Beloved, let us love one another, because love is
from God; everyone who loves is born of God
and knows God. Whoever does not love does
not know God, for God is love.
1 John 4:7-8
In Liverpool in 1955 there once lived a 15 year-old boy who seemed to have few prospects in life, as the title of this film indicates. The title also calls to mind a familiar song, but in the film the words stem from a remark that a teacher, exasperated that young John Lennon prefers to doodle in his notebook to studying his lesson, hurls at him dart-like words, “You are going nowhere!” Filmmaker Sam Taylor-Wood wisely refrains from inserting the obvious song beneath this scene, because almost everyone will recall right away snatches from it, such as, “Doesn’t have a point of view,/Knows not where he’s going to,/Isn’t he a bit like you and me?” How this aimless teenager began his journey from “nowhere” status toward becoming one of the most influential songwriter/musicians of the 20th century is what this film, based on the book by his half-sister Julia Baird Imagine This: Growing Up With My Brother John Lennon, is all about it. We see in it that love and companionship are at the heart of the story. Like everyone who accomplishes great things, John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) was not a self-made man, but was graced with caring family members (mostly) and friends along the way, gifts that sustained him through considerable heartache and tragedy.
Living with his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Uncle George since the age of five, Lennon shows no musical talent at first. His aunt is cold and distant, his Uncle George (David Threlfall) being the source of love and joy, as the film demonstrates skillfully in the few minutes before his uncle is felled by a heart attack. At the graveside ceremony John turns and sees a beautiful woman standing at a distance.
When, through the urging of his cousin, John visits the mother he has not seen for years, he discovers that the woman at the cemetery is his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff). She has been living just a few blocks away, begetting daughters through her common-law husband. Several times throughout the film there is a flashback of a young boy seeing a woman through the frosty glass of the front door, but never admitted in. She embraces him warmly—indeed, as we see her hugging him and, later, the two lying together on her couch, the hint of an Oedipal is raised.
Julia is just the opposite of her icicle of a sister Mimi. Warm, outgoing and expressive, she is a lover of fun who dances to music played on a jukebox, even inviting strangers to join her. It is she who, seeing the harmonica given to John by his uncle just before his death, patiently teaches John how to play the banjo. However, a little later it is Mimi who buys John his first guitar, perhaps inwardly glad that he has found something that truly interests him.
Attending a movie with his mother, John is taken by a news reel clip of Elvis Presley, and in the next scene, to the accompaniment of “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” John is styling his hair after Elvis’s and sporting a leather jacket and jeans. He drafts his high school chums into a band, most of them protesting at first because they do not play instruments, but he prevails. John even haves one of them play a scrub board. Their playing attracts classmate Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster), who demonstrates far more proficiency on the guitar than any band member. The newcomer is soon mentoring John in guitar technique, and also introduces him to George Harrison (Sam Bell). Thus is born The Quarrymen.
At home the relationship with Mimi becomes so tense because of his spending so much time with his mother that John leaves and moves in with Julia. This does not sit well with the rest of her family, so John soon finds himself back. Their relationship remains troubled, his aunt even confiscating his guitar because of his neglect of his studies (he had even dropped out of school—expelled actually—for a time). However, at one point during an argument over his mother, he tells Mimi that despite his mother’s abandonment of him, he still loves her. How this love, after a fiery confrontation between the two sisters in the presence of John, leads to reconciliation and a brief period of idyllic family harmony is one of the joys of this film.
John was fortunate to have an aunt and uncle to take him in and provide stability during the ten-year period when his promiscuous mother was sowing her wild oats. He also was fortunate that his cousin pushed him to reconnect with Julia. Added to this were his friends, especially Paul, supporting, teaching, and encouraging him. From somewhere John was blessed with love, his love ultimately reconciling the estranged sisters, resulting in the film’s bittersweet conclusion as John leaves Mimi to travel with his band to Hamburg. This is an appropriate point to conclude the film, the rest of John’s story, as they say, being history.
1. What new thing(s) did you learn about John Lennon’s background? Even though it is not on the soundtrack, how does “Nowhere Man” fit in with the film?
2. What do you think that Uncle George contributed to the development of John Lennon? Despite her distance and coldness, what do you think that Aunt Mimi contributed? How is stability important for the development of a child?
3. Compare the two sisters: would you have guessed, if you did not know them, that they had the same parents? Besides giving him his first music lessons, what do you think Julia passed on to her son?
4. There are many moments of grace or instances of others giving to John. What are they? (Partial list: Uncle George and Aunt Mimi, of course; John’s cousin connecting him to his mother; Julia; Paul.)
5. How does John act as an agent of grace or reconciliation? Do you think that he seems to intuitively embody the passage from 1 John? How did this surface later in some of the songs that he wrote, or co-wrote?
6. How does music become for John and Paul their ticket out of nowhere land? Other than the funeral service. the church seems to have no relationship with John: why do you think this is so? What had happened to the church in England? Do you think that music takes the place of religion in his life? You might check out the words of his song “Imagine.” 7. Although his reunion with his mother lasted for an all too brief time before her death, how do you think their relationship affected Paul the man? What did he name his son? Interestingly, the last song used on the soundtrack is “Mother.” For its lyrics, as well as those other Beatles’ songs, go to: http://www.metrolyrics.com/mother-lyrics-john-lennon.html