Kes – Film Review

Wowee! Never has a film totally swung my opinion of it from one extreme to another like this one. At first, I thought this film was a depressing clump of autobiographical drool, a way of showing how people a few decades ago in the lower working classes have no chance in hell of amounting to anything other than what their environment presented towards them. Just look at how that job advisor gave Billy – the young boy we follow throughout this film – only two options: manual work or office work. And it’s obvious this kid doesn’t want to do any of these things, especially to work down the mine shaft (he explodes in adolescent anxieties when this is ever mentioned).

Thankfully though, there is a small glint of a light beacon in Billy’s life to escape the downtrodden life paved already for him – his pet Kestrel, which he gives the name ‘Kes’. He looks after this bird, feeding it raw meat and training it to come back to him from gradually increasing distances. There’s a bond on that screen between them, and I found this really endearing and, if I’m being frank, it warmed the cockles of my heart, as I’m sure (if you’re anything like me), you have fond memories of escapism still lurking of your childhood in the rivers of your mind. But alas, Billy has many, many life struggles he has to deal with on a regular basis: he has to share a bed with his older, mean brother, and his father left them at an earlier age, leaving his mother angry and bitter. School isn’t any much better either: he gets picked on by some of the other kids, and gets into fisticuffs with a few. And the teachers aren’t caring towards him, most of all his PE teacher, whom after losing in a football match against the kids, trapped Billy in the showers and turned the water stone cold. In fact, Billy is surrounded by cold, cold, cold, and even though he’s so young (though his face looks like he’s never had a single good night’s sleep in his life) he’s wise enough to understand the sad situation he has been born into.

There is one teacher who takes an interest in Billy’s past time of kestrel training, after hearing Billy stand before his class and give a presentation on what he does. Everybody’s ears are listening intently to what Billy has to say; and even though he is perceived as a wrong un by most, the passion that comes through when he talk about  Kes is so genuine, so beautiful, that you forget all that. And looking from the outside, looking in, I can see that Billy is just a misunderstood kid to some degree, and prejudice has shrouded his life in a bad reputation. But on the flip side, he doesn’t help himself by stealing newpapers, milk bottles, and by stealing a book on Kestrels from a shop (after being told how he can’t take a book out of the library as he is too young to without someone 21 years of age to sign for him).

But to some extent, the fact Billy can’t use the library freely, and that nobody is there to encourage him to pursue his ambitions, or to give him self-belief and direction, tells me [based on the film] that society limits our desire, but breeds our miseries, depending on the environment we come from. It’s restrictive to free spirits, and Billy is an example of someone who is almost ashamed to tell the world that he wants to not work as a typical manual worker or office worker, but follow his desire and his love of kestrel training. He never does say this though, but it’s so god damn obvious to the viewer that he never has to.

And this is what changed my mind about Kes the film as I thought about more and more, as I lay in bed, thinking about what I’d just watched hours earlier. I’ll admit right now that I’d been a bit tired after having a long day doing nothing, so was drifting in and out of a state of half sleep as I watched the first 20 minutes of the film, but after that it really broke the spell and gained my complete attention. The realism of this story is what shocked me, and the whole film makes profound sense by the very last scene, where Billy finds his Kes had been killed by his older brother out of spite. He brings the Kestrel’s corpse into the house (finding it in the garbage bin), and swings it’s lifeless, limp body around the room, showing his brother and mother the damage done. The damage being his shattered dreams, and how his pessimistic background, environments, and the structured expectancy of society has closed Billy up like a clam who is unable to show the world the pearl he holds inside; and now that pearl, that glimmer of hope, has been eradicated by those closest to him.

At first, I just thought that this was a reflection on the director’s own pessimistic outlook, but then I did a teeny-weeny bit of research and found that the story had been adapted from a novel. Okay, so it’s possible for two people to share the same ideology, but then I found my father (he was watching the film with me) saying how this was exactly how his childhood was. And then it hit me, after putting together all the snippets of stories he’d told me of his own youth throughout the years, how he wasn’t lying. And if I take it a step further, I can see the correlations of this story in my own life, in my own generation of a lower class society, and how this effects the way we all approach life on a mental level. The old saying ‘crabs in a bucket’ comes in to play here – how nobody in your class necessarily want to see you climb out of the circumstances you’ve inherited, and this film demonstrates three levels of that: the class of family, the school class, and the work class. And everybody I know has a hobby/a ‘Kes’ they use to vacate their minds from the stresses of life, and how we all need a rope of hope to keep our positivity alive for greater things. I’m not saying hope is an illusion, no way – hope is a necessity, because without it, you’re doomed to the gloom around you. Yet it all just depends what lenses you view life through, because it’s all out there – a spectrum of good and evil –  and it’s all a matter of perception, how you see things. In a strange way, this film Kes is a rather hopeful story, even though on the surface it’s depressing as shit, because it can be used as the perfect allegory of how you should never let anyone tell you what you should and shouldn’t do with your life (or at least bow down to it). You’ve got to fight for what you want, and that mostly happens on a mental level, whereby you have to tough it out and proclaim to those around you, and the world, that this is who I am, and this is what I want to be and how I want to spend my life. Because after all, this is your life we are talking about here.

Part of me wants to watch his again, just in case I missed something. But I feel it’s save enough for me to reward this film what I’m about to award it, seeing as it transcends the experience of most films for me (it’s always a good sign when a film gets you thinking about it, long after you’ve watched it – all my favourite films do that to me).

I give this film (for the meantime): 9/10

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