Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Coming-of-Age Movies


Physical changes, religious rituals, and new legal rights and responsibilities outwardly mark the transition from childhood to adulthood even as they implicitly accompany inward transformation such as loss of innocence and maturation of perspective. This combination of inward and outward transformation is generative material for cinema, and we can describe many critically acclaimed and influential films as coming-of-age stories—35 Shots of Rum, The 400 Blows, Aparajito, Baby It’s You, The Graduate, Moonlight, Mysterious Skin, Persepolis, The Traveler, and Yeelen are some of the ones we’ll consider. What does cinema bring to the coming-of-age story, and what do these stories reveal about cinema’s capacities as medium and art? How do filmmakers as diverse as Greg Araki, Souleymane Cisse, Claire Denis, Barry Jenkins, Abbas Kiarostami, Mike Nichols, Satyajit Ray, Marjane Satrapi, John Sayles, and Francois Truffaut structure narrative and use film technique to distinguish between youth and maturity and show the passage between them? By picturing adulthood, coming-of-age movies imagine what’s possible and what’s foreclosed in particular lives in specific times and places. They posit what film can express and what it can only hint at. What can we take from such movies as we ask what it means to be an adult?

To approach such themes and questions, we’ll develop a repertoire of strategies for the analysis of film. Through lecture, discussion, reading of film criticism, and short, guided writing assignments, we’ll practice attending to—and engaging with—subtle details of mise-en-scène, cinematography, sound, and editing, as well as larger narrative forms and patterns. For the final project you will have the option of writing either a script treatment of a coming-of-age story you would like to tell, or a review of a coming-of-age movie that is important to you (8-10 pages, further guidelines will be provided). As part of this assignment, you will discuss in class how your treatment, or review, is in dialogue with the films we watched, or the criticism we read throughout the quarter.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Karla Oeler

"I am an Associate Professor of Film & Media Studies in the Department of Art & Art History. I am interested in the ways cinema, as a medium, and in its various forms, reflects, refracts, and changes human experience. I am also interested in film criticism, and the qualities that lead us to trust certain critics.  My book, A Grammar of Murder: Violent Scenes and Film Form, explores how key developments in film art and film criticism unfolded in relation to the violence of twentieth-century history. My newest work explores the ways films represent thinking — and how this differs from other media and arts. Coming-of-Age Movies connects to this broader topic because it concerns films with characters whose thinking—about themselves, others, and their world—is in the process of changing as they grow older, take on new responsibilities, and figure out what ways of life they aspire to move away from, and toward."