Young people face, and have probably always faced, a uniquely cruel set of circumstances in that they’re subject to two seemingly contradictory forces: a linear ambition compels them to join the world of adults, but in engaging with that world they render childish pleasures obsolete. That this is both a choice and an inevitability does nothing to blunt the fact of it, and even in the best scenarios this progression constitutes a loss. The essential nature of that loss—the first in a long line of steps toward death, since in one sense we don’t begin to die until we comprehend our own mortality—means it is both deeply felt and difficult to articulate. The endurance of coming-of-age stories in literature and cinema, however, suggests that the difficulties contained therein are hardly enough to stop artists from trying.
Hallmarks of this genre might be more difficult to peg than say, the Western, since it spans a wider divergence of setting, visual style, tone, et cetera, but the crux of these stories lies in the tension between our need to evolve and our desire for retreat. Time’s forward momentum might be the most difficult fact we will ever confront, and we come to understand its implications—tentatively at first—at the same instant that we are saddled with a thorny mix of social and biological changes. This complication helps imbue coming-of-age movies with meaning. Perhaps because teenagers so often conflate experience with authenticity, filmmakers who tell their stories seem to strive extra hard to establish a kind of gritty validity. But too often, these stabs at reality take the place of truth. Read Emily Condon’s contribution to Reverse Shot’s Stuck in the Middle symposium.