Raquel at Electric Warrior included me in this online tag-your-it game called Coming of Age Movies Meme a couple months back. But that's OK. When it comes to movies, I'm game. But it's interesting, Raquel mentions in her post that she had to look up "coming-of-age" in Merriam-Webster because she wasn't quite sure how to define it. (Read her post to see what she came up with.) I had to also go to M-W because I didn't know what "meme" meant. According to M-W:
Main Entry: meme
Etymology: alteration of mimeme, from mim- (as in mimesis) + -eme: an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture
So there I had it. I now that I knew what "meme" meant, I was left to ponder the question of coming-of-age movies and how to define them. I agree with Raquel's conclusion that the term can apply almost across the board — that any movie can be a coming-of-age movie if looked at the right way — but only to a point. Yes, a character growing or maturing has a lot to do with what makes a coming-of-age movie a coming-of-age movie (from here on in referred to as COAs). But that maturity has to be significant. A movie where a character realizes the value of a hotdog might show growth (maybe he/she hated hot dogs at the start of the film), but accepting hot dogs as worthy for consumption doesn't exactly equate with serious growth.
COAs have to have growth and maturity, but it has to be significant enough to reach beyond the screen and touch the viewer in some way. In my view, COAs are COAs when the characters grow and mature, and by watching them do so the viewer is forced to think about their own position (maybe I should go talk to that girl, maybe I should give up being a jerk and start helping people, etc.). This sense of identification is what makes cinema so wonderful. Oh sure, you can find a similar thing on stage or in literature, but film is built around immediacy. And as such, it has the power to transform — if only for the car ride home — the viewer. (The best films are the ones that linger beyond that car ride.)
In compiling a list of COAs, I tried to apply that criteria to what I think are the best COAs. So, without further pontification…
1. What are 3 movies that exemplify the Coming of Age Movie genre?
The Life Aquatic Oh, hell, every Wes Anderson movie. He’s a master at constructing the COA film. Rushmore is his masterpiece, but the growth Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) shows in Aquatic is brilliant — mostly because Bill Murray is a heartbreaking genius in the film.
The Third Man In Carol Reed’s adaptation of the Graham Greene story, Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) comes to post-war Vienna to find his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) only to discover that he’s dead. But, of course, there’s much more to the story. And over the course of it, Holly transforms in a revelatory way from wide-eyed American idealist to more embittered Euro-centric realist.
Purple Rain Put aside that I’m a Prince fan for a minute. This film shows great growth on the part of The Kid (Prince) as he matures from self-obsessed diva to an adult that understands the importance of inclusion and tolerance. It’s not the best movie ever made, but the narrative here laid the groundwork for future generations of COAs and the soundtrack is one of the best in recent film history.
2. What is your favorite Coming of Age Movie and why?
Lost in Translation This film is, hands down, one of the best films of the past ten years because of how astutely Sophia Coppola crafts her characters (Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson) as living, breathing, existing people, and how she transforms them into more complete, better people at the end of the film. Murray is the master of the middle-age COA, and this represents the crown jewel of his COA work (the others being Rushmore, The Life Aquatic and Broken Flowers).
I guess the custom is to "tag" other people for this thing, so… Heather, Bob Ward (if you even read my blog), James and Susie: You're It!