KT: NEDS (at the Indy Film Fest)

Posted: July 19, 2011 in In Theatres, KT Personal, On DVD, Reviews

Hello again from the Indianapolis International Film Fest!  On Monday, July 18th, I had the honor of being the correspondent from the Wanna Watch a Movie? podcast in covering the IIFF movie of my choice.  The description was what caught my eye and is why I picked this movie to cover for the blog.  The description reads, as follows:

Directed by the acclaimed actor and director Peter Mullan (My Name is Joe, The Magdalene Sisters) NEDS, so called Non-Educated Delinquents, takes place in the gritty, savage and often violent world of 1970’s Glasgow. On the brink of adolescence, young John McGill is a bright and sensitive boy, eager to learn and full of promise. But, the cards are stacked against him. Most of the adults in his life fail him in one way or another. His father is a drunken violent bully and his teachers – punishing John for the ‘sins’ of his older brother, Benny – are down on him from the start. With no one willing to give him the chance he desperately needs, John takes to the savage life of the streets with a vengeance. NEDS is not only a story of lost hope, it is story of survival by any means necessary.

Warning to my readers, here there be spoilers.  I am going to talk about this movie in detail and I will be revealing climax and resolution.  Also, to note, these are my opinions, and you don’t have to agree with them, so please don’t take my words as gospel.  Go find out for yourself if this is a movie for you.  SO, if by that description you want to see this film, I suggest you do!  It is screening again on Thursday, July 21st at 9 p.m. in the Toby Theatre.

First off, it’s this type of movie that I am most thankful for the Indy Film Fest.  Without an avenue such as the IIFF, I would most likely have a really hard time accessing this film.  It’s from the U.K., and written and directed by Peter Mullan.  I know Peter Mullan from a number of films as an actor.  He played Yaxley in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1”, Syd in “Children of Men”, and he was also in “Braveheart” — the line I always remember, “we will run, and we will live.”  Great line.  He’s also been at the helm, as a director, for 7 features and shorts.  All around brilliant man.

This movie is set in 1972-1974 Glasgow, Scotland.  We meet young John McGill – I’m guessing somewhere around the age of 13.  He’s graduating from primary school.  (For those in the US, think elementary/middle school, before high school)  He is very obviously a bright, young man who usually has his nose in a book and enjoys being at the head of the class.  As his family is leaving the graduation, another boy, just a year or two older than young John, threatens him quite savagely saying when John gets to the “secondary” school, that this boy, Canta he is called, will beat the ever-living out of John.  John holds his own though, and doesn’t show fear towards Canta.  It’s that night, and we’re at John’s house.  John has a little sister, Elizabeth, a mom, and an aunt who’s come in for the graduation who lives in America.  We meet John’s father, Mr. McGill, in an unconventional way.  Mr. McGill is very obviously not a part of a happy family and everyone silences when he enters a room.  We come to find out later that Mr. McGill is a raging alcoholic who is abusive (at least mentally and emotionally) to his wife and children.  [Peter Mullan also plays Mr. McGill, along with writing and directing this movie.]

We also find out that there is another McGill; older brother Benny, who does not live at home and who is the personification of our movie title.  NEDS stands for “non-educated deliquents.”  Benny is a bit of a leader in the gang-community but doesn’t come home very often (most likely because of his mother, which I will get to later).  John sets out to get the news of Canta to his big brother and finds another gang-member and leaves a message.  That’s a pretty funny scene.  Benny eventually finds out of the bully, and roughs him up, much to John’s delight.  (I have personal experience with this, as my big sister roughed up a bully who shall not be named when I was in the 7th grade)

When John gets to secondary school, he quickly excels into the top of his class and seems to be destined for greatness.  However, whenever he mentions his name, he immediately invokes Benny’s history into teachers and other adults.  (It is at this point that young John, played by Greg Forrest magically morphs into teenager John, brilliantly played by Conor McCarron.)  He meets another scholar, friend Julian, and begins to spend a lot of time with him.  You can see John really settling into his own skin, leaving the burden that all “little siblings” feel at one time or another as he grows into a man.  An unfortunate accident with an expensive record player at Julian’s house makes Julian’s mom think twice about letting John come over to hang out with her son.  I feel at this point the movie changes drastically.

John gives into the predetermined path laid before him because of his brother and the culture of street-gang ridden Glasgow.  He begins running with the gang “Young Car D” — they’re next up to bat underneath (old?) Car D, the gang that Benny leads.  John becomes quite the punk, although he is still extremely intelligent as we see in a scene with his Latin teacher.  One of the most heart-wrenching scenes (for me) was the point of no return when John throws a pair of football shoes (cleats) through the window of Julian’s house, that are busting at the seams with fireworks.  He screams, “you want a NED?  You got a NED!” (I don’t know if those were the exact words, but you get the gist.)

John’s anger and agitation grows over the course of the next year; he gets expelled from school and is becoming a menace to society.  Enter in bully Canta who is back from (I don’t know where, but now he lives in the gang territory of Young Car D) and wants to become part of John’s gang.  John is adamant that he wants nothing to do with him in his crowd, but is overruled by the other kids.  In a moment of pure psychotic overindulgence, John smashes Canta in the face with a cement paver and leaves him in a cemetery.  Canta is left brain damaged and feeble minded.

John’s friends start to distance themselves from him, noting that he’s “lost it”.  John then takes out his aggressions on his father, almost beating him to death.  His mother kicks him out of the house, tells him never to return.  (This is what I was talking about earlier, about his mother.  This did not sit well with me at all.  I suppose it’s the stereotypical abused woman who instead of protecting her children, chooses to defend her abuser.)  John holes up in a boiler room for an undetermined amount of time, his gang friends abandon him, and he’s alone.  Benny, in the meantime, has been accused of the crime in which John committed against Canta.

Then there’s the Jesus scene.  Chalk it up to me not being smart enough or not savvy enough to understand the symbolism of this scene… so I’m not going to talk about it for fear of sounding like a complete idiot.  🙂

Mr. McGill, sober and not happy about it, finds John lying in the street and tells him to go home to his worried-sick mother.  He does, and it seems like at this point, we’re on the road to redemption.  John’s back at home, Benny’s at home (though he leaves quickly for Spain to “get away from it all”), dad’s on the wagon, and all is well in the McGill house.  Nope.  Not at all.  John is held at crossbow-point and threatened by the rival gang’s leader. Later that night, Mr. McGill tells John, in a heart-wrenching scene at the kitchen table to “Finish Me.”  I audibly gasped at this line.  Later that evening, John duct-tapes knives into his hands so they will not come out without some considerably force and skin-ripping.  He goes to his father’s room, who instructs him to come back after he’s asleep.  John leaves the house to go for a pre-murder walk into the rival gang’s territory and stabs the crossbow-weilder half to death.  Walking back to his house, the rest of that gang beat him half to death, only to be rescued by his old friends.  He doesn’t react properly, in their opinion, and he is left alone again.  He walks into his father’s room, and arcs the blades high in the air, and…well, this is sort of ambiguous.  Does he kill him?  He may or may not, though I think not.  I’m sure he wouldn’t have been able to go to school the next day if he had.

Being on probation at school means he’s not allowed to start at the top, but rather in the remedial classes to see if he can work his way back up.  Canta is also in the class and has been reduced to the mind of a toddler.  On a field trip to the zoo, the class’s safari caravan breaks down; John and Canta are left until another van can pick them up.  They decide to walk back to the nature center, through the open-aired zoo.  Holding hands, they walk through a lion’s den, unscathed and the movie ends.

This is what I want to say about this movie, and I welcome any and all feedback.  I’m a lover of movies, but am in no way a scholar when it comes to symbolism and story-telling, especially after just one viewing.

– I feel that this movie could be two separate movies; after the shoe-firework-bomb throwing scene, this film takes a daaaaaaaaaaaark turn.

– Was the first half of the movie really that funny, or was it just humorous because kids are swearing every other word of their sentences?  I realize this could be a cultural difference – and am in no way a prude – I don’t mind swearing.  But when people describe it as funny, I wonder if it’s just because little geeky looking kids are swearing like truck drivers?

– I’m glad that this movie was subtitled, although the dialogue was spoken in English.  Well, Scottish-English with a heavy accent and some serious slang words I didn’t understand.  SO, thank you for the subtitles.

– Conor McCarron, who plays teenager John, is fantastic.  With the face of a boy, but with the mind of a man, he pulls off the duality perfectly.

– Director/Writer Peter Mullan says this movie is “personal, but not autobiographical.”  I wonder where the percentages split this story.

– I’m still really upset by the mother.  I think we’ve used this storyline up a bit.  What happened to strong women?

– The ensemble of the street gangs are great – all these young men did a fantastic job playing punks.  I don’t know if they have personal experience or not, but they pass the test in my opinion.

– If you want a quick few words about this film in my opinion: it is raw.  It’s gritty.  It’s vulgar.  It’s heart-breaking.  (And I refuse to use the term “coming-of-age” but that’s what it is, too)

– Did I like this movie?  The jury is still out for me.  I gave it a 3 out of 5 stars on my official IIFF ballot.  I chalk this movie up to the likes of “Green Street Hooligans”.  It’s just a type of life I do not, and cannot appreciate fully because it is so totally foreign to me.  However, I don’t have to personally relate to every movie I see, so I’m not suggesting this is why I may have not liked this film.  I just am still processing what I saw.

I want to hear your opinions too!  There were about 30 people at the screening last night.  Surely one of you is reading this post!  Please leave a comment below or e-mail me at: katie@wwampodcast.com.

Thanks again to the Indianapolis International Film Fest for bringing these types of films to us in Indianapolis!

See you at the movies!

  1. Chuck Carroll says:

    Hi, I’m one of those other people who was at the screening. 🙂 I enjoyed NEDS quite a bit. And I think a good part of that is Conor McCarron, who gives a great performance. I found myself liking John throughout the film, even when by any objective evaluation of what he’s doing, I shouldn’t. Even when he’s pretty much pissing off everyone. Maybe because I felt like, yeah, he’s angry at everyone, but then he has some reason to be.

    A few specific responses to your comments:

    I thought a good bit of the first half of the film was funny, and not just because of the kids swearing. I’ve seen enough South Park to be pretty desensitized to kids swearing by now. 🙂

    I took the symbolism of the Jesus scene to mean that John was deliberately rejecting any chance at redemption, inasmuch as Christ symbolizes redemption. I didn’t get what the symbolism of the lions in the final scene was, though–walking out past the lions, with them taking no notice of him.

    Thanks for pointing out that it was Julian’s house he threw the shoes/fireworks into–I hadn’t realized whose house it was before, and that makes more sense to me now. (There were a few points where I had trouble keeping straight which boy was which, but that’s probably me more than the movie, seeing as I tend to have that problem in real life too.) Also that John’s father was sober when he asks John to finish him. I didn’t quite pick up on that when I saw it, but now that you mention it I see it. I’ll return the favor of those revelations by saying that I took the final scene with John’s father to mean that John didn’t kill him, and the possibility that he had didn’t occur to me until I read your review.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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