Video of the Day


Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

Live and Active Affiliates
This area does not yet contain any content.

« In Which We Start Again As Beginners »

Sadder Than What Came Before


dir. Mike Mills
105 minutes

Much like describing the liquid in a glass, a decisive moment in life is either an ending or a beginning, depending on the light. It takes time to notice that the end of a great relationship is also the onset of a period of incomparable potential; it takes even longer to remember when that sadness woke up as happiness. In the subdued, painterly palette of Mike Mills’ Beginners, the lines become impossible to draw  it takes many, many sketches.

Hal (the ever heartwarming Christopher Plummer) drew his line at age 75, months after the death of his wife, by coming out to his son Oliver (the slightly canine Ewan McGregor). He does so emphatically, matter-of-factly, establishing himself as the brand of gay man who wants “to do something about it.”

When the film opens, Hal has already passed lung cancer. He leaves behind innumerable bottles of medication, a beautiful house, an affectionate but dependent dog (Arthur) and Oliver, the confused and grieving son, the one in charge of sorting the aftermath.

The most evident thing about Oliver is that he is sad, the kind of sadness that defines, if not creates, a person. So much, in fact, that it can be seen from behind a costume of Freud. When he meets Anna (Melanie Laurent), who plays along as the patient to his clinician, she dissects him instead. Through forces inexplicable in language but familiar to the dimension of relationships, they leave the party together, and stay together.

The film is largely episodic, with the arc of Oliver’s relationship with Anna being braced by flashbacks of his past, strongly tied to his relationship with his parents. We see a series of impassive kisses between them contrasted by the tender moments between Oliver and his new girlfriend, elusive and sad in her own way.

We see Hal discover house music, get sick, fall in love. This inter-cutting retraces Oliver’s mannerisms to his earliest memories, and his emotional dysfunctionality to an irreversible moment: the realization that two people who love you might not love each other--that even if they do, sadness still seeps through.

As a story with an autobiographical spine based on Mills' relationship with his own father Beginners comes close to being hermetically sealed. It overflows with cultural markers, particularly in the sequences of historical images that Oliver narrates as artifacts of another time. This is the sun in 1955. This is the president in 2003. When a friend incites him to vandalize various empty spaces in LA, Oliver favors statements that evoke "historical consciousness" instead of the common vulgarities.

These moments, although refreshing, are simultaneously isolating; they inform us, but also turn away from us. A film so preoccupied with the past and its demerits finds it hard to undress its melancholy, which travels from frame to frame, 1955 to 2003, New York to L.A. (and back). It is in eyes of people who come together despite their personal sadness, who find it hard to provide for each other’s immeasurable lack.

As Oliver wisely notes, "our good fortune [allows] us to feel a sadness our parents never had time for." Beginners makes the time for it, amply so, perhaps excessively. There is always the desire to leave that melancholy behind and like Hal, turn the page and do something about it. Discover house music. Fall in love.

Tracy Wan is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Montreal. She last wrote in these pages about Keira Knightley in Last Night. She tumbls here.

"Slow Show" - The National (mp3)

"Driver Surprise Me" - The National (mp3)

"Runaway" - The National (mp3)

References (3)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Response: my review here
    Good Website, Stick to the fantastic work. Thanks.
  • Response
    In Which We Start Again As Beginners - Home - This Recording
  • Response
    Response: 1

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.