Well cats and kittens, he’s done it again!! Or more accurately he’s just always been doing it, apparently. Boy is Taika Waititi’s 2010 feature, only his second. It tells the story of an 11-year-old Māori kid, the titular Boy, whose deadbeat ex-con father comes swanning back into his life after skipping off for nearly all of it. But to hear Boy tell it—and we do, with full-color visuals—his dad is the coolest thing since sliced bread and Michael Jackson put together, larger than life, and the only reason he hasn’t been in his son’s, is because he’s been too be busy having wild & wonderful adventures. To hear Alamein himself tell it, yeah that’s true. A chip off the ol’ block this kid.
So it’s a movie about identity, as you might imagine. And it’s Taika, so it’s honest and hilarious and full of kooky heart, a tender and clever and carefully made little film. It also, diverging from his others, deals more than a bit in magical realism, and I super want to talk about that, first by talking about a conversation I had last week with a coworker of mine.
He was helping me sort books to yard-sale off to our other coworkers from our office’s bewilderingly expansive library (long story), and naturally I, a nerd with a blog, and he, a former English teacher and Border’s employee, started spontaneously pulling Staff Picks. Which is how we started talking about Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years Of Solitude, and how he started telling me about an interesting conversation he got into with a stranger on Twitter once. This person was arguing that magical realism was created by Latin American authors, and as such it belongs to them and is disingenuous when used by people from other cultures. “Huh,” I said. Definitely there is a strong tradition of magical realism in Latin America, and that makes sense to me because I’d always thought of it more generally as a style deployed in response to trauma, wherever it might have occurred. My coworker: “That’s what I said!!” And then he started talking about magical realism in Russian lit (some trauma there for sure), and I confessed that one of my long-standing favorite “genres” is what I call The Only Way We Can Talk About The War Is With Magical Realism, and then we looked at each other in perplexment over how we don’t hang out outside of work to talk stories, because we clearly should.
And when we do, I’m going to see if his love for Taika Waititi extends to Boy, so we can talk about how effectively this movie uses its magical realism, born directly out of the imaginative coping mechanisms Boy and his brother Rocky have each developed in response to the traumas they’ve gone through. In difficult times Boy often flees to the magic of Michael Jackson dancing, and the beauty and cool he felt when he first saw him perform. Meanwhile, his sweet younger brother creates superheroes, drawing them out in colors in his notebook, and imagines that he too might have powers. Both of these create some of the most moving and lovely visuals in the movie, gradually deepening in dreaminess as the movie progresses, until at times the story begins to flirt with the edge of myth.
It makes perfect sense too, that Taika Waititi would be drawn to such a visually rich form of storytelling. Like Wes Anderson, who he’s been compared to before (the intro to this feels like a Māori Rushmore, in a wonderful and subversive way), he stuffs the frame with images and information, and hangs it all securely on good music. You can see in everything he does how wholly in love he is with the look & rhythm of movies. They are suffused with joy of their existence, his films, even when they deal in subject matter of the very Real Shit variety. Maybe that’s his trick to keep his audience’s heart warm and soaring, even when it feels like it’s breaking.
That, and to always end on hope—and a glorious dance number if you can swing it.