Young Men and Their Chosen Paths: Stephen Daldry’s film Billy Elliot and Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Follower’

The undertaking of a transition from one phase of life to another can prove difficult and there may be obstacles to overcome along the way. In order to transcend adversity, an individual will often need to maintain diligence and perseverance to seek new beneficial opportunities and the development of self-belief. This attitude towards self-development can also allow and individual to gain support crucial to successfully make the intended changes. This difficult transitioning process can be explored through Stephen Daldry’s film, Billy Elliot 2000, as it follows a young English boy persevere through social and familial barriers to pursue positive individual change in his life, and alternately through “Follower” a poem by Seamus Heaney which encompasses a a young boy, aspirant to overtake his fathers farming career. The issues that affect Billy’s transitioning into the world of ballet include social conformity and judgement and conflict and love in father son relationships, whereas the issues affecting the boys transition include familial expectations and individual aspirations. These issues can be analysed through a variety of visual and language techniques used. The issue of social conformity and judgement can act as a limitation to an individual when attempting to make a transition. There are conflicts between individuality and what is expected of people. This is reflected through the technique of lighting. For example, the hall which he practices in is dimly lit. This conveys the secrecy that surrounds Billy’s pursuit of ballet and the way differences must be ‘hidden’ in a society that expects conformity. This reflects how social conformity can act as a limitation for change as social rejection excludes individuals who defy its expectations and make transitioning difficult. Another representation of this issue in regard to transition is through the technique of out of frame action. For example, members of the town alert Jacky to Billys antics in the gym and Jackys mate’s presence is tangible off screen and is seen standing outside the hall. The effect of this represents the judgemental view of society, whose judgement impacts the status and reputation of individuals. The social pressures of the miners strike add greater conflict to Billy’s struggles aswell as his fathers and the communities. Therefore, social conformity and judgement can act as a limitation to individuals when attempting to transition. Compartively, individual aspirations can act as a support and limitation for an individual undergoing the process of transitioning.An individual who perpetuates strong aspirations will often maintain a sense of perseverance and diligence to achieve these goals. This can largely be seen through the young boy in Seamus Heaney’s “Follower”. This is reflected through a simile “his shoulders globed like a full sail strung”. This emulates the boys goal to perform to the same standard as the high reverence he viewed his father in, thus setting the goal for his process to transition to this level. His ultimate transition can be reflected through two comparative and contradictory quotes “All I ever did was follow” and “But today, it is my father stumbling behind me..” This reflects that the boy, through maturity and commitment, has ultimately achieved his aspirations to overtake his fathers workload and his fathers frail behaviours now replicate that of the boy prior to his transition. Conflict and love in father son relationship can also act as a limitation or benefit when attempting to transition. There is a constant lack of communication and understanding between Jacky and Billy throughout the film. The technique of absence of dialogue is used. For the duration of the scene, neither character speaks. This is representative of the lack of understanding and inability to express emotion/ communication between father and son. This links to transition as Jackies lack of understanding to Billy’s talent and passion is a barrier to his change. The technique of close ups- of eye contact is also used in this scene. Frequent close ups of Billy and Jackies eyes alternately locked on each other is a visual metaphor of their battle of wills. The effect of this shows, in the absence of communication, all the determination, passion and defiance Billy must express to his father of his skill and ambitions is conveyed through eye contact. This links to transition as it is Jacky’s turning point in the film, after watching the dance his love for his son ultimately overcomes his opposition and he supports and assists Billy in his endeavours. Hence, the issue of conflict and love in father son relationships can act as both a limitation and benefit when attempting to transition. The ideas of familial expectations and conflicts are complemented and augmented by Seamus Heaney’s “Follower” as the young boy is ambitious to overtake his father’s legacy and replicate his endeavours. He refers to his father as an ‘expert’, which highlights his high level of admiration for him. This is furthered through adjectives such as “tripping, falling” highlight the personas inability to be like his father and epitomises the need for the boy to undergo a transition to fulfil his necessity to enact these duties. This highlights the effect that familial expectations can precipitate in individual’s desire to transition and that expectations from family figures can have a limiting effect on this process. This notion can be furthered through the first person omniscient narration of “I wanted to grow up and plough”. This reflects reflects the past vision of the boy, and how he wanted to replicate his father, an ideal which has been moulded by expectations and pressures from family and society to continue traditional and orthodox values. Therefore, the idea that transitions have the power to change perspectives and outlooks can be seen through the issues of social conformity and judgement and conflict and love in father son relationships in the film Billy Elliot and alternately through familial expectations and individual aspirations in “Follower” by Seamus Heaney . These issues can act as both as both limitations and support mechanisms for transitions into new profound outlooks and experiences. These issues can be analysed through the various film and language techniques incorporated throughout the texts.