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Film / Nowhere Boy

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Nowhere Boy is a 2009 film about the life of a teenaged John Lennon, played by Aaron Johnson.

Set in Liverpool, it deals with Lennon's relationships with his aunt and guardian Mimi Smith (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his free-spirited mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), as well as his friendship with Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and the formation of The Beatles.

This film contains examples of:

  • Bookends: Near the beginning of the film, just after his beloved uncle George has died, grief-stricken 14-year-old John goes over to Mimi and hugs her from behind. She shrugs him off and says firmly "Let's not be silly," setting up how much he needs affection, and how resistant she is to giving it. At the end of the film, 19-year-old John needs Mimi to sign some papers so he can get a passport and go and play rock & roll in Hamburg. When she asks him is she parent or guardian, he says "Both." She looks stunned for a moment, then is overwhelmed with emotion and hugs him. He hugs her back, then he murmurs "Don't be silly," and she lets go. He's become much more independent, while she's become much better at showing the people she loves that she needs them.
  • Disappeared Dad: John's father has been out of his life for years, away frequently at first as a sailor in the British merchant service, then just leaving over problems with Julia. The last time John saw him he was five, and his father made John choose which parent he wanted to live with. John chose his father, but he still stayed in England with his mother. He only appears in flashbacks, never personally.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: This is the story of how teenage John and Paul came to be these.
  • Flashback: We see one where a 5-year-old John chooses between his parents.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: John displays some jealousy when Paul — who lost his mother to cancer the year before the two met — begins gravitating towards Julia as a bit of a Parental Substitute.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: John develops this over the course of the film, on account of the crap he goes through. Dramatized when he hits Pete at Julia's wake and Paul chases him outside and challenges him to punch him instead. John does exactly that.
  • Immodest Orgasm: John induces one of these in Maria.
  • Incest Subtext: It seems to be apparent between John and his mom. Justified to an extent, since John is a teenaged boy meeting his sexually adventurous mother for the first time. Most apparent in one scene that shows John and Julia lying together on a couch, with a shot of John's hand beating time to a song, then Julia's hand beating time to a song—then cutting to a scene where John is fingering a girl in the park.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Who's always got a few spare cigarettes for John?
  • Jerkass: John is always in danger of becoming a fully-fledged one of these, stepping over the line when he headbutts Pete and then punches Paul at Julia's wake, then he immediately regrets it and gives Paul a Man Hug complete with Manly Tears.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: John. He steals records from a record shop and then throws them away if he thinks they're "jazz". In the middle of the climactic fight with his aunt and sister, he notes that when he takes things away from people, they call it "stealing", implying that he habitually does this. And when he invites Eric into the band because Eric has a guitar, when he later lets George join the band, the next time we see the band onstage, George is playing Eric's guitar and Eric is in the audience looking resentful, strongly implying that John "liberated" Eric's guitar and gave it to George.
  • Missing Mom:
    • John's mother has been living separately from him for years. After they reconnect in his teens, he starts reforging a relationship with her. He eventually learns this is because his aunt Mimi took him away due to some questionable behavior on Julia's part. To top it all off, she's then killed in a car accident, devastating him.
    • It's also discussed that Paul's mother died from cancer the year before he met John.
  • Mood Whiplash: John and Uncle George are larking about, listening to The Goon Show on the radio and sharing nips from George's hip flask. Then George announces that he's off to the pub and starts to leave the room. On the radio, there's a sound effect of a gunshot, and right on cue George drops to the floor as if shot. John thinks it's hilarious. Then he realises that something's very wrong. George has had a fatal heart attack.
  • Move Along, Nothing to See Here: Mimi as Uncle George is carted away in an ambulance.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The first song that Julia teaches John on the banjo is a bit of ribaldry called "Maggie Mae", which the Beatles would over a decade later include on the Let It Be album.
    • The film opens with the opening guitar chord from A Hard Day's Night and a shot of Lennon running through Liverpool like the opening sequence in that movie.
    • Lennon is shown biking past the Salvation Army's Strawberry Field children's home.
    • The club that John is refused entry into is The Cavern, which the Beatles famously played at.
  • Nobody Loves the Bassist: The washboard-player version of this is strongly implied when John informs Pete what his instrument in The Quarrymen will be.
    Pete: [clearly unimpressed] Great. Lovely.
  • Oop North: Everyone in the film with the possible exception of Michael Fishwick, Mimi's lodger.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick / Right Through the Wall: John has an uncomfortable moment at his mother's house, listening (or rather unable to not hear) as she loudly has sex with her common-law husband/live-in boyfriend.
  • Parental Substitute:
    • Mimi becomes this, as John acknowledges in the film's last moments.
    • Julia also becomes this a little bit for Paul, as his own mother has recently died of cancer.
  • Raised by Grandparents: John's raised by his aunt and uncle.
  • Really Gets Around: "Your mother has always needed company. Do you know what I mean by company?"
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: It takes John a whole film to learn that Mimi is this.
  • Serious Business: Paul makes it very clear that music is this for him. Eventually it becomes it for John, too.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang:
    • Mimi is straight-laced, stern, and practical. Julia is a flighty free spirit to the point of emotional instability. This is why John got parked with his aunt.
    • This is exaggerated in the film, which cuts Lennon's three other aunts. With five kids, of course two are going to come to heads; making it seem as though Mimi and Julia are the only siblings each other has ratchets this up a notch.
  • Talent Double: Averted. Everyone sang and played their own instruments, as is clear from the fact that they aren't that good. Special kudos, however, to Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Paul, who despite being right-handed learned to play left-handed rock & roll guitar very well.
  • Tell Me About My Father: "Where's Dad?"
  • Two Beings, One Body: This is visually invoked after John punches Paul at Julia's wake and then immediately regrets it and apologises. The two of them hug and it's implied that both of them having lost their mothers at a young age has brought them closer together—then, in a long shot, they're angled in such a way that they appear to be one person with two heads, Lennon/McCartney.
  • Undercrank: Used to show the passage of time as John learns the banjo at Julia's.
  • Wall Bang Her: John and Maria have sex against a tree, in the park.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: John's kindly uncle George is in the film for its first ten minutes or so.
  • Young Future Famous People: The film showcases John Lennon as a teenager, and then Paul McCartney as well.