Wildhood (2021)

The jigsaw puzzle is metaphor for a lot of Wildwood. “Does this look like the sky or the ocean? To me [the pieces] all look the same. Once you get them on, you know where they belong.” Link is in the process of putting the pieces of himself together, and the journey is fascinating and fulfilling.

The theme here seems to be a quest for connection and authenticity. Link starts from a place where there is no joy. Life consists of an abusive father and stealing for a living. The only glimmers of connection are with his brother, Travis, and occasionally his Uncle Dale. I like that the story doesn’t focus on him figuring out his sexuality – he already knows that he is gay. Instead, it looks at what Link will do to get away from his situation and become more of himself.

When he meets Pasmay, he’s already taken the first step. The symbolic burning of the bridge has taken place and the journey has begun. But these things are hard to do alone. Pasmay finds a connection with Link (and Travis) and decides to help them out. But that’s difficult with someone who is used to always being angry and closed off.

There are many twists and dead ends while the trio is looking for Link’s mother. Each time, Link is learning to lean on and trust others. He (and the viewer) is also learning about his own Mi’kmaq heritage and himself in the process. And even his little brother knows that there’s more than a friendship to be had with Pasmay.

We start to see Link’s transformation in the lake. It might be the first time we see him smile or laugh. Part of this is through the connection he has with his brother, but now we also see it through Pasmay. Perhaps it is here when Link’s walls start to come down.

The film seems to use symbolism of nudity to signal a vulnerability of some sort. When they dive into the lake, Link is open to a new experience and someone else. In another scene, Link wakes up and sees a shirtless Pasmay dancing a native dance who seems caught off guard at first. But then there is another connection when he shows Link a connection to himself and his heritage.

There are many other symbols within the story. For instance, there are two dead animals throughout the story. In the beginning of the film, the uncle brings a deer to Link and Travis that he hunted. In a rather haunting scene, Link stares into its eyes as it hangs waiting to be butchered. Later in the story as Link’s situation has started to change, Travis finds a dead porcupine. This time they show care and concern and they give it a proper burial.

I really enjoyed this film. The dialogue was subtle, and the pacing was appropriate to let the metaphors work. I also liked that the film was different and had a perspective from someone learning their indigenous heritage and growing with it as a person. I loved that we get to see different representation on the screen, and how it contributes to the story instead of feeling like it’s the point of it.

Their relationship is not a smooth beginning. Both of them have similar backgrounds although Pasmay has apparently worked through more of his trauma than Link. They have difficulty communicating at various times as they work through how to connect. But the connection feels genuine and real when so much around Link is transient. Both characters are on a similar journey in terms of finding where and with who they belong.

Wildhood takes a lot of jigsaw puzzle pieces and puts them all together in a vivid and real journey from an angry, fractured person to someone who is becoming whole.

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