Illustration Of The Human Experience In Billy Eliot
The human condition is marked by inconsistencies, including in our behaviours and motivations. They encompass many concepts related to adversity in life and the search for identity both individually and collectively. This allows people to view the world from different perspectives, question their assumptions, generate new ideas, and have personal reflections. Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot debut film explores these metaphysical concepts and how they impact human existence. The film recreates “The Miners’ Strike”, a historic event which took place in Northern England back in 1984. The film uses cinematic conventions as a way to show a personal story that challenges cultural and social assumptions surrounding gender roles.
Adversity, or obstacles in life, are obstacles that can hinder an individual from achieving their goals and developing a more positive view of themselves. Billy, on his quest to become a dancer in ballet, challenges stereotypes of gender roles from both his family as well as the working-class community. The scene in which Billy dances along to “Town Called Malice” illustrates this challenge. Tony and Jackie’s reactions are captured in a quick shot. They show disgust and surprise when they discover that Billy is teaching himself to dance. Billy’s expression in a close-up is the opposite. It is one of joy and delight. By using close-ups and a quickshot, the characters can show their emotions and inner thoughts on a visual medium. The contrast between the two characters also shows the conflict Billy feels between his desire to dance and not conforming to others’ expectations. The viewers can also reflect on their own experiences of inconsistent human behaviour. In the final scene, he is preparing to perform onstage. Billy’s anxiety is shown through a close-up shot of his face. His heavy breathing and trembling legs are also emphasized. As Billy makes his final leap on stage, the music, lighting and dimming are all used. The classical piece “Swan Lake”, with its slow tempo, harsh sound, and low angle shot, creates suspense. Billy’s leaping in slow motion is a clever way to show his ability. Billy’s final triumph and liberation are highlighted in this act. Billy’s transformation and personal growth is also revealed as he became a confident and defiant individual in spite of the hardships he faced at home and in a society that was shattered by the strike. Billy’s transformation in opposition is a great example of how adversity can affect the human spirit on an individual level. He faced, experienced and overcome countless obstacles.
Daldry depicts the experience of collective struggle in adversity, exemplified in the incident of the Northern England Miners’ Strike in 1984. It was the day that Margaret Thatcher closed the Cortonwood Colliery near Yorkshire, which resulted in 20,000 lost jobs. The protests begin and Daldry’s high angle shot captures the rage and frustration of the angry miners shouting “Scab!” Scab!”. The use of diegetic audio and camera panning helps to convey the overall feeling of frustration, anger and outrage that miners and their unions feel towards the government. In Billy Elliot, Daldry explores the idea of overcoming adversity as a collective and individual experience.
A person’s search for identity can be a very personal experience, especially when they connect with others and feel that they are part of a community. Michael, Billy’s close friend, encounters these obstacles when he learns about his sexuality. Michael is initially afraid to be himself because he lives within a very strict and narrow community. The gender roles are also extremely distinct. Michael cannot learn and explore his sexuality because he is part of a community with strict gender roles. Michael’s cross-dressing in his home is a perfect example of this. Michael opens Billy’s door, but the camera doesn’t move. This shows how the community is very rigid and resistant to change. Michael is unable to express himself because he is afraid of the reaction from the male-dominated aggressive community. Billy looks cautiously around him before going in to ensure no one saw them. Billy asked, “What are you doing? It is through the lack of lighting that Billy and Michael are able to see Michael’s homosexuality. The dress clearly fits him and shows his emerging sexuality. He should embrace and accept his new identity.
Michael’s desire to express himself freely and to resist the pressures of society, including gender roles that are defined by them, is another defining journey in his identity. In the final scene, he is seen attending Billy’s ballet. Michael is shown in a medium angle with light blue, contented eyes. It is a symbol of how he feels about himself now that he’s able dress and apply makeup freely, without worrying about what others think. Michael’s expression “Hey Tony, it’s me!” represents his ability to freely express himself toward Tony upon their reunion. It also emphasizes his interaction and his discovery of sexuality. He is not afraid to show it anymore. Michael’s courage, determination, and willingness to embrace an individual identity allowed him the freedom to overcome stereotypical expectations and cross stereotyped boundaries.
A person may also feel isolated when they challenge societal stereotypes. This can happen if certain groups or cultures are marginalized. This is beautifully captured in the “Grocery shop” scene when Jackie and Tony are greeted by Tony’s best friend, who calls them “scabs” because they didn’t join the miners’ strikes. Tony’s anger is captured in the close-up shot. The transition from the mid-shot, when Tony pushes away the trolley, shows his discrimination. The use of dialogue, with the two families screaming and cursing one another, symbolises how the two identities are different in society. This scene shows Tony, Jackie and Tony’s old friend as being the strikers’ representatives while Tony represents himself as “scab”. Both represent the different collective identities of society by addressing personal or politic issues. In this scene, the characters’ inconsistencies in human behavior are causing a collective reaction as they search for their identity.
Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot captures the essence of human life and experience. His use of cinematic conventions and codes captivates audiences and inspires them to empathise with the characters and stories. Anyone will go through the same phases in their lives: overcoming difficulties, chasing dreams or searching to find identity. It can help us see ourselves change, adapt and grow into our new selves, like the characters of Billy Elliot.