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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Film in Stock: Back to School Films

It’s all starting over again; we are back in our daily routines with classes and work, and the trees are getting ready to lose their leaves. With all the energy of a new school year, I’ve put together a list of films that match the late-summer feeling of change and growth. In terms of film categorization, that translates into the back to school, coming-of-age genre. Below is an eclectic selection of films for your viewing pleasure.

“Eighth Grade” by Bo Burnham (2018)

Kind of like the first season of “The Office,” Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” makes you cringe throughout, but only in the truest way. Director Burnham made the comparatively revolutionary decision to cast regular-looking teenage actors which speaks to the broader commentary on the very real fact that growing up is not all beauty and grace, but rather stumbling around in the dark using your iPhone as a flashlight. This film explores coming of age in a time saturated in the internet and social media through the eyes of Kayla as she navigates the end of her eighth-grade year. While that description makes this film seem to fall into the realm of shallow afterschool specials warning about the perils of catfishing and online bullying, Burnham takes a more nuanced view of what it means to grow up online. Watch “Eighth Grade” for an authentic, well-written film.

“Heathers” by Michael Lehmann (1988)

I chose to put “Heathers” on this list for generally self-indulgent reasons. Nothing says “back to school” like coming-of-age films set in high school, and I will argue forever that “Heathers” gets the spirit of high school more accurately than perhaps any other film out there. A recent classic, this film follows Veronica (played by Winona Ryder) as she navigates the bullies of high school, all similarly named Heather. When Veronica meets J.D. (played by a very young Christian Slater), everything starts to spin out of control. If you haven’t already seen this film, go see it. Even if you’ve already seen it, watch it again. I watch it at least a couple times a year for good luck. Anticipate murder, croquet and explosions.

“Raw” by Julia Ducournau (2016)

Please bear with me because the description of this film is going to sound strange. Also, I should offer up a warning: this film is not for those with weak stomachs. “Raw” follows Justine (played by Julia Ducournau) as she enters her first year of veterinary school. Upon arrival, someone (don’t ask why) hazes Justine into eating raw animal meat even though she’s a vegetarian, an act which causes Justine to develop an intense craving for human flesh. While all this sounds slightly ridiculous, Belgian director Julia Ducournau miraculously pulls the plot off. The meaning of this film makes it the perfect back-to-school pick — the main character is forced to reckon with outside peer pressure in a new environment. What makes this film singular is that it doesn’t trivialize peer pressure or fitting in, but it rather affirms that peer pressure happens both subtly and loudly. And, after all, how many films can you think of use cannibalism as a placeholder for fitting in? I can say with all certainty that “Raw” is one of a kind.

“Spirited Away” by Hayao Miyazaki (2001)

A stark contrast to “Raw,” “Spirited Away” offers a family-friendly tale of personal evolution and change. This Japanese film is well-known for its beautiful animation and clever screenwriting. When young girl Chihiro is moving to a new town, her family stops at an old abandoned amusement park where her parents are turned into pigs, and the amusement park is revealed to be overtaken by spirits of various kinds. Chihiro must save her parents before they become pigs forever. Like “Raw,” the plot itself may sound a bit too out there, but Miyazaki makes this coming-of-age film work with its fantasy elements. No matter how many times I’ve seen this film, I always come away with something more. Watch this film if you’re interested in a more lighthearted, feel good film that doesn’t sacrifice substance.

“Girlhood” by Céline Sciamma (2014)

This French film focuses on Marieme (played by Karidja Touré), an African-French teenager living in a low-income neighborhood outside of Paris, who hasn’t found her place academically or socially until she meets a group of girls who show her a whole new way of life. “Girlhood” mulls over questions of race, gender, class and growing up through a well-developed, well-acted main character. This film offers insight into a life not usually seen on screen, and better still, this film is nicely accessible; you can find it on Netflix.

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