“Most old people I know are old miseries.”
So says young Daniel, played by Mark Lester, to his new-found sweetheart Melody, played by Tracy Hyde, in this golden coming of age story. He coins the phrase “old miseries” to describe most of the adults in his life. Indeed.
At the beginning of this tale, Ornshaw, played by Jack Wild, befriends Daniel and they strike up a close friendship. If Jack had been given the proper praise and acclaim that he should have for this role, I would have heard about the film long ago while still a young girl; I would have had eyes only for Jack as he breezed across the screen.
Instead, I only happened to come across it on YouTube last year; a lucky find that upon my initial viewing stirred a sentimental soup pot of emotion and smile for the boys from “Oliver!” Then I watched it again. I discovered, with growing wonderment, that there was much more to Ornshaw than the cheeky, adorable kid, (although that is reason enough to like the film!) I found in Ornshaw’s character a deep well of subtle, multi-faceted vulnerable loveliness, and Jack’s performance an exquisite treasure. What a shame that it wasn’t in every theater across America.
There is also more to Daniel than just falling into puppy love with Melody, (although THAT is reason enough to like the film.) You have to cheer Daniel on in his sincere, young quest to discover his own path – even though his journey ultimately leaves Ornshaw with some heartache; heartache that the viewer acutely shares.
Coming of age can be beautiful but confusing “in the morning*” of your life, “where no one understands,*” where the innocence of looking at life and love for what it is meets the adult world of how things “should” be – before you grow up and everything is sorted out in your box of neatly bound packages of conformity – before you become an “old misery.”
Old miseries; indeed, the adults in the movie move and breathe in a world of boxes:
- where a student asks a thoughtful question and is met with humiliating admonishment rather than encouragement
- where a father would rather hide behind his newspaper and make disparaging remarks about the neighbors than have a real conversation with his son
- where a mother gets all uptight about her son’s choice of artwork rather than encouraging him in his desire to expand his talent in an obvious choice for creativity, not a desire to look at girlie magazines
- where adults get all up in arms because of an innocent childhood wedding officiated by another kid.
Our young heroes in “Melody” work things out themselves in this moving coming of age tale; sometimes with their own form of rebellion, but mostly with true friendships that endure confusion and defy class separation, potential grudges that die before they take root, and most of all…love, in so many wonderful outside-the-box ways. The movie is a timeless classic that brings a lot of relevance to today’s table, one that is easily, and should be, revisited often.
One question it begs me to ask is how did ours become a world in which some teenagers would prefer to end their precious life rather than be open and secure in the knowledge that they are beautiful just as they are? We ought to go back to the age of our innocence, to see the beauty outside the box, to create a world where life is embraced.
Just had to share my thoughts on a film that I think is quite the masterpiece.
*From one of the many Bee Gee’s songs in the film, “Morning of My Life”