Saturday, 22 December 2012

Thirteen (2004)

“I think my nose is melting off. Ew!”

This is a film I most likely never would have seen if my gorgeous girlfriend hadn’t introduced me to it a few days ago; thirteen girls in 2004 are a very alien species to a thirteen year old boy from 1990. It is, as one would imagine, a rather scary watch for someone who expects to become a father in a few years’ time. I should probably admit that a fair few of the thoughts in this review, especially about the direction, are shamelessly nicked off things said by my girlfriend while we were watching it.

This is helmed by Catherine Hardwicke, who did a rather unimpressive job in directing Twilight, which was largely ruined by the dullness of the washed-out colour. Here she does a much better job but, interestingly, what works so well here is very similar to what failed in the other film, namely the use of colour. At the beginning of the film, with Tracy doing well at school and living a safe and relatively happy life, the film is brightly coloured. But the colours wash away throughout the film until, at the end, there is nothing but a blue tint. There is also a billboard which becomes more and more distressed-looking, mirroring Tracy’s decline as a kind of Dorian Gray painting in reverse.

This isn’t a pleasant film to watch. The actresses may have been eighteen, but it’s extremely disturbing to see thirteen year olds being so sexualised. The peer pressure is awful too; I may not have been one of the cooler kids at thirteen, but I never wore any designer labels or the like; I dressed like the child that I was. Still, I don’t exactly wear designer labels now, so I’m probably not typical. I’m uncomfortably reminded of the fact (I’m 35) that I’m not as young as I was. But I’m reminded of a simple fact: being a teenager is horrible, and too many of us forget that later in our lives. Intense pressure from all sides is combined with a total lack of experience in how to handle this, plus there are hormones on top.

There’s use of LSD and cocaine in this film, shoplifting, a certain amount of sexual activity and, worst of all, graphic and horrible instances of self-harm. There’s thankfully no paedo stuff or sexual abuse, but everything else that parents worry about is here. Most terrifying of all is the powerless of Tracy’s well-meaning but weak mother, who has no way of responding to her daughter’s tantrums and, worse, has a fair idea of what is going on throughout. The climax, when she discovers her daughter’s drug abuse and scars from self-harm, is utterly terrifying to watch. Depressingly, Tracy’s father, well-off though he is, is neglectful and useless. Once again it’s the woman who has to cope while the man does nothing.

The fickle nature of teenage friendships, and their terrible cost, lies at the film’s core, as Tracy’s new “bad girl” friend Evie betrays her. Yet there are shades of grey; Evie’s claims of abuse may easily be true. There are no easy answers, and there is no resolution at the end, a brave choice.

This isn’t a film to enjoy. It’s natural audience may, perhaps, be limited, and I worry about its central message being scarily easy to Daily Mail-ify. Nevertheless, it’s an extremely well-made film. What didn't impress me, though, was the lack of subtitles on the DVD: there's no excuse for this.

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