Why Taika Waititi’s “Boy” Deserves a Second Look

Why Taika Waititi’s “Boy” Deserves a Second Look

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Taika Waititi’s sensibilities have always been at play. Before Thor: Ragnarok or his directing style was displayed in The Mandalorian, his film and geek culture influences are easily detectable in his early work.

Taika Waititi’s Boy, was his debut feature film and in many ways predetermined his future career. Taking place in the 1980s in Ōpōtiki, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, the film follows Boy, an 11-year-old who lives with his grandmother and his younger brother, Rocky. One day, their grandma leaves for a few days to attend a funeral, leaving Boy in charge of the house. That night, an unexpected visitor comes around: Boy and Rocky’s estranged father, Alamein, who sports a classic ‘80s perm and a disco fever mustache. He arrives with his two friends who supposedly broke out of prison with him. Boy is overjoyed, thinking his father has returned to live with them, but Rocky is suspicious and rightfully so, as it is later revealed that Alamein has returned only to dig up a bag of money he buried on the home’s land.

The film superbly harmonizes drama and comedy. Alamein is a complete and utter loser. He’s a jobless drunk who uses Boy’s fondness for him to get him to help dig for the money. Alamein wants to have fun, and throws small neighborhood parties with his two friends and kids from Boy’s year. He sometimes gets angry, asking his son, “can you handle having the Incredible Hulk as a dad?” He later reveals he’s uncomfortable being called “dad”, instead asking to be called “shogun”, which is a term for a samurai master. At surface level, Alamein is hilarious, making comic book references and imagining himself, in a way sometimes visualized on screen, as a shogun. But underneath that surface is a truly tragic story of a boy in need of a hero and getting a villain.

Rocky maintains his skepticism, knowing full well that there is contention between him and Alamein that doesn’t exist with Boy. Their mother died giving birth to Rocky, and Alamein cannot look at him without thinking of that moment. Alamein did not spend much time with Rocky before going to jail for robbery. Boy at least has a memory of a dad, but Rocky only sees a stranger. Alamein, with his childish thinking and immature behavior, influences Boy, who starts wearing sleeveless shirts and cuts his hair nearly to the scalp, trying to look badass but ending up appearing foolish like his father. Boy’s perceptions are that of a child; he is innocent, easily malleable, and follows the lead of whoever he looks up to. He cannot see that his father is a deadbeat. This is similar to Taika Waititi’s latest film, Jojo Rabbit, a World War II satire about Nazi youth and the childlike perception of what Hitler, their charismatic leader, is like. Main character, Jojo’s imaginary friend is Hitler, played comedically by Waititi himself. Boy looks up to Alamein, also portrayed by Waititi, whose character even reveals at one point in his younger days got into some, “Nazi stuff,” pointing out a swastika he once drew on Boy’s bedroom wall.

With all the Hulk references it is no wonder that Waititi would eventually write and direct Thor: Ragnarok, which, while being a Thor film, was also a back-door Planet Hulk movie. Waititi is also in the early stages of making the next Star Wars film and directed the finale of The Mandalorian’s first season. Rocky’s character displays a similar skill to that of a Jedi; having quite the imagination himself, he pretends to have Force-like powers. When a school bus whooshes by, filled with screaming children who throw their trash out the window, Rocky puts out his hand and the film turns into children’s drawings, animated to show the bus flipping over and exploding. I guess Waititi has to work on a samurai film now with breadcrumbs that lead back to Boy.

At parts I was laughing out loud, sometimes hysterically, at the subtle absurdities Waititi’s writing and directing contains. At other moments I was near tears or outright crying at the utter heartbreak at the core of the movie. There is little more beautiful than the mind of a child, and nothing more despicable than someone manipulating that mind. If you are a fan of Waititi due to his latest films, I implore you to watch Boy to see the ingredients he will use for the rest of his career.

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