Coming-of-age/rite-of-passage film

This week's readings | Australasian coming-of-age and rite-of-passage films


Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971)
Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981)
The Big Steal (Nadia Tass, 1990)
Looking For Alibrandi (Kate Woods, 2000)
December Boys (Roy Hardy, 2007)
Clubland (Cherie Nowlan, 2007)
Home Song Stories (Tony Ayres, 2007)

Main screening

Somersault (Cate Shortland, 2004) 106 min.

As I review this topic for presentation in 2008, I'm struck by the large number of feature films which arguably belong in this category which have been released in recent years—particularly last year, 2007. In reverse order, by date of release, these are some of the films that have appeared.

September (Peter Carstairs, 2007)
December Boys (Rod Hardy, 2007)
Home Song Stories, The (Tony Ayres, 2007)
Romulus My Father (Richard Roxburgh, 2007)
Clubland (Cherie Nowlan, 2007)
2:37 (Murali Thalluri, 2006)
48 Shades (Daniel Lapaine, 2006)
Caterpillar Wish, The (Sandra Sciberras, 2006)
Peaches (Craig Monahan, 2004)
In My Father's Den (Brad McGann, 2004)
Somersault (Cate Shortland, 2004)

I have no simple explanation for this recent interest in such stories, though, looking back over the last forty years, there seem to me to be potential useful homologies (analogies, if you prefer) between the subjects of these films, the age of the (post-invasion) society in which they are set, the stage of the (re-) development of the industry of which they are a part, and the ages and career stages of some of the principal actors.

As we're in a post-PowerPoint age, I'll do that again in dot points. I'm suggesting the notion of a correspondence between the maturation of these different entities.

I think all I'll be able to do here is to suggest that these might be useful topics for further consideration, and that anyone interested look at the list I've arranged by actor in some relevant films as one example.

Coming of age refers originally to the change from childhood to adulthood, which occurs at the end of the period we now call adolescence. It is of course signalled by physical transformations, but also involves other significant events, to do with the social and ethical marking of changes of other kinds. In Jewish society, for example, the bar mitzvah is a celebration of the child's admission, at the age of 13 for boys, 12 for girls, into adult society. The 21st birthday party used to mark this in Anglo-Saxon societies, but this has been lost with the change in the age of adult status down to 18. The notion has been adapted for use in describing an aspect of some narratives, as one of the Wikipedia contributors writes:

The term coming of age is also used in reference to different media such as stories, movies, etc. that have a young character or characters who, by the end of the story, have developed in some way, through the undertaking of responsibility, or by learning a lesson.
Rite of passage is a term taken from anthropology. Again, it's convenient to quote Wikipedia:
A rite of passage is a ritual that marks a change in a person's social or sexual status. The term was popularised by the French ethnographer Arnold van Gennep (1873-1957), in the early part of the twentieth century. Further theories were developed in the 1960s by Mary Douglas and Victor Turner. Rites of passage are often ceremonies surrounding events such as childbirth, menarche or other milestones within puberty, weddings, menopause, and death.
This week will be concerned with neither menopause nor death. Rather, we'll look at the two primary ideas together, that is, thinking of rites of passage in the context of coming of age.

For a more specific starting-point, let's look at Jonathan Rayner's introduction to the topic of the rite of passage film in the Australian context.

The protagonist undergoing fundamental, formative and traumatic experience, travelling and questing within a country supposedly his own but over which he can exert little control, emerges as key characteristic of Australian film narratives ... of the 1970s and '80s. From the 1980s into the '90s, features foregrounding the rite of passage have forsaken the parabolic, historic settings of the First World War and the aestheticism of the period film to concentrate on the prosaic or unremarkable dilemmas of adolescents and immature adults. (Rayner 2000: 142-143)


Main screening

The teenpic 2004-2005

In 2004-5, one week was concerned with the "teenpic". The relevant presentation is still available, and you can choose this topic for your first essay if you wish.

New: 15 January 2006 | Now: 19 December, 2010 | Garry Gillard