1983’s MeanTime is a coming-of-age insight into the shanty life of an underprivileged, lower-class family and their upper-class relatives.
A tracking shot (using a long lens) across a pond on a cloudy day. A man wearing bright red jogs along the ponds edge. He jogs past a family of four standing on a dock who look to the distance. The camera continues to follow the man in bright red jogs until he jogs out of frame and the picture backtracks to the family on the dock. This opening scene of 1983's MeanTime perfectly foreshadows the overlooked existence of this films underprivileged, lower-class family and the themes explored between them and their juxtaposed upperclass relatives and internal hierarchies .
Collin, played by Tim Collins in a career-defining performance, is rarely given the chance to live his life. Collin is a quiet teenager on the cusp of manhood who struggles with his identity as he has yet to experience what it means to make his own decisions. “He’s not retarded, he was never given a chance,(Mark)” Collin’s character can’t help but attract attention to himself for coming across as absent-minded and helpless as he figures out what it means to live meaningfully. He shares a small room with his rebellious older brother Mark, played by Phil Daniels.
Mark’s character is the most complex of the three men in the family. Mark, early twenties, seldom acts his age and struggles with the shame he holds towards his unemployed failure father Frank, played by Jeffery Robert. Mark's character is fearful of turning out like Frank who has lived in the same small apartment for 30 years while bottling resentment towards his perpetual unemployment and meaningless existence. Mark is equally as fearful that Collin will turn out like him and struggles to guide his younger brother due to his own lack of experiences. The movie explores this dynamic relationship between Collin, Mark, and Frank as they search for meaning and feign existence while living mundane and decaying in a claustrophobic apartment in the shadow of their successful aunt and her absent husband.
The film is most relatable when the characters look to the next generation, desperate and angry for them to avoid the pitfalls of life that detracted from them their youth, hopes, and goals.
At one point Collin is recruited for work by his aunt. She is aware of how lost Collin is and from her perspective she sees herself doing a good deed by giving him a purpose. What she fails to see, and what Mark does see, is yet another instance of someone making decisions for Collin. She doesn't understand is that in giving Collin a job she is not giving him meaning but preventing him from finding it. This is a critical point in the film because here the audience are given an insight into the emotional obliviousness the upper class faces towards the lower-class. This tradeoff has it's cost as is shown with the emotional distance that wealth creates between the aunt and her husband. The contrasts, emotional and social, between the two family's forces the viewer to consider who of the two social classes is truly better off.
MeanTime is to see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower. It is in short a deep inhale on an October night and a long exhale of relief. This film is a portrait of a close family, the morally and socially lost people they choose to surround themselves with, and the decisions they make in order to navigate out of the desperate experience of life in London’s east end during the 1980s.
*** / *****