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film analysis: Boy A

Boy A is a modern drama, entwined with a crime story and told with great humanity.

Adding bookmarks on the main plot points, using Everytime Desktop app, allowed me to understand its structure better. It now appears much simpler than it used to.

The main characters

Jack meets several people on his way to get a new life. But the main ones in this story are the following:

  • the positive ones:
    • Terry (Mentor)
    • Michelle (Love)
    • Chris (Friend)
  • the negative ones:
    • Philip (Evil Temptation)
    • Terry’s son (Invisible Enemy)

That’s it. Only five characters are needed to get the main essence and each one has serves a very specific function.

partying #act1

The 3 acts structure

Here is what the main scenes could be grouped into:

ACT 1

  • Eric is released from prison. He chooses his new name: Jack.
  • Terry takes him to his new home and helps him settle.
  • Jack starts his new job.
  • Terry meets with Jack regularly.
  • Jack meets Michelle.
  • Terry meets his son and invites him to stay in his house.

ACT 2

  • Partying. Lots of chatting, dancing and a bit of fighting. Jack earned his respect from his colleagues.
  • A tv broadcast teaches us that Jack committed a murder and people are still looking for him.
  • Jack and Michelle love affair starts.
  • Jack and Chris save a little girl after a car accident.
  • Terry helps Jack being okay with himself.
  • Jack improves his relationship with his co-workers and Michelle.
  • Terry insists that Jack must never reveal his secret, as there still is a bounty on his head.
  • Terry is drunk and mistakenly reveals Jack’s name to his son.

ACT 3

  • Jack can’t reach Michelle
  • Chris learned how Jack was.
  • Jack panics as he cannot reach Terry.
  • Jack try and react and runs away.
  • Terry’s son had hidden his father’s phone and found key info about Jack in his laptop.
  • Jack finds his last moment of peace, walking on the pier by the sea.

philip's story #flashback #act2

When we learned the nature of his crime

From the first shot, first sentence, we are presented with a mystery. “How do you feel?” “Feels like a dream.” We understand Eric/Jack has a dark past, but we don’t know the extend of it. We are more absorbed by the genuine excitation this young man has to start his life.

One key element I take from breaking down this structure is when we learn Jack was found guilty of murder. We only learn that half way through the movie.

Why so late? Certainly not for the sake of additional suspense. It was so we could get emotionally attached to Jack. Had we learned it at the very beginning, there was no way we could have any empathy through his struggle to get a normal life.

But until that key moment, we have seen him stress out about mundane things and struggle with basic life moments. He goes through each scene with a heavy and still unknown secret. This makes us appreciate the courage his character needs every day. And on top of that, flashbacks show us his younger life, where he was bullied and completely disregarded by his parents.

So when we finally learn about the nature of his crime, we cannot help but want him to be able to continue his life.

What is also interesting is how low key this revelation is. It is maybe the most calm scene in the movie. Characters are not moving, only sitting and eating in this uncomfortable position. They are not speaking either, only watching television. I can perfectly imagine other movies where such a revelation would have happened with more drama.

Could we have learned about the murder later? Probably not, it would have been less efficient. Learning about it now tells us that even if we are happy for him to be able to find a normal life, his demons are going to come after him and they are growing. The timing here was just right.

judgement #flashback #act2

The flashbacks

We also get to see glimpses of both his childhood and the moments that led to the murder. We could have seen moments at different times of his life, but they are here very close to each others, so close I wonder if they all happened within the same day.

  • Eric is bullied after school and his parents don’t just ignore him, they mistreat him.
  • Eric meets his first friend, Philip, who defends him against bullies.
  • They steal magazines.
  • They fish irresponsibly.
  • They kill a girl.

Eric is always very passive in each of those scene. He never shows hints of violence. His only mistake is to accept Philip’s friendship, who certainly did not immediately appear as an evil character.

The way the violence increases is also interesting.

  • At first, Eric is only a victim.
  • After he meets Philip, he learns to defend himself. We can only be happy for him.
  • He learns to steal. But this is shown in such a funny way that we can’t really blame him.
  • We get to know Philip a bit more. He is a piece of work, but also a victim of rape by his brother. Then they fish and Philip shows a lack of remorse for violence. It prepares us for what is coming.
  • The dreaded murder scene. Suspense is built up. When the girl takes her time to cross the bridge, we only wish she walked faster. When she challenges the kids, we only wish she kept quiet. But she did what she thought was right and Philip did the only thing he knew. Again, Eric was a silent spectator, his only mistake was not to prevent the inevitable.

No character is truly evil

Also, despite being surrounded by very evil character, this movie gives us reasons to understand them. We cannot forgive them, but we are given elements that prevent us from forgetting they are humans, also victims of the world around them.

  • The parents are careless, but the mother is dying from cancer.
  • Philip is a killer, but he is also a rape victim.
  • Terry’s son reported Jack, but out of jealousy because his father loved Jack more than him.

What is not shown

Several choices made for this movie, regarding what we do or do not see, are very interesting.

We never see the trial defence. We only see the accusation lawyer, making a speech rich in rhetoric and the crowd full of hate. Was there a defence? Certainly not in Eric’s memories. No one appeared to understand the circumstances of the events, not even the parents.

The mob after him stays invisible. We never know who are the murdered girl’s relatives. Their faces are not show in the trial, they stay off screen. We are never shown people looking out for him when he is out of prison. We only see tv broadcasts or newspaper articles where the only face is his portrait. This is another clever choice, just like in Alien, as what we cannot see is what we fear the most. We cannot judge the extent of the forces who are looking out for him. We cannot have any idea if he has a chance to survive.

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how do you feel? edit
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Philip's grave? edit
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bullied youth edit
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wanna see something cool? meet philip edit
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feedback with Terry edit
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hello Michelle edit
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saving a life edit
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