Short Takes: Nowhere Boy
By Chris Chang
(Sam Taylor-Wood, U.K., 2009)
In the last two or so months over 11,000 people have logged on to lyrics007.com to do whatever it is they do with the words to John Lennon’s song “Mother.” (Nearly 30,000 have hit on “Woman.”) It’s a startling stat—but just business as usual in the afterlife of a Beatle.
So, as the lyrics go: “Mother, you had me but I never had you / I wanted you but you didn’t want me . . .” The two-part statement, as depicted in Nowhere Boy, proves to be false—yet remains viable as melodrama. (The song plays over the end credits.) The film explores the period in the life of the young Lennon (Aaron Johnson) from when he was first bitten by the music bug, to the eve of his band’s departure for Hamburg—a residency that would completely transform the pop paradigm. (The group’s name is never mentioned.) Between those moments, the fledgling musician resided with his rather proper aunt (Kristin Scott Thomas), a woman who had “rescued” him from the questionable lifestyle of his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) who, in turn, stayed in touch and lived nearby.
Well-crafted, and rather proper to a fault, the art of Wood’s film reveals itself best in its treatment of “the maternal,” and the way in which an almost ghostly form of care and control eerily sets the stage for the arrival of a future mother figure—patiently waiting on the other side of the film’s narrative. For permission to use Lennon’s “Mother,” the producers of Nowhere Boy, of course, had to get Yoko’s approval.