Mike Mills is a charmer of dramedy. He deals with pathos so beautifully it’s hard not to make it your very own. 20th Century Women tries to tell a coming of age story of a boy, his upbringing overseen by his mother and two girls who help him understand things about life with their very own experiences. The flick is set in a backdrop of 1979 where a technological revolution was still in the process of shaping up. Its time dictates the very beauty of it. Quite inspiring, in fact, since today a child’s world has ended up being lost in mobiles, games and internet with limited social interaction.
20th Century Women thrives on real interaction helping each character in the movie to understand each other really well. A setup like that evokes a sense of yearning in your mind, to be in that time, caring for people around you and to be cared for, and being involved in each other’s life so as to carve better humans out of each other. The movie also delves into the life of Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) who is apparently not from her time but from “The Depression” as her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) calls it.
The movie is abounding with some great writing. The screenplay is peerless and very pensive. Every interaction forces you off the cliff into your very own world of contemplation. It is brilliantly presented too with Mike’s magnificent direction. His direction BTW is just impeccable and intelligent.
There are so many great conversations and one-liners in 20th Century Women that I think should be properly curdled to identify and appreciate their true magnificence. I have decided to do a proper analysis for that. Hope you like it.
Plot Analysis of 20th Century Women (Spoilers Ahead)
20th Century Women starts off with a scene of the moving sea signifying constant motion. Life is constant motion. It is written on the threads of time and it will forever take you forward. A movie that slaps a timeliness feel on its moniker understands that very well. We are told it is Santa Barbara 1979. The protagonists Dorothea and Jamie find their car in flames in the parking lot.
The old and the rusty always dies. It is a paragon of movement, that constantly moving wheel of change. With that, we realize the recognition of something always happens when it’s too late. When something dies you begin to wonder about it, and every story that once entailed it. Although there are memories galore as Dorothea says:
Dorothea: It was a beautiful car.
Jamie: Mom, it smelled like gas and overheated all the time and it was just old.
Dorothea: Well it wasn’t always old. It just got that way all of a sudden.
Now you know that Mike Mills isn’t only talking about the car with that conversation. It is about her too, or about everything that’s old in the world. They were all something once when they were young, bright and shiny. She wasn’t always old. It is her way of justifying herself, and then feeling sorry for it. You don’t see age coming. Time is elusive.
Even prior to that in conjunction with the car’s really import, we find out about the lives of our protagonists and how they fit in. How they come to be. We see a montage of frames showing us the vastness of life, the experiences it houses in its bosom, the diversity, variegation, everything.
Dorothea: I’d tell him life was very big and unknown.
Jamie: And she told me there were animals and sky and cities, music, movies.
Dorothea: He’d fall in love have his own children, have passions, have meaning, have his mom and dad.
The last line is a kick in the groin because we immediately find out what Dorothea had promised couldn’t be fulfilled. She got divorced and the car was the only memory that stayed. Jamie’s recollection about his dad is sad as well. He tries to remember if he was close to his dad ever.
Last time I felt close to him was on my birthday in 1974.
And the real reason behind that was something material. He bought him mirrored sunglasses. So you can feel there was no real connection or even a trace of love, for that to matter. He would only call him on his birthday or Christmas.
Mills chooses to show us a movie scene where the talk goes on about promises. The actor in the movie failed to keep them.
Last night we said a great many things.
It is a subtle wink at Dorothea’s husband or Jamie’s father who didn’t stand true to himself.
The Power of Gratitude
We find Dorothea to be a kind woman, who is good with everybody when we find out her offering to feed the Firemen who came to help her with her car situation. She wishes to thank them for their help, and that’s her way of offering gratitude.
Jamie finds that odd, as will anybody else and goes on to explain.
You know when the firemen come people don’t usually invite them over for dinner.
To that she says,
Yeah? Why not?
It is a very powerful remark by Dorothea, which compels you to think. Why wouldn’t you or why shouldn’t you be grateful when someone helps you? Are they obliged to help you? The reason why you shouldn’t be kind to them? Even so, look at the colossal significance of the help they did. No one in their sanest mind will take the trouble of doing all that for you. You realize Dorothea’s kindness is just. But clearly, the times have changed. Yet she is unaware of it or simply chooses to be herself.
Other Crucial Characters in 20th Century Women
Credits roll and the movie begins with the introduction of Julie (Elle Fanning) a girl who is forced to attend her mother’s therapy sessions. We see her dropping by to meet Jamie and Dorothea but they are not home. William (Billy Crudup) is introduced as well meanwhile, who is a tenant at Dorothea’s ramshackle building. He helps her with all the broken things in her house.
Then there is Abigail ‘Abbie’ Porter (Greta Gerwig) the second girl who we see in a hospital. She is also a tenant and on chemo, and struggling with her cancerous body. We see her dancing to music which we later find out reflects her mood.
She learned to dance when she got sad.
Abbie is a photographer and she is taking pictures of Julie when she objects. She says:
I am taking a picture of everything that happens to me in a day.
I don’t like having my pictures taken. I didn’t happen to you.
Dorothea and Jamie come back and we find out people in the building are quite friendly with each other. Dorothea cares about what is going on in Abbie’s life. There we find out about her illness as well.
Jamie and Julie in 20th Century Women
When Jamie and Julie are alone we find them on Jamie’s bed. She is worried about Jamie when she hears about that car fire. Julie is lovingly touching his face when Jamie considers it as an invitation. She retracts with:
It was so much easier before you got all horny.
Friendship can’t be the same always. Jamie and Julie have been friends all their life. There is an apparent age gap between the two, and Julie likes to spend her time on Jamie’s bed. They just talk about stuff. But Jamie is going through a phase, an age where he has no control over his feelings.
Friends can’t have sex and still be friends.
Julie tries to establish that, and wishes to keep it that way. She might be right of her to want something like that. But she is unknowingly forcing something unnatural on a poor coming of age lad, by sharing the same bed every night, destroying his privacy.
On a remark Jamie makes about her mom, Julie aces it with a line:
She’s compensating for her loneliness.
That’s a remarkable line, right there! You see Dorothea has been constantly bugging Jamie with things from her life. From groceries to her stock analysis, talking, asking him to do some chores, in a way making sure Jamie’s life is always full of her. When you are alone, you want your life to suck less, and you try to be busy with things that make you happy. But you do that at someone else’s cost. Jamie is a child who wants respite. But she fails to see that.
The Birthday Party Dinner
As promised, the firemen show up to Dorothea’s birthday party. By that invitation, it clearly seems that she is rooting for validation. That her birthday should have people, lots of people in it, even though there are strangers galore, it should ‘feel’ like a real party. She doesn’t wish to reflect back in the long run with regret – that her birthday didn’t feel like a birthday, and she is willing to accept strangers home as well.
We find her telling him about the building origins. Williams is trying to share his profound thoughts about the work he loves. He loves pottery but sadly nobody understands him or his love for it.
We are connected to the dirt ’cause we came from the dirt. The dirt is made of stars and stardust, in the same way that we are so when you put your hands into that dirt and feel the Earth Mother…
Abbie finds it ridiculous and guffaws. You get to see two different perspectives of how people are obsessed with different things in life. Abbie fails to see what Williams is so mad about, and the same holds true for Williams.
The Old Times
A montage of images in 20th Century Women, then takes us to the year 1924 when Dorothea was born.
When she was my age people drove in sad cars to sad houses with old phones, no money, or food, or televisions but the people were real.
We find out about her, how the war forced her to leave school, to give up on her dreams to become a pilot. The war took a lot of things away, and it is sad how it is a single most disruptive element that swallows everything in its wake. Jamie recounts the events of her life by telling us that she was the first woman to work in a Continental Can Company drafting room. Right after she met her husband, and then Jamie was born and then the divorce happned. Jamie puts it this way:
People from her time never admit anything went wrong.
This is another of those great lines in 20th Century Women that will make you brood for long. While it could be just pointing out Dorothea’s nature about being laconic, but at the same time, it talks about that period of time, and all the people in it. They were the reason behind the war after all, and yet they never admit that they were in the wrong. You talk with them and they will only have good things to say about their time, as if living amidst chaos was something they had learned to live with.
Dorothea is really supportive of her son fighting with the world to turn him into a man, preparing him for everything upfront.
He’s not half a person, and he’s not some cute little guy. He has volition and autonomy and privacy.
She appreciates his brain even though he is in the wrong. (That signature forging bit!) We also learn that Dorothea never dates a man for long. One way or the other she pushes them away.
The Happiness Quotient
A scene in 20th Century Women then shows Jamie being concerned about the guy Julie dates. Dorothea senses that concern his words and goes on to remark another great line:
I just think that, you know, having your heart broken is a tremendous way to learn about the world.
In one of the conversations that follow that night, Jamie drops the bomb by asking her the question:
Do you think you are happy? Like as happy as you thought you’d be when you were my age?
It is an inappropriate question to ask but if you think about it, it is really deep. Nobody is really happy, and our visions and fancies, our idea of the world that we dreamt of growing up, never turns out the way we want them to. A casual remark by Dorothea puts him away, but you know what the child has been thinking.
Wondering if you are happy is a great shortcut to just being depressed.
Another one of those ripped lines. We often wonder about it and hurt ourselves. Dorothea is the exact opposite. She doesn’t focus on thinking about how her life turned out to be, or where exactly her place was supposed to be. She doesn’t want to spend time thinking about that. It is written on her face as she moves on concentrating on the now, the present.
The Punk Music
About one of The Raincoats music that was played in 20th Century Women she opines:
Can’t things just be pretty?
We know what and who Dorothea is – an optimistic person, wanting the world to be a better place, focusing on all the good things wishing everything unpleasant to just go away. To her remark about the music Jamie says:
Pretty music is used to hide how unfair and corrupt society is.
And he’s so right! There is so much sadness in the world, the wrong, the corrupt, and with all the problems, if you are just focusing or choosing to see the good things, it wouldn’t make the ugliness disappear.
Dorothea comments about them not being very good. Abbie understands them even better when she says:
It’s like they got all this, this feeling, and they don’t have any skill, and they don’t want skill, because it’s really interesting what happens when your passion is bigger than the tools you have to deal with it. It creates this energy that’s raw.
It is something that holds true for everything. My passion for drawing, even though how bad I draw supersedes my inabilities. That’s really like a start for everything in this world. Then you have to keep at it, and you end up realizing that you are getting better with time.
The Near Death Experience
Another set of images in 20th Century Women then show us Jamie’s time. The year 1964 when he was born. Dorothea describes the time as the onset of a meaningless war, (for her the World War was meaningful?) with computers, drugs, and boredom. The last reason would force kids to play stupid games. We see Jamie playing a self-destructive game with his friends to which he succumbs and nearly dies for about half an hour.
When he is finally fine, Dorothea asks him:
Why would you do something so dangerous?
To which Jamie replies:
I don’t know. I mean, everyone was doing it.
We tend to do things for the heck of it, but primarily because we have this habit of following others. We copy each other, and even though something might sound really dumb we still do it. Jamie’s reason in 20th Century Women reeks of that very human stupidity that we are forever born with. War was a stupid idea and yet we keep following the same course over and over again.
That Deliberate Attempt
Another example is slapped by Jamie himself when he retorts to the question:
Why did you hurt yourself like that?
with an answer that’s just quite apt:
Why do you smoke yourself to death?
Another one of those examples where people tend to copy others, despite knowing what damage it could bring them. Smoking is a dumb idea, just like Jamie’s stupid game, but he still went along with it. Just as Dorothea or billion others like her who smoke, follow other’s suit.
Why are you fine being sad and alone?
We know that Dorothea has given up the idea of living, and that’s why she has resorted to smoking. She is not even trying to live which makes Jamie really mad. And whenever he asks her something personal she never replies. She thinks of it as inappropriate.
Owing to the time he was born in, Dorothea finds it really hard to understand the world of her child.
I know him less every day.
Things weren’t the way they used to be back in her time. She finds it really hard to communicate when she can’t open up herself and tell him about herself. That’s why she decides to bring in the cavalry – Abbie and Julie.
History and Men
20th Century Women then shows us a beach scene where all the women are talking.
I think history has been tough on men. I mean, they can’t be what they were, and they can’t figure out what’s next.
History has indeed been really hard on men. Even though they are trying to learn from it, secretly they wish to be a part of it. I have seen men who want to be in on some action, and now that they can’t get any of it, they think of the past as a great time to live. The inability to see what’s next and whether or not they will become a part of history is killing too. It is the boredom around that makes our life less exciting. The cardinal reason why they wish to teleport back.
Beseeching Help from Abbie and Julie
I think he needs help in figuring out how to be himself in all this mess. And I can’t be there. I can’t be there with him. I have to let go.
Dorothea asks for help from Abbie and Julie to raise him even though pointed out by Julie that you need a man to raise a man.
How do you be a good man? What does that even mean nowadays?
The very definition of a good man is lost, and the idea of two young girls teaching Jamie to become one seems about right to Dorothea.
This is what Jamie thinks of it:
You just feel guilty ’cause it’s just me and you.
The fact that it is true bothers Dorothea, but she fails to open up once again. The fight goes on and we see Jaime running off to LA for a show.
Dorothea thinks it is right of him to be mad. But Abbie counters it by:
If it makes him this mad then maybe it wasn’t a good idea.
Dorothea realizes her mistake with that and tries to get William’s perspective.
Jamie returns at night to a waiting Julie who has had a terrible news to break. As he gets in, Dorothea who has been really worried all this time. She finally lets out a sigh of relief, but she doesn’t show. She remarks to the cat instead:
It’s okay, Jeeves, he’s back. You can relax now.
You can order 20th Century Women from here:
Abbie Seeking Validity in 20th Century Women
Meanwhile, Abbie is rooting for someone’s approval, validity or even a little bit of love as she tries to talk to Williams.
I had this new idea for my photography that I was gonna take a picture of everything that I owned so it would be a self-portrait of myself through the stuff that I have.
Her photographs are incredibly sad and yet impactful as they help you to get a read on her. Looking at photographs of things someone owns, creates an image of that person in your mind. You feel that person materializing into something concrete when you really don’t know him/her. That’s the very beauty of it, and the sheer power of a camera.
Abbie chooses to fool around with Williams and she asks him to do role play. Williams finds that odd, of course, since her fetish is that of someone other than Williams.
I can’t just be myself?
But that scene in 20th Century Women is so brilliant and well acted that you can’t applaud the actors enough. She wishes Williams to be a photographer shooting her, and then making the move on her, eventually apologizing. When he acts it out, in the end, he can’t stop feeling sorry for the poor girl in reality, and the apology there, does both the jobs. You can’t help sorry for Abbie yourself. She is going through a difficult time, and she has these crazy ideas at the same time wanting her life to be unknotted.
Julie’s Pregnancy Test in 20th Century Women
It has been a regular wont of Julie in 20th Century Women to tell Jamie all about her life. It is really killing for Jamie to hear and yet he does so, because they have been friends forever. Despite the advice Jamie slips to her, she never acts in accordance. This time things really go out of hand as we can see Julie in tears afraid she might have got pregnant.
We see a montage of Julie origins this time, how she calls herself self-destructive. Her mother being a therapist keeps asking her to be a part of her therapy-sessions. She fools around a lot, and on being asked why, calls herself crazy.
You wish you were crazy.
One of the lines by Scott Peck from The Road Less Traveled in 20th Century Women puts whatever she is going through in life in perspective.
Of all the misconceptions about love, the most powerful and persuasive is the belief that falling in love is love, or at least one of the manifestations of love. Love is supposed to be a feeling that you feel.
Jamie the friend he is, helps her with her pregnancy test. She discovers she isn’t pregnant after all. Meanwhile we see her teaching all the wrong things, like how to smoke a cigarette. Whether to take it or not is Jamie’s choice. He makes the smart move by throwing it away. At the same time, Julie is also teaching her some of the good things she has garnered with experience, like her idea of strength.
I think being strong is the most important quality. It’s not being vulnerable, it’s not being sensitive. It’s not even, honestly, it’s not even being happy. It’s about strength and your durability against the other emotions.
Dorothea asks Jamie to be there when Abbie returns from her Chemotherapy appointment. Dorothea drops another life lesson for Jamie:
Men always feel like they have to fix things for women or they are not doing anything, but some things just can’t be fixed. Just be there. Somehow that’s hard for all of you.
Jamie makes the smart move, working on the “being there” part for women, and goes along with Abbie to show his support.
Abbie finds out that her cancer is benign but she can’t be a mother. It is hard for her to take, and Dorothea soothes her with her humour.
As a thank you gesture, Abbie gives Jamie a mix tape, also to help him out upfront as she truly believed in the following:
These were a bunch of songs that I think my life would have been better if they had been around when I was a teenager. So I’m hoping that if you listen to them now, you will be a happier and more realized person than I could ever hope to be.
Abbie’s montage flashes as we discover about her origins this time.
She grew up in Santa Barbara where everyone is happy, but that just made her feel crazy.
That feeling of being out of place, where everyone is one way and you don’t quite fit in.
New York City made her feel sane. It was so fucked up.
Her cancer upended her life, and the reason for that turned out to be her mother’s act of taking a drug when she was pregnant with Abbie. Feeling constantly guilty meeting her daughter, it was too much for Abbie to stay with her mom, and so she rented the house at Dorothea’s.
One of the scenes in 20th Century Women shows Dorothea being approached by a coworker. He points out that everyone in the office thought that she was a lesbian. Dorothea has shut herself off so bad that people are making remarks about her behind her back.
Dorothea catches Julie once secretly getting off from Jamie’s room, and asks Julie what it was all about. She tells her that she just talks and sleeps. The chit chat backfires on Dorothea when she puts forth the question about her impact on Jamie’s life, that she hasn’t moved on.
You never seem into it.
Dorothea admits that it is hard for her to find someone she likes.
I had my chance twice, but that part of life just didn’t work out for me.
She contemplates on how she has been all this time, and asks about Williams’ opinion once again:
Do I seem stuck to you?
The Going Out Disaster
Abbie, Dorothea and Williams go out to a club where Williams ends up kissing Dorothea.
I mean you don’t kiss a woman unless you know what you mean by it.
It was all of a sudden and Dorothea doesn’t understand why Williams kissed her. For Dorothea, there has to be a reason for that.
On being asked if Williams was with Abbie, he says:
That’s not something serious.
To that Dorothea replies:
Then why do it?
This makes you think indeed. Why do something, when you don’t have your heart in it? It applies to everything in our life even to something as mundane as your job. It strikes a chord in Williams too, and he realizes that Abbie wasn’t someone he was after.
Dorothea sees an exemplary punk, a stereotype that makes her cynically look at what her child’s world is all about. What are the things that he likes, the music he approves, the clothes he wears? There is a whole generation waiting to be unraveled and he has yet to find his place, and the way things are headed she isn’t really happy with it. All of it makes her think, and she admits going into that pub was a life-changing experience for her.
The Feminist Book in 20th Century Women
Clearly, things didn’t turn out well for Abbie as she ended up in a bar fight. She gets dumped by Williams who she didn’t even like in the first place. She finds out Julie sleeping in the same bed as that of Jamie, and slips in a remarkable word of advice.
You cannot let her sleep here if she’s not having sex with you. It’s disempowering.
Julie had been doing that unknowingly to Jamie. The poor lad hadn’t figured it out and was suffering in silence all this time.
The next morning Abbie gives Jamie some feminist books that he begins to fancy and read a lot.
I wanna be a good guy, okay? I just want to be able to satisfy a woman.
That’s the fun part where he starts giving advice to people who don’t like to be talked down upon. He ends up getting beaten for it.
The next time a dude tells you a sex story, you just have to agree with everything he says and act like it’s right, even if it’s not, because they don’t wanna be contradicted. They just wanna live in their fantasy lands.
Advice keeps flowing in.
Whatever you think your life is going to be like, just know it’s not gonna be anything like that.
It is a disappointing thing to say to a child, but it is so true. Abbie doesn’t want Jamie to keep up his hopes high, and be prepared for the worst at all times. They sneak to a club together as she teaches him the basics of talking to a woman by being mysterious.
The Love Life of Williams in 20th Century Women
Dorothea and Williams meanwhile talk about their love lives.
I don’t really make choices about women. They just come to me.
On being inquired about Jamie’s dad, Dorothea remembers love pointing it to just one great habit of his – he used to scratch her back while doing stock reports being left-handed. It is strange how the very definition of love boils down to something so trivial. It is both good and bad in a way, and this topic remains open for discussion.
We see Williams trying to teach Dorothea meditation. Once again we see the conflict of interests, however, we see Williams playing along to please her.
We see a montage of Williams frames this time, as his love life unfurls with the introduction of Theresa, the only girl he was really serious about. He even moved with her to Oakland then to Sebastopol.
It wasn’t really me. I was doing it for….so that I wouldn’t lose Theresa.
There is always someone serious that takes away your interest when it leaves you. That’s what happened with Williams.
After Theresa, women didn’t have to look one way or the other, or be a certain way. I think that I just, I want to win them over so that I won’t be lonely.
But it was the aftermath that confused Williams the most:
But once I have them, I don’t really know what to do with them.
Dorothea and Williams start spending more time with each other, as she teaches him how to woo a woman.
Just be there. She just wants a little company.
Jamie in the World
Meanwhile, Jamie asks Abbie to run away to the coasts, just like he had once to Julie. Abbie tells him the truth:
Jamie, you are in love with Julie. You can’t let her push you around. You have to tell her what you want.
She shares all that night’s experience with Dorothea the other day, who doesn’t seem mad. Dorothea calmly replies:
You get to see him out in the world as a person.
With that Abbie pulls out a photograph of a drunk Jamie, showing exactly who he looks like in the real world as a person. She realizes that he looks nothing like she had hoped for. There is nothing out of the ordinary about him. He is nothing but a drunk guy just trying to have a good time.
In a tete-a-tete with Jamie, Julie tells him she doesn’t have orgasms. On being asked why she does what she does, she replies:
There’s other reasons. You know, like the way that he looks at you or the way they get a little bit desperate at some point. And the little sounds that they make. And their bodies ’cause you don’t exactly know what they’re gonna look like or smell or feel like until you do it.
It is the mystery behind the veil that draws most people towards each other. The sense of wonder of what if, or what might one find when witnessing him/her up close.
It is that sense of intrigue that pulls Julie, as she puts it perfectly:
Julie: Half the time I regret it.
Jamie: Then why do you do it?
Julie: ‘Cause half the time, I don’t regret it.
In Unison with Feminism in 20th Century Women
Jamie reads one of the lines from the book “Sisterhood is Powerful” by Zoe Moss, which by the way, you can order from here:
It is an essay titled “It Hurts to be Alive and Obsolete: The Ageing Woman”. He reads it to her mother considering it relates to her the most:
“I am gregarious. Interested in others. And I think, intelligent. All I ask is to get to know people and to have them interested in knowing me. I doubt whether I would marry again and live that close to another individual, but I remain invisible. Don’t pretend for a minute as you look at me, that I am not as alive as you are, and I do not suffer from the category to which you are forcing me.
I think, stripped down, I look more attractive than my ex-husband but I am sexually and socially obsolete and he is not. I have a capacity now for taking people as they are, which I lacked at 20. I reach orgasm in half the time and I know how to please, yet I do not even dare show a man that I find him attractive. If I do, he may react as if I have insulted him. I’m supposed to fulfill my small functions and vanish.”
That he has tacked Dorothea and how she is into the lines of a book. She refuses to accept by saying:
I don’t need a book to know about myself.
Dorothea regrets having asked Abbie to help Jamie at all. She believes Jamie is turning out to become too much of a hardcore feminist.
Dorothea: Learning about a female orgasm is helping him be a man?
Abbie: Well, what man do you know that cares anything about that?
And Abbie is right. No one really cares about it, as much as she had prepared Jamie for it upfront. Her idea of making Jamie something better isn’t, however, playing by her rules. She didn’t know what a modern woman thinks and expects of men. She is as Jamie often puts it from “The Depression” where men had a different definition.
The Menstruation Talk in 20th Century Women
On the dining table happens one of the most awkward discussions for Dorothea where Abbie flings around the word “menstruation” openly. Dorothea and all the men there, in fact, the whole world isn’t really comfortable with the word. It is a topic they wish to speak about in hushed voices. But Abbie hates that and wishes Jamie to learn to be bold and brave.
If you ever want to have an adult relationship with a woman like if you want to have sex with a woman’s vagina, you need to be comfortable with the fact that the vagina menstruates.
There’s nothing wrong with it. It is totally natural and the human perception just makes the topic awkward to be discussed in public.
With that window of ballsy opportunity, Julie tries to come clean too and talks about her sexual encounters. The topic deviates and Dorothea calls it a night.
While trying to confront Jamie, the plan ends up getting backfired for Dorothea as he says:
Mom, I am dealing with everything right now. You are dealing with nothing.
It is true. There is so much going on with Jamie, and literally, nothing going on with Dorothea. She isn’t moving on the way she is supposed to but she is worried sick about Jamie’s upbringing. It is just too much for Jamie to take.
Jamie takes that advice of not letting Julie in, and stops her from sleeping this time. But she plays that emotional card asking him to do what he had always wanted to do – to drive to the coast all by themselves.
They leave as Dorothea ends up getting pulled over and then later jailed for her sense of humour (even though it was good!)
At the coast in a room, Julie is reluctant to have sex with Jamie.
I think that I am too close to you to have sex with you.
Jamie tries to make him understand that he could help her with that. But it’s impossible to budge her because she doesn’t want Jamie to become like others.
Jamie: I don’t wanna just have sex with you. I want you.
Julie: But it’s your version of me. It’s not me.
We have a certain idea of a person and we love them for our version of them. When you get to know the real person you begin to see the flaws and the intrinsic problems. That’s when love begins to fade. Julie wishes Jamie to see her point, and not be that person whom she can’t be with.
She compares him to all the other guys, which hurts Jamie as he leaves.
The Homecoming in 20th Century Women
Dorothea is meanwhile brought back home, as she discusses with Abbie:
Abbie: Having a kid seems like the hardest thing.
Dorothea: How much you love the kid…you are just pretty much screwed.
Julie calls Dorothea as she, Abbie and Williams go to the coast to find Jamie. Dorothea isn’t mad at Julie. She forgives her and talks to Jamie and he makes her understand the real import of a mother.
It just seemed like you couldn’t deal with me anymore.
Jamie is mad at Dorothea for asking the girls to help. To that Dorothea replies:
I don’t want you to end up in the same place as me. I wanted you to be happier. I just didn’t think I could do it by myself.
Jamie corrects her by saying:
I thought we were fine, though, just me and you.
The Opening Up
In a restaurant Dorothea and Jamie begin to talk as we see Dorothea finally opening up to personal questions:
Were you and Dad ever in love?
To that she replies:
Sure or, maybe I was just…I felt I was supposed to be in love. Or I was scared I’d never be in love, so I just picked the best solution at the time.
More personal questions follow and Dorothea unspools properly with her child opening up every time:
Are you lonely?
She runs her fancy to create an ideal man for her. Her idea of a real man is the one who is true to his promises:
You know that he’s gonna do what he says he’s gonna do,
The Sad Reality
As we cut in to an adventurous frame, we get a sense of deep satisfaction that finally things begin to look up for Dorothea and Jamie. But the real truth hits you hard in the face. Life is never like that.
I thought that was just the beginning of a new relationship with her where she’d really tell me stuff but maybe it was never really like that again. Maybe that was it.
It is just one of those phases we were shown and that part sounds like a really great story. But life happens to everybody. So the diegesis tells us what happened with everybody in the story. How things pan out for them.
Eventually, Jamie speaks, and he tells us about himself:
Years after she’s gone, I will finally get married and have a son. I will try to explain to him what his grandmother was like but it will be impossible.
It leaves you with a really profound sense of poignancy. Not getting to know the extraordinary woman around whom his life revolved, that’s as gloomy as it gets. Curtain falls.
The Final Verdict of 20th Century Women
20th Century Women is a great movie where all of the actors performed extraordinarily. I loved how Mike Mills did those great introductions, and how he chose to spread them all across the movie. Jamie was always shown cruising on his skateboard on an empty road as if implying that he was cruising through life. Such subtle elements simply help elevate the movie.
20th Century Women is outright alluring and should not be missed for the world.
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