Saturday, December 13, 2008

Son of Rambow -- extremes of control

Director: Garth Jennings, 2007.

After attaining fame for his role as Rocky Balboa in 1976, Sylvester Stallone went on to create his second significant role, John Rambo in the 1982 movie First Blood. This film spawned three sequels, the most recent being Rambo this year with Sly at a spry 62. But Son of Rambow is not one of these sequels, and it is not a mis-spelled spoof. Rather, it is a surprisingly funny, quirky British comedy about two school-boys making a home-movie version of First Blood.

Diminutive Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is one of the boys. His widowed mother is in the Plymouth Brethren faith. (I wonder if there is any significance to the name -- proud foot but with a humble heart?) They are separatists with a strict moral code, and so Will is not allowed to participate in "worldly" activities, such as watching TV, going to movies, listening to music, etc. Even at school, when his class watches a documentary Will has to leave the classroom. How humiliating. But in one of these times of separation from his class, Will meets Lee Carter (Will Poulter), the resident trouble-maker and school bully. As Carter picks on Will, his bullying gets both in trouble. And through some deception, Carter convinces Will to become his stunt man for his amateur film making. Will gets to see a bootleg copy of First Blood, his world is turned upside down. His imagination, which previously found outlet in drawing and picture book story writing, now lands him in the film. A clever animated sequence shows what Will is imagining, including flying dogs, an evil scarecrow, and an imprisoned dad. The fatherless Will has found a surrogate father, and he will be "son of Rambow." His quest will be to rescue his "dad." He convinces Carter to make a version of First Blood with this plot and with him in this key role.

Son of Rambow gives insight into the restrictions of external rules and regulations. The opening scene shows several of the Brethren picketing the local cinema which is showing First Blood, Will among them. He even gets to read Scripture to passers by -- the King James Version, of course. His mother's story of her childhood desires for a record-player that was later taken and burned underscore their faith's emphasis on being "in the world but not of it" (John 17:14-18). However, legal rules can only prevent outward actions, not inward thoughts. Will's imagination is not controlled by these rules. Rather, it runs riot with action and violence. Indeed, the pages of his bible are covered in the colored musings of his mental images. His journal is a graphic novel of his own making.

As their movie-making progresses, Carter goes from bully to friend. When he saves Will from drowning during one stunt, they become blood-brothers literally. The bully who had no friends found a friend through an act of salvation. This friendship has impact on both boys. Will, the more naive and sheltered, is introduced to a world of lying and stealing, petty delinquency. Carter is given a glimpse of grace, of giving.

In this friendship Carter, the teenage cynic, rubs off on Will more than the other way around. The Book of Proverbs gives many warnings about the friends we make. When we make poor choices in our friends we often pick up their bad habits. Will's lack of caution in this friendship led to some issues (Prov. 12:26). But in this case it also led to character development for both boys. challenge the budding friendship, French exchange student Didier (Jules Sitruk) decides he wants to be the star of the movie. Didier has become the "rock-star" of the sixth-form (senior year students), and has developed a Pied-Piper like following among underclass students. When things are going well, it seems everyone wants a part of the action. But popularity brings its own problems. It can be fickle and ephemeral.

This is a funny and inspiring movie about friendships formed. The best friendships develop between people who are different but willing to share and change. Differences can open our minds to viewpoints and perspectives that are new to us. Even as adults, such differences can challenge us to move out of our comfort zones.

Speaking of comfort zones, Son of Rambow dropped me right back in the comfort zone of my youth. Filmed in Hertfordshire, a county just outside of London, this was the county I grew up in. I went to a school similar to this, except it was a boys-only school. Seeing the school uniforms and hearing the British accents from the mouths of schoolboys brought back fond memories.

Ultimately, Son of Rambow is an interesting study of extremes of parental (in this case maternal) control. Carter's mother lives in Spain leaving him to the care of his older brother, himself a bully. In effect, he has no parental influence or control. This is one end of the spectrum. At the other is Will, where legality and excessive control is exerted by his mother and her denomination. Over-control is as bad as no control. Both Will and Carter struggle from these control issues. They both need balance, a level of parental control that provides appropriate levels of guidance and discipline. A lack of control (Carter) leads to license and outward sin. An excess of control (Will) leads to legalism and inward sin. God calls us parents to know our children and to train and discipline them in ways unique to their distinct personalities (Prov. 22:6). God himself disciplines us, his children, and it is proof that he loves us (Heb. 12:7-11). Truly, love requires discipline.

Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs

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