“In the beginning…or end.”
Beginners is a romantic comedy written and directed by Mike Mills and stars Ewan McGregor (Star Wars: Ep. I – III), Christopher Plummer (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim voice “Arngeir”), Mélanie Laurent (Inglorious Bastards (2009), Goran Visnjic (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), and Mary Page Keller (NICS: Los Angeles TV Series). In Beginners, Hal (Plummer), at 75, “comes out” to his son Oliver (McGregor), and also announces that he has terminal cancer.
In quiet, endearing melancholy, Oliver (McGregor) is packing his father’s things in boxes and bags. Emptying medication bottles into the toilet while being chaperoned by Arthur (Cosmo), a 9-year-old Jack Russell terrier who at times would communicate with Oliver with adoringly coy puppy dog eyes and in wry subtitles. As Oliver goes to his father’s home–the room he died in, he revisits the delicate moments in his life and envisions what his life was like when his parents were alive–and after his father came out of the closet when his mother died. The unsettling news about his father’s homosexuality and the recent death of his mother and the events that occur after that the disclosure is cleverly told in a narrative series of photographs and sketches by Oliver–who pieces these series of incidents in an eventual collage of inspirations, emotions, and memories.
“My personality was created by someone else, and all I got was this stupid t-shirt.”
Hal (Plummer) is a charming 75 – year-old former museum curator who was married for 44-years to Oliver’s mother Georgia (Mary Page Keller). After Georgia had died of Cancer, he decided to “come out” to his son, Oliver. Hal dives into his newly found lifestyle with new-found excitement. He calls Oliver one night to ask him what is this ‘new music’ he had heard–after involving himself in gay rights events and organizations–embracing his passions and relishing the art being truly in love for the first time in his life with Andy (Visnjic), a charismatic and much younger physical trainer.
When Hal is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he approaches it as if it were just an event that comes in stages–denial. For once, he is truly open to his life and did not want to ruin his happiness by informing his lover and his new friends that he is going to die and warns Oliver just to keep it quiet. When Hal’s cancer progress and Oliver reminds him that he is in stage IV of his illness; he laughs it off, “it’s only in the fourth stage,” making light of the seriousness of his illness. He joyfully returns to his small party with his close friends.
All the while, Oliver’s recollections of his mother surfaces in a series of flashbacks when he sees how happy his father is with his lover, Andy–he remembers asking her about her relationship with his her dad if she was happy. Even as young as he was, he could see that his parent’s relationship wasn’t typical of two people in love and now is glad to see that his father is happy, living and loving again.
“I’d wait for the lion.”
Oliver is still trying to piece together his difficulties with establishing relationships. He is a graphic’s artist and often, sketches out his personal conflicts on paper. Drawing out the important events of his life as if trying to unwrap the confusion he has with his parent’s 44-year relationship, in a series of perfunctory kisses and how this experience perpetually influences his current fears of commitment. His father once asked him about why he is waiting so long for that one particular person and to instead, be happy with anyone–then just being alone:
Hal: Well let’s say… let’s say since you were little, and you’ve always dreamed of someday getting a lion. And you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and the lion doesn’t come. Then along comes a giraffe. You can be alone, or you can be with the giraffe.
Oliver: I’d wait for the lion.
Hal: That’s why I worry about you.
Hal is settling into life after the death of his father when something unexpected happens. He attends a costume party with friends and Arthur. He is disguised as Sigmund Freud and would listen to his “patients,” as they lie on a couch next to his chair. He peers over at Arthur during one of his sessions who tells him “Doctor, heal thyself,” in the subtle caption. That was when a woman, Anna (Laurent), disguised as Charlie Chaplin, occupy the couch next to him and smiles. She is speechless (a bad case of laryngitis) and wrote on her notepad, “Why are you at a party if you are sad?” Oliver is still grieving the loss of his father and welcomes the company.
“Doctor, heal thyself!”
What Oliver eventually finds out, is that love isn’t all that complicated. Beginners are truly two love stories, set in past and present events. From the time in 1955 when his parents married and up until 2003, the death of his father. The film focuses on the end of life issues, and the fragmented stories complement the delicate emotions one experiences while coping with a loss. Director Mills adeptly uses the spaces these characters exist in to emphasize the underlying loneliness each of them experiences.
The performances by McGregor, Plummer, and Laurent are spectacular and are natural in their roles. Each character is portrayed effortlessly navigating their complicated issues, which are worked out over a sequence of events that delicately unfold overtime. Their stories feel real and original.
Beginners is an excellent film that seamlessly exhibits those special somethings that most of us wish we had. Mills bestows to us all in this movie, real bits of his life and relationship with his father–who “came out” at 75. In Beginners, Mills gifts an insightful sense of community, acceptance, love, and companionship—excellent qualities that make life feel, complete.