept consequences and take care of ourselves.
A Coming-of-Age film comes in many forms. Criteria include: an event or events that cause a sudden change and a realization by the main adolescent character(s) that things can no longer stay the way they used to be.
In no particular order, here are five of my top Coming-of-Age genre films:
Amarcord (Frederico Fellini), 1973
The Italian Master revisits his own boyhood, the source of his lifelong obsessions, in this bewitching dream of a film that’s full of surprises only Fellini could pull off, such as the appearance of a peacock in the middle of a freak snowstorm. He also makes it clear that movies played a key role on his way to adulthood. It’s a complete charmer.
Atonement (Joe Wright), 2007
When the precocious 13-year-old Briony loses control of her imagination – and perhaps the unfamiliar spectre of jealously – she inadvertently causes a family disaster that would haunt her for the rest of her life. She writes a novel to make amends and to give life to the might-have-been that was erased by her childish actions. Wright creates an elegant film that has a crushing final act.
Life of Pi (Ang Lee), 2012
A disaster at sea forces a spiritually curious boy to grab at anything that floats, physically and emotionally, not only to survive, but to justify events in his own mind. A Bengal tiger named Richard Parker is the key to his survival and the answer to his questions. That damn tiger is one of my all-time favorite film characters and this is one of my top films.
Searching for Bobby Fischer (Steven Zaillian), 1993
You don’t need to know anything about chess to catch the drift of Zaillian’s film about a boy, his love of a game, and the lessen he learns that being great is not just about talent, it’s about the willingness to be ruthless. This humble and intelligent film got lost in the rush in 1993, but has some steadfast fans. Find it and watch it.
The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich), 1971
Who knew at the time that almost every unknown actor in former film critic Bogdanovich’s classic would go on to major stardom: Bridges, Shepherd, Leachman, Burstyn…. Again, the movie theater is central to life in rural Texas and it is about to be closed down. Shot in glorious black and white, with references to some of the director’s favorite films from the 50s.
Which films best conveyed the thrill, humor and pain that occurs during the passage from adolescence to adulthood for you?