Dancing for One’s Life

Posted in Movies by NAN on 2009/02/03
Jamie Bell in Billy Elliot (2008)

Jamie Bell as the boy ending up in a ballet class after a boxing session in Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot (2000)

As a prerequisite to The Reader, which sounded good to me only after Kate Winslet’s Golden Globe win, I decided to do a director survey on Stephen Daldry. It turns out that Reader is only his third full-length feature but all have garnered Oscar nominations so far. Previous to The Hours, which I rented at Video City during my early serial watching days, there’s Billy Elliot. With Kate inches away from the golden guy, I bet it’d be sweeter to be an informed viewer. I think it’s rare that directors are able to establish themselves as auteurs, but looking for common threads is engaging.

The premise is simple. Billy (Jamie Bell) can’t dance because 1) it’s gay 2) it doesn’t have anything to do with striking miners like his brother (Jamie Draven) and father (Gary Lewis). In effect, this is not just the feel-good movie that it looks like. It’s about rising against identity issues as well as reconciling one’s social condition with art. Yet it was inevitable: Billy needed his dead mother, and he gained one not only in his ballet teacher (Julie Walters) but in dancing itself—the nearness to music, the rhythm of his resistance from the violence of the worker’s strike.

What’s amazing about this movie, I think, is how it demonstrates that pursuing love and enduring heartbreak is also material. When we see how Billy’s father wrecked his wife’s piano into firewood, how Billy steals a ballet book from a roving public library, we know that actual things are consumed. It isn’t just a question of skill or of choice to pursue the creative life. The road to his mother’s figurative bosom is paved with discrimination, and it required Billy to pay through it. But because he was just a boy, he had to do it despite the distress. It was a pact among men that lent him the wings of the swan, sublime in its flight, liberating in its leap.


2 Responses

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  1. themayfly said, on 2009/02/03 at 4:21 AM

    Billy Elliot is a brilliant film. I like the way you write about it 🙂

  2. nan said, on 2009/02/03 at 2:32 PM

    @themayfly True. I thought it was optimistic yet sober (I like that). Well-wrought characters too. 🙂

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