June 15th, 2016 / 10 Comments

It is difficult to review Robert Pattinson’s The Childhood of a Leader without giving too much away.  Obviously some of you will have read the reviews I have been posting, which sometimes gives a little away, but rather than provide further spoilers (or possibly just a few), I thought I would give my overall impression of the film and what had me thinking way past the end credits rolling.  This way it can create a discussion forum in the comments for those who have already seen the film and would like to discuss.

If you haven’t seen the film and don’t want any spoilers, then you should just look at the Charles Marker collage posted below and then click out of the post.

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If you are reading this, then clearly you do want to proceed and possibly have your say in the comments.  So, here we go.

*May contain spoilers from hereon – discussion post after the cut*


“That was the tragedy. Not that one man has the courage to be evil, but that so many have not the courage to be good.”

I understand fully why Brady Corbet’s directorial debut “The Childhood of a Leader” has been referred to often as “audacious”. I will add to that description “compelling”. From the opening scene to the very end, this film has your attention. Brady Corbet with the pace of the film, the often long drawn out shots, captivating performances of the entire cast, melodic French accents and the forceful and powerful musical score of Scott Walker has us hypnotised.

The quote above is spoken by Robert’s character, Charles Marker, in one of the earlier scenes. (Note: I have to thank David Ehrlich for the reminder).  It’s a quote from John Fowles novel, The Magus.  In context, the full quote makes reference to Hitler and the tragedies of war.  As you know, we are never told who the actual dictator is, although if you want to take the symbolism of colour used throughout the film, then it’s possible to infer who may have influenced this story.  Brady Corbet purposely didn’t use the full quote as he has said in the past “I have intentionally not revealed the identity of the boy who will become leader … it’s not for the reasons that people think. One thing I will happily tell everybody is that the character is not Hitler … not Mussolini.  It’s someone else.”  Someone else indeed. After seeing the film I understand exactly what Brady means.  I have spent today contemplating whether the film is about an actual living tyrant or whether it’s more about the tyrants that may lie within us and what we do or don’t do to stop certain behaviour.

The film opens with black and white scenes of war and straight away we are introduced to what I personally consider the most impressive musical score I have ever encountered in a film. From the opening scenes until the final moment – the music is compelling. When considering the musical score of feature films I always go back to what David Michôd told us at The Rover press conference “music can effectively communicate a tone better than anything else”.  He’s not wrong.  Walker’s music is intriguing, chilling and captivating all at once and it most definitely sets the mood for each scene.  In fact, it also prepares you for what is to follow.  Vertigo hit the nail on the head when she said “the music is its own character”.

This is a bold film. It takes you on a wild ride from the opening scene until the chaotic end. We are introduced to the child straight away, but we are never told his name until the very end. I know it had me wondering throughout the film whether anyone had actually referred to him by name. Tom Sweet’s performance, for a first time role, is entrancing.  Brady’s use of long drawn out shots somehow don’t make you feel uncomfortable – with one exception, I guess, a scene with Stacy Martin (Ada/Adelaide), but often it makes you focus or allows you to search for clues or hints from the characters. Lol Crawley’s cinematography is breathtaking. The house in which most of the film occurs is stunning, even with it’s decaying facade. I’ve mentioned before from some of the stills, how much I loved the hues used for this film. Seeing it on the big screen only enhances what I was expecting. Tom Sweet’s ability to go from sweet and curious child, especially when seen with Stacy Martin, his French teacher, or Mona, the hired help played by Yolande Moreau, to calculating and stoic in the face of his somewhat absent parents surprisingly endeared him to me.  In fact, you often find yourself internally cheering for him rather than wanting him to be admonished. I guess that is the charm of a true dictator and manipulator. Berenice Bejo and Liam Cunningham shine as his distant and somewhat tyrannical parents. Berenice, in particular, perfectly portrays the menacing mother.  Robert’s character, Charles Marker, is also introduced to us early on.  Robert may only have a handful of short scenes, but his character gives us much to think about. Obviously I think his performance is outstanding.  Although I have to admit, there were slight reminders to me of his performance as TE Lawrence – this isn’t a criticism, sometimes this happens to me with Rob – he does a quirk and it just reminds me of another character.  One thing that, for some reason, had me pondering early on was whether there was something more to the relationship between the mother and Charles?  Sometimes I read too much between the lines – maybe it was their German connection *shrugs*. I have a theory, but I won’t say too much more about that. I am curious to know if anyone else pondered the same.

Brady Corbet has stunned with his first foray in directing. I can only imagine what he will bring to the table with a few more films under his belt. Brady knew what he wanted to do and he went for it in spectacular fashion.  I am hoping that an Australian distributor picks this film up because it is definitely one that needs to be experienced on the big screen. I’m sure I’ve left something out so if you want to remind me please do. There is a lot to absorb in this film and that is difficult to do with only one screening.  If I had any criticism about the film – it’s the lack of Robert. Haha. Just kidding.

  • Julie- Sydney Robfan
    Posted on June 16, 2016

    I really want to discuss the ending. But that will give the plot away and I don’t want to do that for those who have not seen it yet,mbut are reading this.

    But I agree with you Maria about the music. It was very powerful. Though as I was the second row back, I found the sound to be very loud, so the high pitched instruments were really to harsh for my ears at times. I will have to see it again with a better sound system so really give a full opinion.

    With the long draw out shots, I agree it didn’t make you uncomfortable, but some scenes I though we’re a little unnecessary and could have been a little shorter. I also felt that maybe some scenes could have been filmed differently. Eg, the scene where the father walks up the stairs to Prescott’s room during the second tantrum. For me, I would have led to see his face and expressions as he walking up the stairs, rather than seeing his back. These things are only small nit picking things, but they never did affect my overall enjoyment and opinion of the movie.

    My husband was with me when we saw it and he thought the same as you with the thought that their was something more to the relationship between Charles and the mother. That really go us thinking leading to thoughts of something which I don’t know if I can really say just yet due to spoilers.

    Overall it was a great movie. Very mesmerising and haunting. But with only 1 viewing, I definity need to watch again to really see some hiding detail I have missed as there was sooo much to take in.

  • Julie- Sydney Robfan
    Posted on June 16, 2016

    Yes I agree about the lack of scenes for Rob as well.

  • Julie- Sydney Robfan
    Posted on June 16, 2016

    Hmmm. Tried twice to post my thoughts, but it never got through. Is there a word limit to posts? Thought maybe it was too long for it to post.

  • Maria
    Posted on June 16, 2016

    Hi Julie – we’ve mentioned before that sometimes WordPress places people’s comments into spam for no rhyme or reason. Noone was around on the site at the time you posted which is why we couldn’t check.

    If you want to discuss further, I’ve mentioned that if nobody wants spoilers they shouldn’t read this post.

    Agree that the film requires more than one viewing. Fingers crossed it gets an Australian distributor from the positive reaction it seems to have achieved.

  • Michelle
    Posted on June 16, 2016

    Thanks so much for putting this together Maria, so thrilled for you all who saw the film at SFF 🙂 I am going to be strong (for once lol) & remain spoiler free but will definitely be coming back here once I have seen the film. Cannot wait for that day!

  • barbara
    Posted on June 16, 2016

    Maria and all you lucky ladies who had the privilege to see this movie before the rest of us. I can’t wait, I will try not to throw a wobbly of jealousy it will get me no place,I have a horrible thought that we will not see it here in Coffs Harbour, these are the times when I miss Sydney.grrrrrr
    Thank you for wetting my appetite, this is my kind of movie xxx.

  • Maria
    Posted on June 16, 2016

    I’m sure you will love it Barbara – let’s just pray it actually gets an Australian distributor – at this stage it was screened at the film festival via Protagonist.

  • Michelle
    Posted on June 17, 2016

    Praying right there with you Maria!

  • sue
    Posted on June 21, 2016

    A week has passed since I saw COAL in Sydney ~ sorry it’s taken me so long to comment on this post. But I can honestly say that COAL is a movie that stays on your mind, especially those first couple of days after seeing it. I actually found that I couldn’t shut my mind off and get to sleep that first night ~ different images and ideas from the movie bounced around in my head all night long. If anything, you leave wanting more. More of everything, to help fit the pieces together.

    I loved COAL. I had had high expectations, which is sometimes a recipe for disaster. But on this occasion, I thought it delivered brilliantly. As mentioned, the musical score was superb, quite extraordinary, although on a couple of occasions I missed dialogue because of it. I think the length of some of those scenes might seem drag on for some, but for me, personally, it allowed my mind to work in overdrive, keeping the anticipation high throughout the movie. I felt so caught up in this movie, from start to finish. The characters were (sadly) very believable, even though extreme. Much as I would have loved more screen time with Rob, upon reflection, I actually think it was very clever to have his character removed for much of the film. I’m actually looking forward to seeing it with a non-Rob fan, to get their take on how they used his character.

    Maria, given the ending, surely there HAD to be more to the relationship between Charles and the mother? I can’t see how it makes sense otherwise. Again, making that too obvious would perhaps make the ending less striking ~ at least that’s my take on it.

    Enough rambling from me. I really hope COAL finds an Aussie distributor ~ this is truly a film for the big screen with a powerful sound system! Fingers crossed for you all. When I get time, I’m going to go listen to what Brady Corbet has had to say about the film ~ I fear I’ve missed a lot of insight. A Brady Corbet Q&A is what I need! But I genuinely loved how this film was handled. Very unique, and yes, very mesmerising. Can’t wait to see it again. And again.

  • Maria
    Posted on June 21, 2016

    Thanks @Sue – and yes it seems that there has to be more. I’ve actually read some reviews that pretty much think exactly what I think about the film, but they contain spoilers hence why I warn those who haven’t watched the film.

    Pretty intense and I’ve got my fingers crossed someone *looks at Icon or Palace Films* picks it up for Aussies.

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