Why adolescence shouldn’t have to mean death- Laura Turner, Parmiter’s School


My favourite coming of age stories are the ones that posit adolescence as a type of death. For example, Mick in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, whose spirit, imagination and love of music fizzle out as she is forced to grow up and enter a life of work. Close functions similarly, confronting us with how society often leaves children with no choice but to change who they are. A most tragic and subtle type of murder.


First, however, there is unrestrained, abundant and youthful life. We see this in the film’s opening moments, within the vibrant violet lily fields where Léo and Rémi roam free. Their friendship is rich and rare; full of burgeoning creativity with their telling of stories, their playing of music and their drawing of questionable portraits. Dhont presents us with an innocent type of closeness that we struggle not to envy.


The first sign of death approaches as they return to school. Here, their relationship is subject to malicious wonder, irritating both boys and making their friendship more restrained. As Léo is bullied and teased for his perceived femininity. He begins to change. In an attempt to become more masculine, he abandons his sensitivity, his kindness and even his happiness, to the point where Rémi’s mother ‘didn’t recognise him’. He neglects his friend and even befriends the boys who once teased him.


What I found especially interesting is how Léo tries to blend in with the popular boys. He laughs at the jokes that once so clearly bothered him. A common side effect of toxic masculinity is how young men repress their feelings by laughing at themselves and turning themselves into a sort of joke. To a distant eye, who had not seen how Léo had acted when he was truly living, he would blend in with the boys and their incessant banter. It causes the viewer to wonder how many of the boys have adopted this careless attitude in order to avoid ending up on the other side of it. 


On the other side, we find another death, this time more literal. Rémi’s suicide is a tragedy of such large proportions that it is hard to express. Somehow even sadder is the reaction of his doting mother, who is at a loss of what could have happened.  Some viewers argue that it is too much, calling it ‘manipulative’ and ‘exploitative’. Dhont has said that this movie was intended to ‘address violence’, I interpret that as meaning that the brutality of the event can encompass the hardships of what children, especially queer ones, have to endure.


We do not know whether Rémi and Léo’s nature did involve any romantic feelings. But, is this especially relevant? What truly matters is that Dhont has created a film that aptly captures the experience of growing up queer. Especially in that we have to deal with problems relating to who we are based on how others perceive us, when we do not have the knowledge or world experience to process it ourselves.


We can see this in Léo’s reaction to the tragedy. He wanders through the fields, now withered and wilting, he does not cry, scream or yell as you may expect. He clings to his new numb and mundane demeanour like a lifeline. This may be frustrating but it is hard to not to sympathise; he is merely facing another dilemma which he should never have had to deal with.


The bluntness of the film’s tragedy allows Dhont to deal with the impossibility of growing up queer on a multitude of levels. In the process, he demonstrates the importance of educating children, both so they can be given the understanding to prevent and cope with tragedy, and that they can understand not to be so unkind.


With a deeper understanding of toxic masculinity, Léo would know from the beginning, as his classmate says, that ‘being strong is not about being able to stop crying, but about being able to explain’. Maybe then he would know to respond to bullying differently and all could have been prevented. But, as the plants begin to grow again, Léo does cry. He also reaches out to Rémi’s mother, and with her nurturing and familiar presence, is able to say, for the first time, what has happened.


This is important because, while Dhont does want to ‘address violence’, he mainly wants to convey ‘a sense of hope’. And I believe it is necessary to illustrate the enormity of what queer kids are up against to show why we need to change the world around them. While I do love a tragic coming of age story, it would be liberating to live in a world where adolescence did actually lead us towards something better. Where creative kids can stay creative, happy kids can stay happy and Léo stands in a field of violet lilies once more.


Close is still available to watch in cinemas across the UK.

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