Directed by Matt Wolf (2013)
Adapted from Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1845 –1945 by Jon Savage
by Isis Nelson
Once upon a time, teenagers didn’t exist. We were invented, thrown into being. This film, Teenage (2013), covers the years of 1904 – 1945. It is not an easy narrative, but it is the very history and unmeasurable impact of youth and our culture. To quote the late and great Huey Newton, “The revolution has always been in the hands of the young. The young always inherit the revolution.”
Things started changing very quickly in the early 1900s. The Industrial Revolution made the world go into sudden turmoil and World War I burst out. A chasm erupted between the young and old – an entirely new kind of generation came forth.
American, English, German, whether a party-loving Flapper, hip Swing Kid, zealous Nazi Youth, or passionate Sub-Deb, it was inconsequential – they were the bright, modern concept of coming-of-age. They were all “teenagers;” not children or adults, but the in-between. I’ll avoid summarizing the entire thing, but here’s why I love it.
Teenage exhibits youth at its very core. Anger, innocence, fear, misery, hope, passion, awareness, acceptance, love; every emotion you can imagine is showed in this film. It relies heavily upon the complexity and versatility of teenagers, why we’re important, and how we consistently have changed and will change the world. It is, in my not-so-humble-opinion, a movie that rebels against the historic oppression and hate of our planet’s most diverse, intelligent, and progressive people.
Jena Malone (Pride & Prejudice, The Hunger Games film series) does voice-overs in much of Teenage. One deliverance, in particular, comes to mind. Footage of fake-archival film and actual recordings flashes by, most subjects in them meet the viewers’ eyes. With hidden anger and rebellion dripping from every word, Malone says, “A lot of people want try to shape the future, but it’s the young ones who live in it, and we’re the ones who will fight for it.”
Lines like that one, and others spoken by Ben Whishaw, Julia Hummer, Jessie T. Usher and Daniela Leder are devastating and brilliant. As are the performances of Leah Hennessey, Ivy Blackshire, Ben Rosenfield, and Malik Peters. These four actors and actresses portray characters made by Matt Wolf and Jon Savage. The group is made of a girl Nazi Youth propaganda officer, an urban black Boy Scout swing lover in America, an anti-Nazi Swing Kid boy in Germany, and a bright Flapper girl in England.
These characters, while entirely fictional, reflect pain and horror experienced by the Lost Generation, the people who grew up post-WWI and during the Great Depression, WWII, etc. Teenage focuses heavily on war, trauma, and how inescapable it is for young people. During a sequence of violent footage from World War II and its young soldiers, Whishaw (Skyfall, The Lobster) voice-overs one of the most memorable lines I’ve heard in years: “The old had sent us to die, and we hated them.”
The reason the Lost Generation is called what it is, is due to the fact that many American youths died and grieved during the early to mid-1900s. Everyone’s favorite U.S. clinically depressed poet from the last century, Earnest Hemingway, coined the phrase in The Sun Also Rises (1926), and he took it from Gertrude Stein. Hemingway used it as an epigraph: “You are all a lost generation.”
With millions dead, young people felt a lack of purpose or drive due to horrific disillusionment by growing up and living through WWI and WWII. War, poverty, and inequality decimated the population, leaving masses of teenagers to grow up with dead siblings, friends, and parents. Every youth was born into a world full of conflict, so they became quite used to that specific type of pain, and became confused when it faded. It was national and worldwide desensitization.
Teenage is one of my favorite films for a reason. It represents the things I believe in, as a young person and someone who was born into a world filled with conflict. I’m more or less desensitized to war, tragedy, terrorism, and oppression. I’d like not to be, but that’s not possible. This movie empowers us and reminds teenagers of our own worth.
It inspires my hopes of equality and freedom. It pushes me to aspire to be a young revolutionary. This work of art and compassion constantly refreshes my experiences in life where adults have failed me again and again.
We deserve internationally guaranteed human rights. We deserve to be treated as valid individuals. We need not be controlled by parents and guardians, for we are our own people. We’ve made our minds up. Teenage rejects out the “traditional” and ancient mainstream rhetoric of thinking we’re stupid, annoying, naive, worthless, etc. We’re not.
Youth all across the world are our Earth’s collective future. We can and will change this planet and its people for the better, before it’s too late. We will not repeat our grandparents’ and parents’ mistakes, not again. I refuse to be another Lost Generation.
Either you move with us, or you move against us. All I know is: Matt Wolf and Jon Savage are our allies, and I cannot thank them enough for that.