Films and books that changed your life

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The other day on the radio an announcer asked the audience for the film that had changed their life – their ‘coming-of-age’ movie that had grabbed them by the throat and cast them into adulthood. Literally overnight. An awakening if you like. An adult view of the world from which there was no going back.

I scoffed a little at the concept, seeing it as another ploy to keep radio listeners engaged amid talkback stories. But I then spent the next hour musing on my own choice. Of course, I didn’t get there straight away. I wandered down the path of denial, claiming that it was primarily a novel or two that had had that power over me.

I remembered my first copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, that once-in-a-lifetime read about racial prejudice in a small town in America in the 1930s. I read it at the start of year 10, when I was 14, impressionable and largely naive. Up until that point I had been fed a diet of Enid Blyton and Georgette Heyer, either jolly English boarding school jaunts or mildly romantic twaddle, with nary an adult concept between them.  

I still have the original Mockingbird copy given to me by a girlfriend and it still weaves its magic on me all these years later. The story is told through the eyes of Scout, a precocious young girl, who witnesses appalling racial prejudice and violence from her own community towards the African Americans in her small town. It cast me into a world I had little understanding of and certainly no experience of and it moved me greatly.

The second novel that came to mind was Cry The Beloved Country, read in the same year. It is set in apartheid-ridden South Africa, a realm that may as well have been set on the moon for me. I don’t think I understood most of it, but it showed me that I didn’t know anything about the world and it was about time I did. It showed me my ignorance and my narrow upbringing. It, too, forced me to see another world out there beyond the bounds of Melbourne suburbs.

So, what film has had a similar impact? The one that came to mind was Dr Zhivago, that epic set in the turbulent times of the Russian Revolution. The scenes were panoramic, the cold and snow of a Russian winter formidably portrayed and the blossoming romance between Julie Christie and Omar Sharif, moving and spellbinding.

I was dragged to see this movie by my much older sister and I don’t think as a 12-year-old I really understood the majority of the plot and I knew none of the history that was referenced throughout. It, too, showed up my ignorance of other places and times, but hopefully it sparked a lifelong curiosity about the world.

However, this film was my awakening to the lure and attraction of romantic love. The sex scenes, though tame by today’s standards, were enlightening and impactful on my young adolescent psyche.

Strictly speaking, neither these books nor film are the typical coming-of-age creation, where the protagonist child moves through to adulthood. But they all have affected my own personal transition into adulthood and their impact on me remains clear.

Both film and books have helped shape who I am. What has shaped you?

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Written by Dianne Motton

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