4 August 2011

Mike Mills's Thumbsucker (2005)

This was director Mike Mills's first feature, and was filmed in Beaverton and Portland, Oregon.

Seventeen-year-old Justin Cobb (played by 17-year-old Lou Pucci) is the thumbsucker of the title, and this is an adaptation of Walter Kirn's 1999 autobiographical novel of the same name. Mills is fascinated by transgressions, and what – thinking about it – can be much more transgressive than an adult addictively sucking his thumb? Justin's father Mike (Vincent D'Onofrio) finds it repulsive; he does it at school in a toilet cubicle just as he might conceal mastubatory activity; he daren't reveal his secret shame to his would be girlfriend Rebecca (Kelli Garner); and his orthodontist Dr. Perry Lynham (Keanu Reeves) more or less hypnotizes him out of it.

One of the joys of this movie is that people don't do what is expected of them, and kids and adults have equal weight: no one is magically wise due to age, and age can actually confer lack of maturity. Adults are seen to hesitate about courses of action relating to younger people, and even young kids can have a lot more going for them mentally.

Yes, of course there are a number of Oedipal references, and in the long conversation between Kirn and Mills (a special feature on the DVD), the novelist asks why thumbsucking should be seen as so taboo when sucking on a can of beer is seen as masculine behavior. This idea (not actually mentioned in either the conversation or Mills's commentary on the movie) is underlined toward the end when Perry (who is also Justin's unofficial analyst and other self, and who has earlier identified the thumbsucking as in part a substitute for the mother's breast) very improbably but very tellingly lights up two cigarettes in rapid sucession in the dental surgery.

This is after Perry has admitted to previous hippy philosophizing, declared that thumbsucking is in fact OK behavior, and made a statement of brilliant uncertainty: 'The truth is living without an answer. I think'.

Mills wholeheartedly agrees with the above remark, and says that the aim of the film is to 'help you feel more permissive about yourself'.

Elliott Smith was set to do the whole score, consisting of covers such as John Lennon's 'Isolation' and Leonard Cohen's 'The Sisters of Mercy', but, sadly, died before finishing it. A few of Smith's songs are still in there, such as Cat Stevens's 'Trouble', which Mills sentimentally remembers from Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude. (Many people have far less fond memories of Cat Stevens, and for very good reasons, but we'll save that for the next post.)

A movie about outsiders in which everyone (yes, that's all of us) is the outsider: I'm really looking forward to watching Mike Mills's recent Beginners.

2 comments:

Donna Burdett said...
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Annie Sminth said...
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