Turbulent Times: 25 Coming Age Movies

29 mins read

Boyz N The Hood (1991)

Director: John Singleton

John Singleton’s uncompromising exploration of inner-city life for young African-Americans not only broke a glass ceiling but took a sledgehammer to it. The result, one of the most influential films of the 1990s; its power comparable to that of Rebel Without a Cause some forty years before. And although it could be argued that Boyz N The Hood is a typical coming of age film of the period. Nothing could be further from the truth, with Singleton’s movie not only providing African-American inner-city youth with a reflection of their lives on screen. But also directly confronting and discussing racism, neglect, cultural appropriation and police relations. All at a time when the police beating of Rodney King highlighted the institutional racism still rampant in American society.

Boyz N The Hood reflected the dynamism and strength of a new black movement in film born from Spike Lee’s seminal Do the Right Thing in 1989. With Singleton, one of the few directors to go onto further projects exploring the black experience in the following years. However, what felt like a revolutionary step forward in 1991, still, unfortunately, rings true today. Ultimately demonstrating that America has still not yet, accepted that the hatred and destruction of racism, poverty and a lack of opportunity continue to pervade its society.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Kes (1969)

Director: Ken Loach

Ken Loach’s beautiful and haunting study of isolation and loneliness has become a classic of British cinema. At the same time, providing us with a timeless portrayal of the journey from boy to teenager. While equally celebrating the healing power and companionship of mother nature. Kes is a heartfelt portrayal of the journey into adolescence and the interface between hope and social reality. The Kestrel representing the urge for freedom and flight in a boy who does not fit the surroundings he inhabits.

With moments of humour, melancholy and sadness, Kes lays bare the realities of young lives haunted by poverty and isolation. In a community where adults encourage and dismiss in equal measure, family members rewriting a boys ability to grow and succeed.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The 400 Blows (1959)

‘Les quatre cents coups’ 

Director: François Truffaut

One of the most delicate depictions of young male adolescence ever committed to film, Francois Traffaunts 1959 picture, is still the template for many others within the genre. Traffaunts film is intensely powerful in its critique of isolation and escape. Here, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Lèaud) portrays the emotion, anger, and hurt of adolescence with a simple gesture or look. A boy who judged and isolated by his school, parents and community; misunderstood and desperate for escape. The 400 Blows examination of the labels placed on young people is powerful and visually stunning. Its final scenes some of the starkest and most creative of 20th Century cinema. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Director: Steven Spielburg

One of the most overlooked of Spielberg’s films, Empire of the Sun, adapted from J.G. Ballard’s novel, is a beautifully crafted and performed exploration of childhood innocence during War. Following Jim (Christian Bale) through his transition from a wealthy English schoolboy in British controlled Shanghai to a streetwise young teenager in an occupied land. Empire of the Sun mixes childhood imagination and dreams with war and adulthood brutality in a way few films manage. Moments of childhood wonder and exploration held against a backdrop of violence and control. Here, we see Jim change before our eyes, accepting his need to survive at any cost. While internally, he remains a boy with a limited understanding of the events taking place in his surroundings

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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