Among other things, the American film ‘Beginners’, directed Mike Mills, is a story of a man’s attempts to understand the sexuality of his father, and in turn understand his own ambivalent views towards relationship. What makes the whole affair more poignant is that the story is more of less based on Mills own life, whose father, like Hal in the film, came out to him at the age of 74, four years before his dead. The film also celebrates the possibilities that opened up before Hal after he finally gathered the courage to come out.
After his father is dead, Oliver falls in love with a French actress. As he takes tentative steps towards a relation he has never experienced before, his pits his own situation with the reality his parents faced during their prime. In a heartbreaking scene, in the middle of the film, Oliver, compares and contrasts his situation, a heterosexual man in love with an independent Jewish woman in 2003, with a closet homosexual and a Jewish woman in the years following the second world war.
Since Oliver, and by that logic, Mills himself, happened to be a graphic artist, he describes the differences graphically, which I believe, one of the best scenes ever committed to screen.
The scene begins with Oliver telling Anna that she’s pretty. Anna says, No. Oliver says, Yeah. Then Anna says: “Jewish girls are not pretty. They can be interesting or cute, but not pretty.”
“You're kidding, right?” says Oliver.
“That's what my mom told me.”
“She did not.”
Anna laughs: “No, you're right. This girl at school told me that, and l went home and my mom said, ''Anna, who told you that?''
Then we hear Oliver’s voice-over. The following is Oliver’s voice-over.
“This is what it looks like when Anna tells me about being Jewish in 2003.”
“And when I tell her my mother was Jewish. And that my father turned in his gay badge when my mother turned in her Jewish badge. And they got married in 1955.
“My mother didn't know she was Jewish until she was thirteen.
It was 1938. (On screen, we see the picture of the man who was the president of United States that year.)
“This is what people looked like. (On screen, we see pictures of people in black and white as printed in magazines like Time and Life)
“And lions and giraffes. (On screen, we pictures of both, in circus)
“This man was the Man of the Year. (On screen, we see a copy of Time Magazine with Hitler on the cover)
“Her father tried to hide that they were Jewish. (On screen, we see a middle aged man defiantly smiling at the camera)
“This is the swim team that asked her to leave once they discovered that she was Jewish. (On screen, we see a group of girls in swimming costumes posing, with a red arrow pointing to the girl in the middle)
“This is what pretty looked like in 1938. (On screen, we see a collage of pictures of women printed in magazines in Eastman colour)
“My father realized he was gay when he was thirteen. It was 1938. (On screen, we see a young boy lazing in the field)
“This is what pretty looked like. (On screen, we see vintage pictures of male swimmers)
“This is the high school where they first met. (On screen, we see a building)
“This is the war they both went to. (On screen, we see a photograph of a school)
“And this man was popular when they met again. (On screen, we see a picture of James Dean)
“This is the only place my father could hide and have sex in the '50s. (On screen, we see a public toilet)
“My father said if you got caught by the vice squad, you could lose everything. (On screen, we see the archival footage of the squad at work)
“This is everything. (On screen, we see a collage of magazine photos of “happy families with a wife and two children)
“My father laid down on a couch like this and told the psychiatrist all his problems in 1955. (On screen, we see a posh doctor’s office)
“The doctor told him that homosexuality was a mental illness, but it could be cured. (On screen, we see picture of a brain)
“Not everyone got cured.
“This is where my parents lived in 1955. (On screen, we see a map of Los Angeles)
“And this is the home where the first gay-rights group were secretly meeting.
“While they were reciting their vows here in this church,
“Allen Ginsberg was writing his famous poem, Howl, blocks away in this room.
(On the soundtrack we hear Ginsberg recited ‘Howl’, and on screen is the picture of his room which slowly dissolves.)
GlNSBERG: “...who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love... “
The lion reference above comes from a conversation between Hal and Oliver earlier:
Hal: Well, let's say that since you were little, you always dreamed of getting a lion. And you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait but the lion doesn't come. And along comes a giraffe. You can be alone, or you can be with the giraffe.
Oliver: I'd wait for the lion.
Hal: That's why I worry about you.
Beginners is a 2010 American romantic comedy-drama film written and directed by Mike Mills. It tells the story of Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a man reflecting on the life and death of his father while trying to forge a new romantic relationship with a woman dealing with father issues of her own.
Beginners premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, where the Los Angeles Times heralded it as a "heady, heartfelt film" with a cast who has "a strong sense of responsibility to their real-world counterparts".