Below is an interview with Alexandra Taylor, a former student of mine who is currently studying Digital Media Content Creation at University of California, San Diego. She is a writer interested in stories that explore the human condition and inspire compassion.
JW: Is there a universal quality to this film--can film viewers say "how did director Waititi know that childhood is like this?"--or do we find a distinct, New Zealand coming-of-age experience represented here?
AT: Boy is a classic coming-of-age film told through a unique cultural lens. Waititi inspires the inner child within viewers by bringing to life the characters’ imaginations. Whether it is Boy pretending his father is Michael Jackson, Rocky expressing his anxiety through drawing or Boy’s friend Dallas painting himself to look like a "moldy Smurf," viewers can recall their own unbridled and unaffected imagination through these characters. At the same time, Waititi conveys issues like poverty and domestic violence present in many New Zealand homes--an issue which he has openly criticized in the past.
JW: Why is deception and impersonation at the core of this film? The father Alamein appears to be a big shot motorcycle gang leader, and the titular character consistently acts older and more experienced than he is.
AT: I’m fascinated by dysfunctional families and father-son relationships. Every parent-child relationship is a performance in which the parent pretends to be a hero and the child impersonates them. As we see in the film, the illusion eventually fades and reality takes over.
When Alamein reenters Boy’s life he must fill an immense void left by his absence, for which he’s emotionally unequipped. Alamein rejects adulthood, likely because he never had a father himself (his mother is barely present but there is no mention of a father) and thus he risks encouraging the same behavior in his impressionable son. When Boy realizes the truth about his father, he either must come to terms with his limitations or internalize his issues. Boy must learn that adulthood comes not from becoming a comic book hero but by accepting one’s self and developing the capacity to forgive others.
JW: My favorite scene is the dance number at the end, a combination of Michael Jackson and Maori Haka. What is the role of pop culture, and specifically Michael Jackson, in the film?
AT: Mine too! Pop culture permeates every aspect of the film, from Boy’s obsession with Michael Jackson to many of the characters’ names (Rocky, Dynasty, etc.). By weaving Michael Jackson with rural Maori life, Waititi immerses us in the cultural climate of New Zealand in the 80’s. Boy also sees Michael Jackson as a hero figure in the absence of his father and often merges the two in his mind.
JW: OK, I have to ask you about Boy's younger brother Rocky. Are Rocky's unique artistic talents (I love when he roller skates holding the sparkler when he confronts his father) the key to unlocking Boy's heart, allowing Boy to confront the world with eyes that see more clearly?
AT: The roller skating scene is one of the most compelling moments for me. For most of the story, Boy torments Rocky for his eccentricities and quiet disposition while he refuses to interact with their father. But unlike Boy, Rocky has a strong sense of self and doesn’t change himself for his father’s approval. There is a pivotal scene in which Alamein, in a drunken rage, puts their lives in danger. The two brothers react differently, and Rocky’s artistic temperament grants him a greater capacity for empathy. Their personalities complement each other and Rocky’s emotional strength keeps Boy afloat. By the way, do you think it’s a coincidence that Rocky’s name is the same as the famous fictional boxer? I don’t think so. But this Rocky is a lover, not a fighter. I love Waititi’s cheeky sense of humor.
JW: What is your favorite scene in the film? And how does the comedic tone of Boy inform your writing?
AT: Waititi’s comedic voice is iconic. One of my favorite scenes is the one in which Boy offers Alamein and his gang a cup of tea. Humor to me is in the little, almost imperceptible details of life. Waititi brands this humor as the “comedy of the mundane,” in which ordinary subjects become ridiculous. Waititi makes light of human frailty. In Boy, this allows Waititi to explore tragic themes like death, violence, alienation and rejection in a childlike way. Whether he’s writing an absurdist vampire mockumentary or a rom-com parody, Waititi’s comedic tension is a fresh departure from the sardonic humor of pop culture today.
It’s too difficult for me to be very serious without feeling affected and self-important. Good writing comes from the heart, and what comes from my heart is identifying humor in the face of darkness. It’s what brings us together. And it’s fun.