Ewan McGregor plays Oliver in a film written and directed by Mike Mills. Oliver’s father is Hal, played by Christopher Plumb. Oliver comes out to Ewan at age 75, four years after the death of his wife, Oliver’s mother, after 44 years of marriage and five years before his own passing.
Beginners takes place in the present, which is 2003, with memories from the preceding five years and the distant past from when Oliver was a child. All of the recent memories involve his father and all of the distant ones are of his mother, with the exception of one very brief shot of his father kissing his mother as he leaves.
This film deals heavily with the concept of nostalgia and the hold it places on Oliver as he faces a restart following the death of his father. The opening scene is of him packing up his dad’s things, dumping out his prescription drugs, introducing his father’s Jack Russell Terrier named Arthur that he’s taken in to his new apartment, and remembering intermittent things that took place over the course of their final years. Things revealed. Things such as the only place his father could have sex with men and how his mother proposed to his father despite knowing he was gay. But there were also a lot of memories that otherwise weren’t significant but simply showed the new everyday life that Hal had taken on. Moments with his new, much younger boyfriend Andy. Moments in the hospital room after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Moments at home talking about gay rights, art, his wife, themselves. These memories take place as Oliver is nurturing a new relationship with a girl named Anna that he meets at a costume party. As their affection grows for each other, Oliver continues to be melancholy and reflective which Anna picks up on.
Beginners relies completely on Oliver’s memories from the two specific times in his life that he continues to refer back to. His mother’s whimsical ways as she shelters herself from her husband’s ways and his father’s newfound self-freedom. Despite Hal’s illness, he does manage to make his last years very well spent with gatherings and meetings, parties with his friends, moments with his boyfriend and times spent talking to Oliver.
While nostalgia has ability to hold someone back, in this film it provides the foundation for a very moving, emotional story of a man dealing with the loss of his father with whom he’s found a deeper appreciation for while struggling to move onward despite that. The importance is found in the scenes in which nothing important is happening. These are the memories most missed. The times in which nostalgia is most striking. It’s very bittersweet.