April 13, 2003 [Sweet Sixteen]

A comparison to The 400 Blows is hard to resist, but Liam, the boy in Sweet 16, has traveled much farther along the dark river than Antoine Doinel--so far that he loses not only parents but sister and nephew and friends. And of course himself: He’s nothing but a gangster now--pretty high up in the organization, a newly minted man in charge--as ashamed of his blind love for his mother as Oedipus. So the knife goes in now easily, he holds it with practiced haste--encouraged by his mentors, conned into homicide.  He goes to the same land’s end as Antoine, and almost shares the same look--suddenly just a boy, out of his last piece of luck; but Liam takes with him more scars than he could ever hide, distinguishing marks the cops’ll need for years to come to close their net and lock him up and one day identify the remains.

And it’s more than a shame: He had tried so hard, hard as any poor soul in countless other movies, so that I’d let myself hope he’d find a way out, even after he burned bridges and was betrayed by his need for a mother and laid into her boyfriend Stan with the only small knife he had, maybe aiming at her but finding not just Stan but himself.  Like Paul Muni in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, Liam sinks like a ghost into criminal darkness.

Some wounds never heal; the pain sinks slowly down beneath the skin--leaving not even much of a scar to see, but a guilt-infected agony that settles into the bones--the skeleton that Ray Bradbury reminds us lives inside, a memento mori warmed by our own flesh and blood.


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