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Scene Analysis: 16 Years of Alcohol

March 20, 2013

Scene Analysis: 16 Years of Alcohol

“There’s no heart left here”

**Please note that since I wrote this, the specific video was removed from YouTube. To access the scene I analyse, follow the above link and watch from 14:26 – 16:55 (ignore the timings I specify in the below piece). I do not condone watching the entire movie on a tubing site, so please buy a copy if you like what you see.**

If there’s a film that understands alcoholism better than 16 Years of Alcohol then I’ve yet to see it, and the scene which most artfully renders 16 Years of Alcohol‘s acute grasp on the social, psychological and pathological roots of the self-destructiveness inherent in all alcoholics, is in the above clip. (Please note, the particular sequence I’m referencing runs from 6:10 – 8:47).

The sequence opens up (6:10) on what should be a natural, happy picture of a young boy’s domestic life. He (Frankie) is sleeping blissfully in his cosy bed, and his room is decorated in the usual boyhood paraphernalia of a poster of his favourite football team – in this case Hibernian. Set against this gentle impression of childhood, comes the immediate intrusion (6:11) of his parents’ selfishness and unhappiness, in the form of a violent verbal argument. Herein however, lies the genius of director Richard Jobson, as instead of the scene depicting a single moment in time, having the parents’ dialogue overlap and replicate, creates the impression of the continual corrosive atmosphere in the boy’s homelife which serves as summation for a tarnished childhood. This impressionistic device is confirmed by the sharp flashback (6:26) to the dying, older Frankie – perhaps deliriously reminiscing on the root cause of his ‘paradise lost’.

At 6:47 Frankie, the boy, gets out his bed, and at this precise moment the parents’ arguing stops, emphasising the sense that Frankie is alone, and ultimately neglected by his parents when he needs them most. It’s here that the sequence gets more artful and suggestive as to the pathology of a violent, alcoholic person (the adult Frankie will become). He enters the room where he believes his parents to be, but instead he encounters the wasteland of his childhood. As Frankie himself observes in his ghostly voiceover (7:51), “each second here is an other education in the art of destruction”. The apparatus of that destruction is cleverly manifested. There’s the sensory effect of the stuck record (7:40) – suggesting decay and neglect – and the close-up (7:23) on the left-over beers, whisky and cigarettes, offers a more compelling portrait of a society and culture drenched in booze than a more demonstrative sequence of someone getting drunk.

Of course, the make-up of many an alcoholic is a deep-rooted suppression of anger, and Frankie’s voiceover alludes to this when he powerfully refers to “the wonder of hate” (8:01). That hate comes out when he looks at a smashed portrait of his parents, the evocative, haunting sound design of breaking glass (8:04) speaking volumes for the origin of that unhappiness. Then come the two observations by Frankie, in voiceover, that offer compelling truisms to the core pathology of an alcoholic. The first: “how easy is this? Too easy to stop”, understands that alcoholism is often a case of weakness of willpower, and the truly beautiful and poetic: “they say when a ship sinks, the rats float to the top. Some people look forward to that time” – acknowledges the self-destructive bent in many alcoholics.

I’ve heard one criticism of this scene, and 16 Years of Alcohol in general, in that it shows Frankie beginning his alcoholic habit at an unfeasibly young age. Well, it was often the case that in many British communities (especially working-class ones), boys were often permitted/encouraged to drink in their early teenage years. And anyway, that reading fails to understand the transcendental, metaphoric quality of 16 Years of Alcohol, and that showing the young Frankie drinking his first glass of whisky symbolises how the origins of his addiction were in the tragedies of his childhood.

For my full review of the film, read here:


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