Even if – due to a slow start – it takes a viewer 30 minutes to become emotionally engaged in this coming-of-age film by Hugh Hudson (The Killing Fields, Chariots of Fire), it eventually finds its gravity in the inevitability of life and death. My Life So Far (also known as The World of Moss) is the aptly titled autobiography of spirited 10-year-old Fraser Pettigrew (Robert Norman) growing up in a large family on a moss farm in 1920s Scotland.
Embroiled in the curiosity-driven anxiousness of pre-adolescence and an Oedipal struggle with his philandering inventor father, Edward Pettigrew (Colin Firth), the young boy is propelled by strange family circumstances into issues beyond his years, which shock, bewilder and ultimately charm family and friends around him. Fraser is becoming aware of women.
After his father belittles him in front of his lovely French future aunt, Heloise (Irene Jacob), Fraser finds escape, forbidden knowledge and fascination in his deceased grandfather’s book collection in the attic. A few nude photographs and a loftily written essay on prostitution confuse, intrigue and inspire self-discovery.
Set against lush, green, serene landscapes and lakes, Fraser’s growing awareness about the world and the midlife blundering of his father turn together more as a natural cycle of life than a soap opera in the sprawling hills – even if love, betrayal, death and passion are this film’s primary themes. The life cycle – the new replacing the old – is also represented by Aunt Heloise, and Fraser’s lovely, aging mother, Moira Pettigrew, played convincingly by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.
Heloise represents a feminine ideal – the object of desire – that repels Fraser and draws him in at once. The mother – a woman who gave up a career as an opera singer and is beginning to show lines in her face from years of caring for a husband, a grandmother and a house full of children – floats like a lost ghost. Her absence creates a space for recollection, for our realization that as much as it narrates a boy’s coming-of-age, this film also documents an inevitable exit that is just as easy and moving to read as Fraser’s naive account of life. At least so far.
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