Boy A is a 2007 British television drama based on a 2004 book of the same name by Jonathan Trigell. Starring Andrew Garfield and Peter Mullen, Boy A follows Jack Burridge, formerly Eric Wilson, a twenty-something man released from prison for a dark childhood act. Eager to finally live his life and move on from his past once and for all, Jack nonetheless struggles with the weight of what he once did on his conscience, constantly fighting the urge to open up and reveal his past to his workmates even in spite of his kindhearted caseworker's insistence that "Jack is a new person." Jack is eventually able to truly redeem himself by saving a little girl's life, but the truth about him and what he once did unfortunately comes out sooner than later and things quickly spiral out of control as a result.
Boy A was released in the United Kingdom as a television film in September of 2007 and theatrically in the United States in July 2008 by The Weinstein Company. For his sympathetic and compassionate performance in this small-scale, character-driven drama Garfield received significant critical praise and even a BAFTA.
This film provides examples of:
- All for Nothing: Jack spends the entire film trying to move on from his past and build a new life under his new identity, only to have it come back when he least expects it and ruin everything hed worked for.
- Anti-Hero: Although portrayed sympathetically, Jack himself falls squarely under this on account of his being an ex-con in prison for most of his life for his involvement in a childhood murder. He is still more than capable of violence, but he chooses to use it for good this time and is just eager to turn over a new leaf.
- Country Matters: Terry screams at his unrepentant son that he's a "fucking little cunt!" twice when he finds out that he's the one who leaked Jack's true identity to the press.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Jack's haunts him like a dark cloud following his every move, even as he tries to lead a normal life. Forced to live a lie for the rest of his life under his new court-assigned identity, Jack struggles with the weight this has on his conscience and desperately wants to come clean to his new friends. However, the caseworker talks him out of doing so, arguing that this would have grave implications for his safety, especially with vigilantes out for his blood and a £20,000 bounty placed on his head.
- Downer Ending: Jack is exposed as Eric to the public by the caseworker's son in a fit of jealous rage, completely ruining his life and tarnishing the reputation he worked so hard to earn. He is fired from his job, his coworkers and girlfriend want nothing to do with him anymore, and his caseworker Terry is completely unreachable to make matters even worse. Hounded by reporters and an angry mob, he flees his home and boards a train to Blackpool, where he stands at the edge of a pier before a sudden Smash to Black.
- Driven to Suicide: Heavily implied at the end with Jack standing at the edge of a pier, his new life and all that he'd worked for destroyed completely by forces outside of his control.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Sadly subverted. Jack works tirelessly to redeem himself for the part he played in Angela's death, creating a new life for himself alongside new friends and a girlfriend while also saving a child's life from a car wreck. Unfortunately, the counselor's son destroys everything he'd worked to achieve and his new life ends as soon as it began.
- Freudian Excuse:
- Jack, then known as Eric Wilson, was raised in a miserable and abusive household with an alcoholic father and a mother dying of cancer. He is bullied and abused by his schoolmates constantly but finds his first real friend in the sociopathic troublemaker Philip, who leads him astray down a dark path.
- Philip himself is revealed to have been a victim of sexual abuse perpetrated by his older brother.
- Zeb, the caseworker's son, goes out of his way to destroy Jack's life by exposing him as Eric to the public, doing this out of envy for the kind of treatment Jack has been getting from his own father.
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Subverted with Angela. Although the British tabloid media in its usual appeals to emotion portrayed her as an innocent victim of pure evil, the flashbacks we see of Angela instead establish her as being a spoiled, privileged and entitled brat who looked down upon Eric and Philip for their lower class status. This bullying proves to be the final straw for both boys, Philip especially, and he proceeds to knife her several times before eventually killing her, with Eric joining him eventually.
- Karmic Death: Although Terry says that Philip committed suicide Jack has reason to suspect that he was actually killed in prison by other young offenders.
- Nice Guy:
- Jack. Putting aside his involvement in a childhood murder Jack is genuinely a kind, friendly person with a childlike disposition who unfortunately has absolutely no social skills from being imprisoned for so long. Garfield portrays him so sympathetically and with such care and pathos you genuinely want to see him finally find peace and feel absolutely terrible for him when the Downer Ending rolls around.
- Terry. As Jack's kindhearted and fatherly mentor and counselor, all Terry wants is to ensure he reintegrates into society and leads a good life on the right path. While Terry's unwavering commitment to Jack is admirable and results in him being successfully rehabilitated, it also has the unfortunate knock-on effect of irreparably damaging his already brittle relationship with his own son, something that eventually leads to the film's tragic and bleak conclusion.
- Reformed, but Rejected: Jack struggles to come to terms with what he did as a child and what originally led to his arrest, even as he tries to put it behind him and lead a good life under his new identity. Wanting to be honest with his friends about who he once was, he still fears that this is exactly what will become of him once people find out. At the same time, he desperately wants to get the burden of his crime off his soul so as to finally find peace and some sense of happiness in his life.
- The Scapegoat: Jack. While his involvement in Angela's death is never made clear, the British press sees him as every bit the same murderous sociopath that Philip was.
- The Sociopath: Philip is a low-functioning example of one. Freudian Excuse or not, Philip was a deeply disturbed young boy with a troubling penchant for violence and killing defenseless animals for fun, as shown by his callous torture and killing of an eel they fish out of a local river. He initiates the murder of a schoolmate named Angela and Eric eventually joins him, though how much involvement he had in the act exactly is left up to the viewer's interpretation.
- Tragic Villain: Although he was a deranged sociopath who tortured and killed animals and even murdered a classmate Philip came from a broken home much like Jack did, and to make matters worse was also raped habitually by his older brother. Philip's actions were utterly depraved and reprehensible but at the end of the day, he was just a deeply broken little kid with deep-seated trauma and severe mental health issues that went unchecked, turning him into an absolute monster. Additionally, unlike Jack, Philip could never find peace or redemption of any kind and either hung himself in his cell out of guilt or was murdered by other young offenders. Jack believes the latter was what actually happened.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film and the book that it was based on both drew widespread comparisons to the notorious James Bulger case of 1993, a nightmarishly sad murder case from England involving two ten-year-old boys who did unspeakable things to an innocent toddler. The tragedy ignited a media firestorm unlike any other and prompted aggressive debate over the treatment of juvenile offenders convicted of serious crimes, remaining infamous in the UK to this day as a result. Both kids have since been released as adults under new identities, but while one of them now lives a quiet life in complete anonymity the other has been sent back to prison for possessing indecent images of children. Despite the apparent similarities, the nature of the crime as depicted in Boy A is completely different, and the main inspiration for the story was actually a childhood friend of the author's who initially struggled to readjust to normal life after a stint in prison during his youth (though not for murder, as you might be led to believe) but eventually grew into a model member of society.