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Film Review: "Nowhere Boy"

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Screen shot of the character of John Lennon, who is played by Aaron Johnson in the British-Canadian biopic "Nowhere Boy"

The film tells the story of John Lennon's childhood and, ultimately, what shaped him into the rock and roll legend that he later became. Through the relationship Lennon had with his mother, Julia Lennon, an emotional drama rife with personal conflict unfolds.

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Aaron Johnson, who plays Lennon, impeccably breathes life into the character bringing a deft blend of adolescence and vulnerability into his performance. The viewer immediately understands the weight of the dilemma Lennon faced as he began to uncover, when he was a teenager, the reality that his mother (Anne Marie-Duff) gave him up to his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas).

The inspiration that rock and roll had on him provides a key element to the story too. Lennon is not meant to discover his mother was living nearby the house he lived in with his aunt. Yet, he finds her and, through her, he discovers music that is being released, styles far different from classical and jazz music.

Lennon and his mother go to see Elvis Presley at a movie theater. It's the Fifties and the theater crowd goes wild at the sight of the rising rock n' roll star. The enthusiasm infects Lennon leading him to wish he could have been Elvis, to which his mother responds that he is not Elvis because he was meant to be John Lennon.

The line plants the seed in Lennon's heart leading him to redefine his look and adopt a hairstyle similar to Elvis Presley. He begins to go about the city fooling around, picking up chicks, and stealing vinyl records from local record stores. He steals forty-fives from a shop and they all wind up being good-for-nothing classical records. The episode would have been all for naught if it wasn't for the fact that a man stops him and argues the music isn't so bad and Lennon trades him for a Screamin' Jay Hawkins record the man recently got his hands on.

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The forty-five is "I Put a Spell on You" and the scene, where Lennon sits watching his mother take in the music while smoking, has a cinematic quality to it that makes one wonder if Lennon was ever haunted by an Oedipal complex. His mother takes on a luring and dangerous quality; in fact, she is the person in his life who instills the fantasy of being a rock and roll star, which his Aunt Mimi does not approve. This means he is no longer getting his education. She also worries about how his mother could disappoint him because she has let him down before.

His mother is the one who gives him his guitar. Lennon gets into a spat with Aunt Mimi and wishes to move in with his mother. His mother remarried. She has a husband who does not want Lennon to live in his house with his mother (and her husband's issue with Lennon living with her appear similar to Aunt Mimi's in some respects). In that sense, she becomes a "bad" mother, one that will never satisfy Lennon's aggressive fantasy to return to her

The formation of the Quarrymen, the early garage rock band that later transformed into the world's most successful band in rock and roll history, the Beatles, shows Lennon reaching for the sky and pushing himself to have something more in life than what he has at home.

Lennon meets Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster). McCartney gives off a calm and collected sensibility and is there for the music, something which surprises Lennon, who is much more interested in the way rock and roll allows one to display masculinity and mask vulnerability.

A bond forms between the two as Lennon finds out McCartney lost his mother at fifteen to cancer. Lennon empathizes with this loss as he never really had a mother.

The culmination of the film is the death of Lennon's mother. Lennon's band, The Quarrymen, has been doing well. Lennon has met and incorporated George Harrison into the band. He has begun to reconcile his problems with his mother and his aunt and mother have begun to reconcile differences they have had, which have put Lennon through so much emotional conflict. But, his mother is hit by a car, and with her death, the sense of loss is tremendous. It's a special kind of loss, a loss of something Lennon believed in which he never had.

His mother's death appears to be a key motive for Lennon's decision to move on with his musical career and go to Hamburg. One can ask whether Lennon's mother was holding him back and whether, without her death, Lennon would have been compelled to leave behind his mother and advance his journey onward toward rock and roll fame with The Beatles and later as a revolutionary solo artist.

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Joseph Campbell writes of the Universal Mother as someone who can be protecting and nourishing. The story makes obvious that Lennon's mother was never there to protect him and she only nourished him as a teenager after he discovered her and desired her support as he led The Quarrymen.

Campbell also writes that the Mother can be "the death of everything that dies."

"The whole round of existence is accomplished within her sway, from birth, through adolescence, maturity, and senescence, to the grave. She is the womb and the tomb: the sow that eats her farrow. Thus she unites the "good" and the "bad," exhibiting the two modes of the remembered mother, not as the personal only, but as universal. The devotee is expected to contemplate the two with equal equanimity. Through this exercise his spirit is purged of its infantile, inappropriate sentimentalities and resentments, and his mind opened to the inscrutable presence which exists, not primarily as "good" and "bad" with respect to his childlike human convenience, his weal and woe, but as the law and image of the nature of being." (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 95)

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for

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