'Sweet Sixteen'

Film Review of 'Sweet Sixteen'

The film 'Sweet Sixteen is a social realistic drama directed by Ken Loach in 2002 in the United Kingdom. The action takes place in Scotland, in a town called Greenock, sorrounded by sea and mountains. This beautiful landscape is a contrast to the lives of the people we meet, who live in poor social conditions, determined by economic struggle and drug problems. In this working class society mutual respect seems to be an unfamiliar concept.
The main character, Liam (Martin Compston), is a 15 year old boy living together with his violent, drug dealing step father Stan (Gary McCormack) and his grandfather Rab (Tommy McKee). We see life through his perspective, as he struggles for a better life for his mother Jean (Michelle Coulter), who is in prison and will be released in time for Liam's 16th birthday. He has quit school and his whole life is about creating a better future for his family. He steals his stepfather's drugs and sells them, in order to earn money to buy a caravan where he, his mother, his sister Chantelle (Annmarie Fulton), and her son Calum (Calum McAlees) can live in peace and harmony.

Hi naivety and idealism is presented in a very realistic way. He is strong and his uncompromising will to change his destiny and escape a life determined by violence, drug abuse and destructive relationships, is an emotional and touching journey.

The dark and sombre atmosphere in the city and the clouded weather emphasize the unhappy and self-destructive lives of the people living there. However, the film has some small moments of joy. One of them is when Pinball (William Ruane), Liam's best friend, has stolen an expensive car, and they drive around in it, accompanied by an aria from Mozart's "Magic Flute", which emphasizes the strong feeling of joy and excitement of their experience. At the same time, this high culture music is a contrast to the poor everyday life of the working class that they belong to, living on the edge of society. This makes the misery of their lives very clear.

The film portrays a society where drugs are the main reason for violence, destruction and exploitation. Drugs control their lives, and is the reason for broken relationships. When Liam is dragged into a gang dealing with drugs, led by Tony (Martin Mccardie), it destroys the relationship with his best friend. When Liam refuses to bring drugs to his mother in prison, his stepfather and his grandfather beat him. His relationship with his mother turns out to be unhappy because she is addicted to drugs. She has never lived him or taken care of him in a good way.
Liam's sister represents a way out of the misery. She takes classes to become a computer operator. She takes good care of her four year old son Calum, and she loves her brother Liam.
Liam is fighting a lot and gets beaten up again and again. As his sister says: it's not because he is brave, but because he doesn't care about what happens to him.
Lack of love and care from his closest family can be seen as a reason why he doesn't care very much for himself. He is struggling for a higher goal, that is, the stability and happiness of a family life with his mother, whom he loves despite everything. But the family union turns out to be an illusion.

In the beginning of the film, Liam resists to use violence. When Pinball offers him a small knife he doesn't want it. Later in the film, under the influence of the drug dealer Tony, Liam finds himself almost stabbing a man in order to get approval of the gang. This time he doesn't hesitate when given a knife, and this will have decisive consequences for him in the end. This shows us that the development of the character is going in a rather bad direction and that he seems to be unable to change this. He will have to face the consequences of his actions as well as a reality which doesn't match his dreams.

The lack of authorities and positive role models is a factor that influences Liam and the decisions he makes. The film makes it clear that young people growing up without positive role models are likely to become victims of moral decline and end up on bad track in society.

The language in the film is Scottish, and there are subtitles for the first fifteen minutes. After this, I sometimes sfound it hard to understand what they were saying. The word "fuck" is used a lot. It is almost comic when every sentence has the word "fuck" in it. The rapid use of this word emphasizes that they are uneducated and live in a street level culture. It is an example of a word being misused so that it looses its meaning.

The title of the film is very ironic. At an age of 16, when life should be filled with possibilities for the future ahead of him, life is anything but sweet. The film contemplates the possibilities of escaping the evil cycle of drugs, violence, poverty and lack of love in the environment one grow up in. For Liam it is impossible. When his mother goes back to her boyfriend, unable to change the pattern of her destructive life, all of Liams dreams and hopes fall apart and violence is the reaction to his powerlessness. He stabs his stepfather. This doesn't give very good prospects for his future because it's his 16th birthday and he can be charged as an adult. At an age of 16, when he should have life in front of him, he might have to go to prison. He is pre- destined to misery, unable to change his fate nor his environment.

The film is an honest and realistic expression of the difficulties of changing ones path, when growing up in tough circumstances. It asks whether one's destiny is determined by background and environment and whether the evil cycle of poverty, drug abuse, violence and hopelessness will repeat itself throughout generations. It gives a moving picture of a young boy fighting for his dream until there is no return and he has to face some dark truths about life.

A-M, May 2003

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