I watched Nowhere Boy last weekend having not gotten around to seeing it in the cinema even though I had wanted to. It’s Sam Taylor-Wood’s directorial debut about the early life of John Lennon and stars Aaron Johnson. The movie was released here last year but is not scheduled to have its US release until October 8th this year on what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday.
The movie explores the relationship Lennon had with both Julia, his mother and Mimi, his aunt who raised him. Both were very strong personalities but in different ways; Mimi was a strict disciplinarian who provided a stable home, Julia was fun-loving and charismatic but completely unreliable. Both defined Lennon’s later conflicted relationships with women and left a complicated legacy that he would spend years trying to unravel.
I have always identified with Lennon’s early life in a strange way. Like him I was not raised by my mother but instead raised by a woman called Mimi; in his case his aunt and in mine my grandmother. I could sympathise with the confusion and anger Lennon felt as he grew up, the helplessness he raged against as people made bad decisions that affected his life.
The song “Mother” used in the film was written after Lennon attended “Primal Therapy”, a practice in vogue in the 60s and 70s and now widely discredited as many psychologists believe it simply re-traumatises the patient. The song was not used in its entirety in the movie, but it’s worth listening to it in full. Lennon’s screaming anguished delivery is heart wrenching and raw and provides a greater insight into the man than many of his more well known songs.
I think Taylor-Wood was wise to focus on one aspect of Lennon’s life in the film. He was an extraordinarily complicated man and a film about his entire life would inevitably be diluted and unsatisfying. Johnson, wearing Lennon’s trademark glasses and a teddy boy hairstyle, is eerily reminiscent of the young Lennon, although his Liverpudlian accent needs some work. Thomas Sangster played the very young Paul McCartney, and in the scenes where their first band “The Quarrymen” are performing live, he nails McCartney’s cheery onstage demeanour.
The Beatles always referred to Lennon as their leader (early names for the band included “Johnny and the Moondogs”, and “Long John and The Beetles”) and this dynamic is evident throughout the film. The charisma, confidence, and sharp intelligence that would propel Lennon to stardom was apparent from his early teenage years. Nowhere Boy is a thoughtful and sympathetic portrait of one of the 20th Century’s most enduring icons.