Thursday, March 19, 2009

BOY (1993)

(Jerry Lewis, 1993)

The Flying Maciste Brothers

In 1993, Jerry Lewis was approached by UNICEF (along with Jean-Luc Godard and 4 other filmmakers) to contribute to a portmanteau film, COMMENT VONT LES ENFANTS (HOW ARE THE KIDS), dealing with "childhood horrors around the world". The resulting product, entitled BOY, is not exactly the strangest 10 minutes ever committed to film by Mr. Lewis, but it may be the most perplexing.

BOY is the story of the only white Jewish-looking kid in an otherwise all black world. In school, the teachers applaud the efforts (all excellent) of the other students, but Boy cannot excel. His teacher seems to be teaching the entire class, but it appears that Boy just can't grasp the lessons. For this, he is ridiculed and humiliated by all.

That the entire scene (and the remainder of the film as well, except for one line at the end) is pantomimed recalls a similar scene from THE PATSY (1964) -- a flashback to Lewis's character being humiliated at a school dance by all the other students. Ahhh, that old Lewis bag of psycho-autobiographical tricks sure comes in handy.

Outside school, Boy seems to be a walking target. He is assaulted and/or humiliated repeatedly -- two young men ruin his dry cleaning at a laundromat -- at a supermarket, the check-out girl continuously passes over him to take care of black customers with their single-item needs such as beer, footlong heros and milk (black people food), then as he leaves the supermarket, he has his bag of 70 grapefruits (white Jewish-looking people food) ripped from his hands and scattered to the pavement.

Back in the safety of his home, he puts together a model of the space shuttle in his bedroom and then attends dinner with his family -- after inexplicably apologizing to both his mother and father. the "punchline" is revealed to be that his family is also entirely black.

Was his apology intended to mean: "Sorry guys for being white and Jewish-looking?" An enigmatic moment. Equally enigmatic are the title cards that promptly close out the tale -- they read, in succession:

What does this indicate to the viewer? One of two things:

a) that BOY is a metaphorical alternate universe fable about the inequality minorities deal with everyday of their lives in modern society, especially the innocent children, who grow up using adult behavior as their model -- sort of a prototype for Desmond Nakano's feature-length WHITE MAN'S BURDEN (1995) --

--OR --

b) that BOY is a paranoid thriller about growing up Jewish in a changing America -- one that affords all its liberties to its black citizens who just seem to take advantage and spit in the face of those that gave them the opportunity in the first place.

I'm sure the answer will go with the Maestro to his grave.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is conspiracy-theory film criticism at its finest.

And Jerry Lewis is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a mystery... all stuffed into a knish.