Magazine article Metro Magazine

Almost Lost Boys: Maturity and Identity in Nicholas Verso's Boys in the Trees

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Almost Lost Boys: Maturity and Identity in Nicholas Verso's Boys in the Trees

Article excerpt

THE ATTAINMENT OF WISDOM AND THE CONSOLIDATION OF A SENSE OF SELF ARE TWIN ASPECTS OF COMING OF AGE, YET TEENAGERS SOMETIMES PERCEIVE THE TWO AS THOUGH THEY ARE AT ODDS. NICHOLAS VERSO'S DEBUT FEATURE DRAMATISES THIS VERY TURMOIL THAT TYPIFIES ADOLESCENCE, BUT--WITH MAGIC REALIST VISUALS, A NOSTALGIC 1990S SETTING, AND SUPERNATURAL AND HORROR ELEMENTS THE FILM ITSELF SEEMS MUDDLED IN CARVING OUT ITS IDENTITY, WRITES CAVAN GALLAGHER.

The teen drama is a genre that never loses relevance --and for good reason. Not only is there always a new generation of teenagers in need of art to relate to as they navigate the thorny path through adolescence, but the genre's enduring themes of identity and belonging also hold emotional truths to which all ages can respond.

Boys in the Trees (Nicholas Verso, 2016) weaves such a narrative using the language of dreams, fantasy and horror films to tell the story of two estranged friends, Corey (Toby Wallace) and Jonah (Gulliver McGrath), who come together on Halloween in 1997. On the cusp of graduation, the boys are facing an uncertain future and turmoil in the present. In particular, Jonah, a misfit whose small stature and introverted nature make him an easy target for schoolyard victimisation, is viciously bullied by violently arrogant jock Jango (Justin Holborow). Corey and Jonah had a falling-out after the former joined Jango's 'cool' crowd, the clear implication being that he finds safety in the social acceptance afforded by associating with the bully, rather than the 'outsider' status that stems from his friendship with Jonah. But it's also clear that Corey doesn't fit with Jango's manifesto of 'Weed to smoke, bitches to fuck [and] fags to bash', and feels uncomfortable among his boozing crew. This uncertainty is highlighted in an early scene in which he watches Jango beat Jonah but does nothing to protect his former friend.

Corey cannot avoid this dilemma for long, however, as he encounters Jonah that evening during Halloween celebrations. Jonah convinces Corey to walk him home, beginning a surreal, spiritual journey in which Corey rediscovers himself, learning about his own identity and the ways his current choices may destroy his future. As Jangc tells him, 'If you want to run with the wolves, you've got to kill a few lambs'--and Corey is coming to the realisation that, although he has put on the skin of a wolf (literalised in his Halloween costume, the various masks worn by the characters embodying clear allusions to the 'masks' donned in daily life), it doesn't suit him in the slightest.

Boys in the Trees takes a highly stylised tack to what is, at heart, a familiar coming-of-age story, with a heavy dose of surreal morality at play. The Halloween setting allows for macabre costuming and vivid lighting, helping to create a dreamlike, metaphor-heavy world. As the protagonists play a childhood game telling ghost stories, past and present as well as fiction and real life begin to commingle, with Jonah guiding Corey to find himself again. Ultimately, this effort comes at a terrible cost: in the end, we learn that Jonah had taken his own life earlier that evening, and that it is his ghost that has been with Corey the whole night. Though he helps his friend gain maturity in the right spirit, he tragically does not survive to grow up himself.

Like much fiction revolving around teenagers, the question of identity is central to the characters' journeys. Verso portrays maturity and identity as entwined, particularly in terms of the risk of attaining the former at the expense of the latter. In one scene, Corey and Jonah peek in on a schlubby, downcast-looking middle-aged man slumped in front of his television. Jonah gives an account of this man's life: the pressures of social conformity caused him to compromise his dreams to the point that they were utterly forgotten and beyond reach. How much is true, and how much is metaphor, is ambiguous, as per the film's overall tone, but this makes clear the message that identity--as expressed in our dreams and ambitions--is fragile and easily lost as maturity brings increased pressure to adapt to one's environment. …

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