Adapted from the novel by Jonathan Trigell, director John Crowley's British film, BOY A tells the story of 'Jack', a young male finally released from prison for a killing committed with a friend when they were both young. With the assistance of Terry, a (plausibly smug) denizen of the mental health industry, 20-something Jack is established with a whole new identity. Inevitably shy and socially-awkward after spending most of his life under overt institutionalized discipline, Jack struggles to adjust to a modern world that he has never really known, gradually easing into his first job, making friends, and the tentative first steps with a girlfriend.
The story of Jack's past is told through the mechanism of his occasional, tortured flashbacks. As Jack's relationship with his girlfriend intensifies, he wants to disclose his history to her, but is dissuaded by his counsellor Terry, and by the actions of tabloid-mentality vigilantes, who have learned of his release and seek to track him down. Tension mounts palpably as we await the inevitable - the revelation of Jack's past identity - and the shattering consequences for the world that he has so painfully built.
BOY A gives the primary focus of its attention to Jack's present; the initial process of his adjustment is handled with warmth and evokes viewer empathy as he encounters facets of daily-life completely foreign to him after his long years of incarceration. A stranger in a strange land. The past killing is only briefly revealed, and in sketchy detail - which is fortunate, not only because the film's clear emphasis is on who Jack is now, but because the few revelations which we are fed are far and away the weakest element of the film (as the point where the screenplay promulgates the medico-juridical compulsion to account for 'character' through childhood events). Happily, these elements can be ignored for the most part, since thematically the central problematic contemplates the constructed notion of "the dangerous individual", and the application of this psychiatric invention to the all-too-human figure of Jack. The film's unifying thread thus opposes Terry's frequent assertions that Jack has the right to leave his past behind him, versus the lamentably-prevalent bourgeois 'morality' ("think of the children") of the torch-wielding villagers baying for Jack's blood.
A strong soundtrack accompanies the occasionally-indistinct dialogue, and Andrew Garfield as Jack turns in a truly outstanding and authentic début performance. Despite some weak moments, BOY A is a carefully-constructed, powerful drama, and should provoke long-overdue discussion of the harmfulness of our medico-juridical system, along with a questioning of the 19th century mythology of 'The Monster' that is so desperately clung to by contemporary societies. Well worth viewing.
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