This artist is considered to be one of the world’s most inspiring songwriters of our time, and his impact on modern music is profound, to say the least.
Many view John Lennon as the founder of The Beatles or as the outspoken symbol of the counterculture that advocated peace and love. What is not often considered is the depth and complexity of his personality and the difficulties that characterized most of his childhood.
The newly released UK film, “Nowhere Boy,” captures this hidden story by bringing the viewer deep into the struggles of young Lennon and giving insight into some of the events that inspired the genius.
The film, which was originally released in the United Kingdom over a year ago, made its way to the U.S. just in time for what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday on Oct. 9. It relates what has been called the “untold story” of Lennon’s life in Liverpool before the Beatles formed and the struggle for personal identity that produced the talent the world knows today.
A rebellious and impudent teenage Lennon (Aaron Johnson) is lost and confused in the home of his strict Aunt Mimi (Kristen-Scott Thomas) when he is finally introduced to his mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who gave him up at the age of five. Longing to form a closer relationship with her and a chance to experience maternal love, Lennon is soon introduced to the world of rock and roll, and his life suddenly develops a new purpose.
All of Lennon’s energies become focused on growing closer to his mother, mastering his rock and roll skills and forming his new band, The Quarrymen.
Yet, just as Lennon and his band are gaining local popularity, relationships with the two women in his life become strained as an argument over him reveals the truths of his family’s past and the direction of his future.
For John Lennon, or Beatles fans, this film is a delight. The various hints to Beatles trivia, such as the flashing image of Strawberry Fields or the real life childhood picture of John in Aunt Mimi’s home, are easily recognizable and exciting to any fan. One can’t help but smile when John and Paul McCartney are introduced, understanding the brilliance that is to come.
But you don’t have to be a Beatles fan to enjoy this biopic. Interestingly, the name “Beatles” is never even mentioned. Instead, the focus remains on Lennon’s past and his personal development.
Lennon’s story is one of self discovery and the universal search for love. As the title (a play off the Beatles’ 1965 song “Nowhere Man”) suggests, his life before the realization of his mother’s and aunt’s love seems pointless. He is told that his reckless ways are getting him nowhere, yet it is only through the love of Julia and Aunt Mimi that he is able to channel his anger and kick-start his rock-and-roll career. Thus, the tension between the sisters causes him much distress.
Although he doesn’t look much like Lennon, Aaron Johnson does a superb job of portraying the anger, free spiritedness and sensitivity that made up the musician’s character. He is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast and a beautiful British setting that makes the story really come to life.
While some insight into Lennon’s development as an artist would have added continual depth to his complex personality, the director focuses on the family struggles of the young musician. This reveals a Lennon that we can all relate to, and it tells the story that paved the way for the music that changed the world.
“Nowhere Boy” may not delve into the deepest aspects of John Lennon’s past, but it certainly keeps one engaged and does an excellent job of introducing another side to the Lennon the world has grown to know and love.