Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Boy A Review

The film Boy A is an adaptation of the highly regarded novel of the same name by Jonathan Trigell, a work that I found to be a fascinating read mostly because of the broken style of the narrative, not only telling a story using both the present and the past but also entering the minds of different characters and understanding their issues, getting a glimpse at their thoughts which made the reading relatively short novel a layered and constantly compelling experience. I found the novel to be such a success that it was difficult for the film version to live up to my expectations, which is especially strange for me since I'm one of the few that typically always choose the cinematic option over the book. The film may have technically come up short of the unique and excellent style that Trigell executed wonderfully, but it was still a great film regardless.

The advantage the novel had over its film counterpart was that in a written work of fiction, it is far simpler to explore themes in greater depth through the words and thoughts of multiple characters, something that Trigell did beautifully with Boy A. The main theme of the work that is constantly in play is the concept of identity, both the way we view ourselves and also the way everyone else around us perceive our actions, both current and those of our past. Some chapters of the book may have seemed strange and out of place, unnecessary even as we experience one short period of time inside the mind of a therapist or the father of the main character Jack only to never revisited those people again, but every piece of the puzzle had one thing in common: the struggle of an unwanted identity.

This isn't as richly explored in the film version because it was impossible to do so without complicating the story, something that can be more delicately handled using the written word rather than expecting the audience to pick up on it visually without the opportunity to elaborate. The story of Boy A follows two time lines, the first being about a young man named Jack (Andrew Garfield) who has been freshly released from prison for committing a crime that would put him square in the crosshairs of a society that wants nothing to do with him, a crime so heinous that he could never truly be forgiven. Even the name itself, Jack, was picked out of a book as his new identity because he could never lead a normal life using the one he was given prior to serving time for the death of a young girl. The second time line is presented through a series of flashbacks showing the daily lives of two boys, known by the court system as Boy A and Boy B, and we know one of them is the now freshly released adult named Jack. Both the events leading up to the murder and also their trial is shown, and the story takes its time to reveal whether or not the boys are actually guilty of what they are accused of. Regardless, the assumption by society that they are guilty is obvious both then and now, forcing Jack to live a lie every single day just to stay safe.

Boy A is performed wonderfully by everyone, and it features a star making presence from Andrew Garfield at a time before he became a household name. His painful struggles each day as he attempts to make friends and live a normal life knowing he is lying to all of them on even the most basic surface level, his name and who he is, makes the character a sympathetic figure even if he is guilty of the crime as a child. The film does a fantastic job exploring the idea of never being able to conquer the demons that haunt you from past decisions, leaving us to wonder, is rehabilitation considered a fallacy by the outside world even if it's achieved by the guilty party? Can we ever forgive someone for a terrible, misguided mistake, even if they have served their time and both mentally and literally grown up?

Jack could literally save a life, but he will always be known for the one he took. The question the film makes you both ask and answer is whether or not that is fair. I was clearly rooting for the happiness of the fictional character, but how would I feel if Jack lived down the street from me? How would I feel if he was walking towards my daughter on a city street? Would I believe in the possibilities of rehabilitation, or would I want her to cross to the other side to ensure safety?

Depending on the severity, we are haunted by our past mistakes even if we do everything we can to reform our lives and make amends. Boy A is the story of such a person and the identity he attempts to leave behind for a better life, but does he deserve it?


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