Written and directed by Mike Mills, Beginners is a film that deals a lot with loneliness. After his mother’s death, Oliver (Ewan McGregor)’s father, Hal (Christopher Plummer) is diagnosed with stage-four cancer. At the age of 75, he also comes out of the closet and starts living the time of his life. After Hal has passed away, Oliver becomes depressed until he meets a French actress, Anna. They try to make their relationship work while both struggling with issues of their own.
Every single character in this film, including Oliver’s dog with severe abandonment issue, is lonely. The film reminds me of an episode from Thirteen Reasons Why where Hannah talks about the different kinds of loneliness: there’s the “when will I find love kind of lonely,” the “popular kids are mean to me kind of lonely,” and worst of all, there’s the kind of lonely that makes you “feel like you’ve got nothing left. Nothing. And no one. Like you’re drowning, and no one will throw you a line.”
Oliver’s loneliness is his cheerful disguise at the Halloween party.
His mother’s loneliness is the machinery peck on the lips she gets from her husband every day before he leaves the house.
His father’s loneliness is the obligatory peck on the lips he gives his wife every day before he goes to work.
His dog’s loneliness is his heart-wrenching wail each time he is left alone.
Anna’s loneliness is the tears on her face when Oliver gives her a home.
Oliver and Anna break up soon after they have moved in together.
She says: “You look so unhappy.”
He says: “Well, are you happy here?”
She says, “I don’t really know what I’m doing. But I wanna be here.”
He finally says: “I don’t think this is what I’m supposed to feel like.”
She finally says: “Ok. I’ll go back to New York.”
They know what love and happiness look like but they just can’t seem to turn them into reality. Oliver’s dog tells him that “we knew it wouldn’t work, even before we met her.” Maybe they are just too broken.
They eventually decide to give it another shot.
He says: “What happens now?”
She says: “I don’t know.”
He says: “How does that work?”
And the screen cuts to black.
I can’t tell if it’s a happy ending. There probably is no such thing as happy ending for people like Oliver and Anna. The best they can do is to not give up and not let their loneliness turn into the kind that makes them “feel like they’ve got nothing left” because they have each other. Even if it’s not a cure, being lonely together still beats the hell out of being lonely apart.