Being 17 (2016)
When most folks are about 17 years old they are still figuring out who they are. Being 17 interprets this struggle like a nomad wandering through the mountains.
The two main characters are both 17 and coming of age. Damien is figuring out who he is without his dad being there as well as figuring out his sexual orientation. Thomas is processing through being adopted and what he plans to do with his life, as well as which gender he’s attracted to.
As these two process their lives, they fight not only themselves but each other as well. A significant part of the film is devoted to the time they spend fighting each other verbally and physically. It seems like this process follows their battle with some internalized homophobia that holds them back. It’s obvious from their odd obsession/aversion as well as some random glances that these two have something between them.
When Damien’s mother, Marianne, invites Thomas to stay with them, it brings their struggle with each other and their attraction to a head. One might think this would potentially bring them together, but it takes more than just that one circumstance to unite these two. It does seem a little odd that the mother thinks this would be a good idea considering their history. Except that she sees the struggle Thomas is going through and just wants to be a good person and help him out.
Once Damien and Thomas get through their initial struggles with each other, they finally start to bond. Interestingly, at this point Damien starts to wear a shirt that says, “My Dream is Alive.” It’s an interesting metaphor for where he’s at in his journey as he has finally come out to himself, and has started to come out to others.
A touching and well-played scene happens when Damien talks with his mother about himself. Thomas and Damien have yet another fight, and when his mother asks about what happened, Damien tells her about himself. When he wonders what she’s going to say about it, she simply responds, “I’m listening.”
This film has some beautifully shot scenes of the land that contribute to the overall feel and metaphor of the film. The acting is for the most part well done, and the film has good production values. But for a film that is 1hr and 54min long, some parts feel a little extraneous. For example, the numerous altercations between the two boys in the beginning could probably have been more succinct, and we still would have gotten the point that there were some issues there.
I also wonder why the two boys had such a challenging time accepting their own sexuality. The story doesn’t set up anything that specifically challenges them in that way save for the other problems they face. And since a laptop shows risqué photographs of men, I would think it would also have Google.
The film succeeds though where it depicts the confusion and circuitous journey of being a teenager and figuring out who you are. It does at times feel a bit like winding down a hill in the fog, but that is what is depicted both in picture and emotion here.
Available on Netflix.
Thomas: “Finally a real child.”
Marianne: “There are no fake children.”