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Returning Themes

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Mark Kermode | 12:28 UK time, Monday, 10 May 2010

Coming home to your comments on coming home in the movies was like, well, coming home. It really is a special feeling, and one that is apparently evident in everything from After Hours to District 9 via The Warriors and even, so it is argued, The Exorcist...

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  • Comment number 1.

    I recently watch The Mosquito Coast and I've been wondering whether it should be classified as a "coming home" movie. In a sense it's the very opposite of a coming home movie because it's about a family leaving their home in America in order to try and find a new one.

    Is The Mosquito Coast a coming home movie?

  • Comment number 2.

    I'd say Superman is another example. The film begins with Superman leaving Krypton, his home planet and continues with him leaving the home of his foster parents.

  • Comment number 3.

    I saw Four Lions this afternoon (enjoyed it a lot), you'd really have to stretch to find a "coming home" theme there...

  • Comment number 4.

    i instantly thought of star trek and the tag line 'space - the final frontier' and the enterprises mission 'to seek out new life and new civilizations' and i think there are a few characters desperate to leave home! although maybe my argument falls down slightly if you think of the enterprise itself as home....

  • Comment number 5.

    Into the Wild is kind of a reverse coming home film...well, it is up until the last 10 mins or so.

  • Comment number 6.

    It's really difficult to not reduce any film to "coming home". Straight Story appears to be the opposite of coming home. But he is going to see his brother; so there is some element of home in there. Should we not define the parameters/boundary conditions for "home"? Or, should we not come to terms with "home" being a transitory concept? Does a "journey" not infer some kind of "home" and therefore should we not be looking for films that have no "journey" instead?

  • Comment number 7.

    I think I put too many (k)nots in my previous comment...

  • Comment number 8.

    Can I suggest Fight Club as a possible contender? Yes there are vague suggestions that a past time was preferable to the consumerist hell that Tyler Durden perceives around him, and yes the house on Paper street is a 'home' to Project Mayhem, but Edward Norton's character fundamentally rejects this version of family and home without any indication that he intends to revert to the Ikea and pine furnished hell he created for himself in the first place. There is no tidy ending of domestic bliss or reconciliation with the country that so enraged Tyler, just a vision of two people (Norton and Helena Bonham Carter's Marla) cast adrift with only each other, as the world comes crashing down before their eyes.

  • Comment number 9.

    Not one mention of the many Alien movies comments, Doc?

  • Comment number 10.

    Seems to me that many classic horror films are about invasion of a home. They are not about a 'return' as such, because the malevolent force never leaves its territory. Im thinking here of movies such as The Haunting, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The human characters come into the monster, or spirits home- but they are defined as rootless, with no real domestic space to return to. They dont have a home- which is why they enter the area of the monster, which never leaves it. (Im not referring to home invasion movies, which for me are about coming home: the house transforms into a dangerous, strange place, and the characters return to their domestic home that they remember if they survive)

  • Comment number 11.

    I say RepoMan has no elements of coming home because the poeple in the film are completely alienated from their home environment, and the only escape is away from earth to an unknown and no doubt even more alien world

  • Comment number 12.

    I think that "coming home", in the way you are using it, it is really just synonymous for characters seeking to triumph over adversity, with everything returning to a state of normality or with the promise of a better new beginning. Most films follow the three act structure of setup, conflict and resolution and because of the conflict and resolution parts there will always be a "coming home" element to films adhering to this framework.

    To find a film that doesn't have a "coming home" element to it you need to think of films that are told in an unconventional way, which leads to my suggestion of "Monty Python's Meaning of Life", which is really not much more than a series of loosely (if that) connected sketches.

  • Comment number 13.

    Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 have no story what so ever, do they count?
    Terminator Salvation doesn't have a coming home story. Even though I wanted to leave and go home within the first 20 minutes.

  • Comment number 14.

    The films with no coming home premises. Leaving Las Vegas where the hero wants to die, he does not want to go home he just wants to die. Raging Bull is about a man in self destruction, he wants to distance himself from his past, he wants to recconect with his brother but his brother wants nothing to do with him. Don't Look Now is bout trying to forgive guilty and seeking forgiveness there is not coming home themes in it.

  • Comment number 15.

    @Matth - maybe we should have discussed the exorcist ;)

    films that don't have a coming home theme:
    Reservoir Dogs, Clerks, Spinal Tap....ummmmmm! it is tricky.

  • Comment number 16.

    The Lives of Others would be my choice of a film that has little or no nostalgia or coming home theme. Yet, oddly enough, for many viewers (people who lived through those times) there was a distinct feeling of coming back home. A friend of mine, who visited family regularly in ex-DDR during her childhood, and who, as a judge, helped set up a new judicial system after the wall went down, said every scene of the film transported her back to those times. As she was watching the film, she said she could taste the apple juice sold in the cafeteria, smell the stale moldy apartment, and even feel the hardness of the creaking seats in the courtroom. Maybe The Lives of Others lacks nostalgia for the reason TheMongooseofDeath states; it lacks "seeking to triumph over adversity, with everything returning to a state of normality or with the promise of a better new beginning".

  • Comment number 17.

    I disagree with martian_pyramid about Four Lions not having a coming home element. I actually thing it has a pretty prominent one, just with a twist to it. The characters are aiming for home, for divine paradise. The difference is they don't realise that they already are home and that the home they've been told to aim for is not the important one (or may not even exist, a different discussion). The scenes of Omar with his family are excellent home scenes and he's just trying to find the perfect place for himself, his wife and his child. I think this is most explicit when he visits her at the hospital and talks about seeing her on the top floor. Home.

  • Comment number 18.

    I suppose James Bond, possibly Momento?

  • Comment number 19.

    I'd say that Saló isn't about coming home. The film primarily the themes of political corruption, abuse of power, sadism, perversion, sexuality, and fascism. I'm not sure that is really a 'coming home' film. You did a documentary on this film so I'm looking forward to you attempting to add a 'coming home' message to it.

  • Comment number 20.

    #15 - It's not as if the Doc isn't a fan; remember the excellent Alien Evolution? An odd omission, regardless of their veering from the topic at hand.

  • Comment number 21.

    The vastly under-rated Predator.

  • Comment number 22.

    @ Matth Stil
    I too was disappointed to see no mention of our Alien debate (and thanks to all that contributed) but to be fair, we did hijack the blog and the good doctor does have the actual answers to respond to. I would love to hear his take on the Alien movies and the points that everyone raised though, I found it very interesting!

    Anyway, to answer Dr K's question, it's easy. The film is 'Before Sunrise' - now I know the film begins with two people going home. If you wish to disqualify my contribution for that, then fair enough. But that's not what the movie is ABOUT. The movie is about two people falling in love in a foreign country - its about the magic of that place and their night together. It's a movie about the moments with people you care about and wanting to stay in them together. I bet Jesse and Celine never thought of home once - only each other. As I read it the only theme in that film is love, and their love could have kept them away from home forever. Indeed by the end of the film, neither of them want to leave. They fear never seeing each other again. Going home is possibly the most painful thing they will ever do.

    Similarly aren't movies like 'Igby Goes Down' about trying to escape from home? That movie in particular sees Igby trying to escape home, his parents, restraints and any form of responsibility. It's very much a 'leaving home' movie.

    So, there's the real challenge for this blog. Instead of racking your brains for movies that aren't about coming home, just look for movies about people leaving home, or not wanting to leave the place they're in. It becomes much easier...

  • Comment number 23.

    #21 - Predator's "under-rated"? Since when?

  • Comment number 24.

    How about Goodfellas?

  • Comment number 25.

    Good Night, and Good Luck? off the top of my head

  • Comment number 26.

    Hi Mark, certainly a very tricky theme!

    My take on the theme (or lack of) would be Blade Runner- part of the focus is the shipping of the healthy and productive to the "off-world colonies" as opposed to preserving Earth and being proud of what it is. The thematic division where the sick and/or disabled are left on the rotting planet may evoke a feeling of pride or hope in what they are living in, notably when looking at Tyrell- wealth & health, but upon meeting Sebastian who has actively been kept on the planet due to his illness, the feeling of hopelessness, lifelessness and loneliness drowns momentum for "coming home" out. "Home" is misery, "home" is a place where you are kept because you are different.

  • Comment number 27.

    Spoilers ahead.
    The Dollars Trilogy. Clint turns up in a town, solves some problems and then leaves, slightly richer than when he started.

    Indiana Jones? His job is to go off and find things?

    Sunshine? It's a suicide mission from the beginning.

    Star Trek IV: The Voyage Hom... never mind.

  • Comment number 28.

    Natural Born Killers is a film about two people who have no desire to go home whatsoever, they live their lives constantly on the road and the portrayal of, particularly Mallory's, one time home explains why she wouldn't want to return there.

  • Comment number 29.

    @20 I do indeed remember the excellent Alien Evolution...I have it on VHS but with nothing to play it on I haven't seen it in a long time....note to self must transfer all movie docs from VHS to DVD!

  • Comment number 30.

    I would think the qatsi series should get a mention!! I.E. Koyaanisqatsi, powaqqatsi and naqoyqatsi. I should think with no dialogue and no obvious plot or dialogue or characters, it would be stretching the imagination to get a "coming home" message from that.
    But i do think apart the experimental/avant garde/art films, you would definately have a hard time trying to find a "non-coming home" film.

    I think this is mainly because of the basic art of storytelling, a natual human instinct is to form, what aristotle called a 3 act structure.
    I.E. Act One - Set up characters (exposition)
    Act two - Conflict
    Act three - resolution
    And it is in act three that the "coming home" bit comes into play, since the home isn't necessarily a house or place of origin, but simply means to return to act one (I.E. the character's aim after the conflict/development is to be his/her character at the begin of the film (or before the conflict arose), by the end of the film!!)
    If that makes any sense! Sorry i might of got ahead myself here.
    ummm.... how about american graffiti or do the right thing maybe :S

  • Comment number 31.

    Like last time, I defer to Jim Jarmusch.
    His first feature film "Permanent Vacation".
    I believe the title is self-explanatory.
    Not a shred of nostalgia present; just disembodied skits culminating in the protagonist actually leaving what could loosely be described as his home.

  • Comment number 32.

    I would agree with WillmikeAnderson when he suggests James Bond. Is there any Bond movie where 007 has an established 'home'? Okay we know he's a British spy and so broadly speaking you might argue that Britain is his home but as far as I can remember the makers of the Bond movies have rarely if ever shown us, or made any suggestion to, an existing physical location that he might call home. And he's never in Britain much anyway. Neither has he very often had much of a deep emotional attachment to which he might be seeking to return 'home' (On Her Majesty's... and Casino Royale...any others?). Rather, it seems, the character is largely a loner, with no fixed abode, moving from place to place as his order dictate. This, I would argue, qualifies very many, if not most of the Bond movies. Anyone agree...?

  • Comment number 33.

    @32 you could say he very nearly comes home when he finds love with Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

  • Comment number 34.

    But, In From Russia with Love, the last act is all about escaping back to England. it's a going home theme. In fact the last scene in every
    Bond movie is where he gets the girl and reverts to his stereotype

  • Comment number 35.

    napolean dynamite is pretty "coming home-less"

  • Comment number 36.

    I'll suggest Fantasia has no going home theme

  • Comment number 37.

    "Iron Man 2" the guy is already home and all he wants to do is 69 on himself.

  • Comment number 38.

    Any movie where the protagonists are on the run form justice and are not innocent

    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
    Thelma and Louise
    Bonnie and Clyde
    Logan's Run

    In Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Home (Earth) gets obliterated at the start of Act One. There is no possibility of going home.

  • Comment number 39.

    I just finished watching 'A Significant Man' which clearly has a coming home theme; a man who seems to have been pushed out of his home and is seeking a way to return to life as it was. This made me think about the reason all films would have a 'coming home' theme. A basic plot involves the set-up of a situation, a problem that shifts this and then the transition to a new situation. In this respect the resolution of all narrative 'problems' could be described as seeking home, seeking the new stable state.

  • Comment number 40.

    Thanks for considering my point, MargeGunderson and antimode. On the point of an emotional home, I would agree in some cases, for example as both I and MargeGunderson mentioned, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. However, it still stands, I believe, that it would be hard to pin coming home themes, emotional or geographical, to several of the many Bond movies. Surely, after all, we can't class them all as one body of work, can we? Also, on your point, antimode - 'In fact the last scene in every Bond movie is where he gets the girl and reverts to his stereotype' - not every last scene surely: Casino Royale..?

  • Comment number 41.

    Huh huh huh too easy:

    Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles - by Chantal Akerman.

    A story of a person trapped within the banality and repetitiveness of her home. It shows how home actually becomes a prison and her only way out (or to break the repetition) is to commit a ***Spoiler Alert*** savage killing which will effectively result in her being taken away from "home" as she knows it.

    Whenever you're ready Dr. K...

  • Comment number 42.

    Paths of Glory

    Corporal Paris: "See that cockroach? Tomorrow morning, we'll be dead and it'll be alive. It'll have more contact with my wife and child than I will. I'll be nothing, and it'll be alive."

  • Comment number 43.

    Aguirre, Wrath of God.

  • Comment number 44.

    Bet we can:

    Red Road
    The Day of the Jackal (the original Edward Fox version)
    The Third Man
    Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2
    Pulp Fiction
    Last Man Standing
    The Eagle Has Landed

    Biopic’s (ie. Control)

  • Comment number 45.

    Un Chien Andalou has pretty much nothing to do with going home, although it's has pretty much nothing to do with anything.

  • Comment number 46.

    OK someone mentioned Clerks. Can't let that one pass. The line 'I'm not even supposed to be here today!' sums it up. Through the whole film Dante just wants the day to end so he can GO HOME. Anyway...

    I think this needs some clearer defining. The penultimate stage in the classic narrative framework (prior to reflecting on the events just passed) is returning to the status quo or establishing a new status quo. In this sense, coming home is a crucial stage in any narrative. So what about characters who are carving out a new home for themselves (rather than returning home)? This is an overriding theme found throughout Westerns. Or what about characters who wish to return home but simply have no home to go to? A theme that is omnipresent in many/all post apocalyptic/After the bomb films (Fight Club has also been expressed as representative of this). Or what about characters who are already home and persevering to simply stay there? This is an idea that can be found in many haunted house films as characters battle for control of their home against supernatural forces attempting to drive them out (Paranormal Activity springs to mind). Are these themes banned as well?

    Then there is always the argument that a home is not simply a building or geographical location. It is a state of being that is created when one finds themselves in a state of complete contentment. For example how many of us have felt out of place in our own houses simply because a loved one is not there? A home can be reverted back to a house simply by removing a single element that makes us feel comfortable there.

    With all of this considered I'm willing to bet that there isn't a single film that isn't connected in some loose way to the idea of returning home, creating/finding a home, or remaining home.

  • Comment number 47.

    A viewer often just sees what's on their mind at a given time - if you went into Battle Royale having been told it was a film centered around home-coming, you'd probably adjust your perception accordingly. But it isn't really. A vacuous response, to a response, to a response, to a question prompted by a volcano - go figure.

  • Comment number 48.

    A very good point! I think even the films I would argue to not have a particular going home motif could be argued as having one in some way, shape or form, so instead of argueing that, I want to bring up three movies as having their own dark twists on it.

    Firstly, in my favourite movie of all time, An American Werewolf in London, none of the main characters make much of a point about home or returning to it, but protagonist David has a nightmare of being back home only to have it invaded by Nazi wolfmen, maybe his own fear of being a danger to his family should he return home made manifest - so if anything it's in there to explain why he might not want to go home.

    Secondly, the one that jumped to mind right away is Cemetery Man, aka Dellamorte Delamore, one of my favourite movies of all time. In the climax of the film, the main character attempts to finally leave his hometown which he was a stranger to anyway, only to realize that the rest of the world physically doesn't exist. He doesn't turn back to go home though, remaining at the cliff seperating home from the surrounding wasteland.

    Thirdly, Day of the Dead. Here, there isn't a home to return to, Earth has been overrun by zombies and the survivors have just barely found shelter underground. The environment here is far from homey and actually quite dark, and the movie ends with some of the survivors trying to escape above ground to an island on which to make a new home - so maybe this isn't a returning home motif as much as looking for a new one theme.

  • Comment number 49.

    Also, I would argue against some of the titles mentioned by previous posters as being devoid of the going home theme:

    Reservoir Dogs - untrue, Mr. Orange's / Freddy's (Tim Roth) entire hope is to be delivered to a hospital so that he can go home after having finished his undercover operation.

    Clerks - while most of the action doesn't revolve around returning home, I always got the impression that this was mostly what Dante was waiting for all day. He certainly didn't want to go to work.

    The Third Man - another one of my favourite movies, but certainly awash with the theme of going home! Anna is desperate to remain in what she considers her home rather than be deported, Holly wants to clear Harry's name because he's known him for years - here I consider their relationship a home rather than their home a physical place (since neither stay in the same place for long), a lot of the characters remain in Vienna although it's in ruins because they consider it home, and Harry himself seems fond of it; he visits the street of Anna's apartment (which he used to partially live in when he was with her), and in his final crawl toward the surface in the sewer chase, the original book describes the scene as a man struggling to return to the surface to find comfort as he dies.

    Kill Bill - ends with the Bride coming to get her daughter and returning home! Definitely a going home theme there.

  • Comment number 50.

    I don't think Taxi Driver involves the theme of coming home at all. Nor for that matter any of Martin Scorsese's movies that I can think of.

  • Comment number 51.

    Star Wars A New Hope, and Star Wars The Phantom Menace. both films where there is not one theme of going home, or finding a place to call home.

  • Comment number 52.

    A movie which has no underlying themes regarding the conscious or sub conscious wish to return home is a sci-fi movie called Serenity,the whole narrative to this movie is to keep moving onwards and stay out of harms way.

  • Comment number 53.

    #'s 46 &49 I stand corrected! But what about Spinal Tap? and don't give me all the bands on tour wanting to go home nonsense! :)
    Dr K has opened a bit of a Pandoras Box here.
    It just goes to show that we can twist anything to suit the home theory, especially if we extend the notion of what home is. It's a place, it's a feeling, it's a state of mind....the list goes on!

  • Comment number 54.

    What about Quadrophenia? Phil Daniels tries everything to get away from home and everything it stands for, surely an anti-home movie.

  • Comment number 55.

    It just occurred to me that Pan's Labyrinth has an element of "coming home" to it, in its ending. The place where Ofelia went, with her mother, was not her home, and you could say that she spends the movie looking for a new home. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that she finds the only possible home left for her, after all other options were denied her.

  • Comment number 56.

    I think the Scorcese movie Casino has an anti coming home theme. All the characters leave their homes behind for the glitz and glammer of Las vegas. Back home, Nicky and Ace are criminals, who have to be good to the crime lords and do what they want. In Vegas, they are free to do mostly what they want, and only occasionally have to do anything for the people back home. They esacpe to new lives and have no intention of going home. :D

  • Comment number 57.

    I don't think Taxi Driver has the theme of coming home. Nor any of Martin Scorsese's movies now I think of it.

  • Comment number 58.

    actually that's a good point. And I think Alice doesn't live here anymore is also has a anti-coming home theme, although I haven't seen it for a while.

  • Comment number 59.

    Interesting challenge, Mark. The first film that leaps to mind (mainly because I watched it fairly recently, but I would have dredged it up eventually) is Michael Haneke's debut feature, Der siebente Kontinent (The Seventh Continent). Underneath the austerity of the visuals and the crushing bleakness of the central narrative, the film is fundamentally about a German family trying to escape by, for the majority of the film, emigrating to Australia, or at least talking of emigrating even if they never actually take any steps towards that goal.

    The first two-thirds of the film are dedicated to depicting the crushing banality of their lives in minute, soul-destroying detail, and whilst there is a sense of longing in the film - a longing for a better life, a longing for some for of escape from the world that surrounds them - the family are not trying to return to some previous state of grace or happiness. They are trying to get to a new land, a new state of being, and the punishingly bleak final act of the film perfectly underpins Haneke's central themes. Not a hint of nostalgia in the whole film, but an uncertain and terror about what the future may hold if something doesn't change.

  • Comment number 60.

    Rocky is the main example of a movie thats not about coming home. Its the opposite. Everyone hates their life and they all want a new "home". Rocky, Adrian and Paulie want a new life as they have never had anything. Apollo wants respect. Its about rising up against the odds to create a better life and future rather than looking at the past.

  • Comment number 61.

    Pink Floyd The Wall - most of the film is about a guy trying to desperately escape from his home, and in the end his fate is unclear

  • Comment number 62.

    mmmmm interesting, I suppose then that all journey's in life end by returning home or searching for a place we can call home. You could extend that theme to searching for loved ones. 'What dreams may come' could perhaps be an example of this.

  • Comment number 63.

    Well, the first thing that came to my mind, was Knopfler's "Coming Home" from the "Local Hero" soundtrack. With a nod to the movie, Mac's "I want to go, but I don't want to leave" mindset brought a tug to the hearts of where we might want to call home.

  • Comment number 64.

    hmm, well, i'm going through some of my favorites, and casting the definition of "going home" pretty wide i can find something for most of them,
    "the cabinate of doctor caligari" is told to us by a character who wants to return to a point before the story happened, a coming home of sorts.
    "the thing" is definately a coming home story, all of the characers want to get home but face the dilema of how to do so with out putting their home at risk.
    "delicatessen" cirtainly fits with the nostalgic idea of "coming home", everyone trying to carry out what appears as a normal homely life in the face of an apocalypse.
    "brazil" i'm stuggling with that one, the dressing is cirtainly "retro" but its not perticually nostalgic, the main story is very much abut someone who wants to escape from home, not to it. i guess you could say lowrey at the begining of the film just want to get to (or more accurately, stay at) home. but it moves away from all that later.
    this has gotten me thinking about "time bandits" which i'd also struggle to say is about going home. perticually odd for a childrens film, seeing as so many are very specifically about journeys to get back to homes, saves homes, or retore homes. kevin definately doesn't want to go home i don't think, maybe someone else can fit that definition in, but i'd still say its a lot less about getting home than any other childrens film i can think of.

  • Comment number 65.

    michealangelo antonioni's the passenger is, i think, a good example of an 'anti' coming home film, not only does the protagonist show no desire to return home, he also yearns to escape from his life and identity completely.
    i'm also confusing myself about whether or not thx1138 is a coming home film, robert duvall's character desires returning to a home he has never seen or known. hmmm...

  • Comment number 66.

    Not because I enjoyed it but because I watched it last night, The Soloist. Keys to an apartment, meds, living at home with his sister, the opportunity to play in the world’s most prestigious concert hall...nope, not interested.

  • Comment number 67.

    I disagree with the Taxi Driver. Thats someone trying to clean up his home and make it a better place for everyone to live.

  • Comment number 68.

    For the Japanese horror films, like The Grudge or Pulse, they seem to have the certain allegory of "escaping home" rather than "coming home". People try to escape or avoid a ghostly curse that inhabits a house (or entire home country) before they are caught and killed by them.

  • Comment number 69.

    I only just saw District 9 for the first time yesterday.

    I wouldn't say it is the greatest coming home movie ever made but it IS the greatest coming home movie that features pig-catapulting action and by god that's more than enough. It's the great pig-catapulting classic of our time.

  • Comment number 70.

    I also watched and enjoyed Black Snake Moan and think that could be considered a "coming home" piece if one were thinking in terms of redemption.

    But really, once you start wandering into murkier areas of the definition via films like The Exorcist, just about any movie can be molded to the category with enough thought.

  • Comment number 71.

    Fight Club was a brilliant suggestion, though perhaps in a way it still has relevant themes- The Unnnamed Narrator feels alienated in his facsimile of a life, and eventually feels alienated in his own body and from his own "cult". Only in wiping the slate clean, and creating a whole new world, can he and Marla start to build a life they find satisfying.

    I'd say American Beauty doesn't really have much of a "coming home" theme, it's more about seeing the home you're living in in a new light.

  • Comment number 72.

    I'd also flagrantly disagree that Hitchhiker's Guide isn't a coming home film- Arthur spends five books (or one tv miniseries or one film) talking about nothing other than going home to Earth, England and Tea. Even though this is impossible for him, it's his primary motivation and drives everything he does.

  • Comment number 73.

    You forgot to mention the radio series with Peter Jones (which is what brought HGTTG to prominence, for those of us old enough to remember), but we are talking about the film, only, which is vastly different to the original book. The fact remains Arthur Dent can not go home because earth was destroyed

  • Comment number 74.

    For a film that is difficult to read as having a ‘home coming’ theme – I nominate ‘Kes’ – Billy Casper’s literal home is a place of no comfort and frequent bouts of bullying from his half brother and indifference of his mother. School offers no comforts and he sees no future for himself except not to be a coal minor. His only interest is with the Kestrel - which he openly admits to his teacher – ‘Does not rightly care for him’. Billy is not a loner by choice, he is rejected by all around him, with intelligent insight he sees that even the thing that brings him some comfort is in reality indifferent to him also.

  • Comment number 75.

    I thought about what would make a non-"Coming Home" Film, and I decided two things have to apply.
    1) The movie begins with the protagonist at home, but doesn't have an air of "this isn't his TRUE home, and the movie's about finding that" (e.g. Star Trek XI, in which Kirk goes from troubled youth in the great state of Dustbowl to finding his true home with Spock and Bones on the bridge of the Enterprise, is ABSOLUTELY a coming home story)
    2) By the end, the character must have set out on a journey willingly, with no expectation of returning.
    (e.g. Lord of the Rings an iconic coming home story even though 95% of it is about going AWAY from home)

    So here's my candidate.
    *Let the Right One In.*

    The scenes with his mum are very touching, and give a real sense of home, and at the end, he's leaving with a sense of optimism and a coffin.

    It's one of the things that makes it the film utterly disturbing.

  • Comment number 76.

    Dr K.

    I recently watched a film that has nothing to do with the coming home theme. The czech film Daisies. I think that I can safely say that that film definitely does not feature the coming home theme.

    Another example is Terrence Malick's Badlands in which the central couple are running away trying to escape from home and trying to find their own idea of home. They are not trying to get back home but they are rather escaping from their former existence and searching for their own idea of home. This is not the same as returning.

    Another example is Michael Mann's Heat. As Al Pacino's character says in one scene "All I am is what I'm going after". These are two men who cannot settle, they cannot return home but are always on the streets. They do not want to be home. Remember the emptiness of De Niro's apartment in that film. These are two characters who never want to return home because their basic nature forbids them.

    I could go on and on but I won't. These are just a couple of examples.


  • Comment number 77.

    Since your Twitter account has gone a bit quiet of late, just wanted to send you huge congratulations on your Sony win - so great to see your work rewarded!
    Hope you celebrated appropriately
    Roo xxx
    (aka @wickwox)

  • Comment number 78.

    After thinking for a while about this, I'd argue that almost the entire catalogue of films by the great Sidney Lumet have nothing to do with 'coming-home,' with films like 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon more about characters struggling to conform to the expectations and limitations of society and how these characters are unable to find a home for themselves or their ideals.

  • Comment number 79.

    George Lucas' American Graffiti is the antithesis of the "coming home" theme; concerning a clique of young adults that is about to fly the proverbial nest (as ever, simply because they now can).

  • Comment number 80.

    Taxi Driver could be seen as having two 'home' based stories: as 67 says, Bickle is trying to improve his city, he is disgusted by what he sees when he returns from his service in the forces, and so he tries to bring 'home' to him. Also, Iris' story, when Travis turns up, is all about sending her home, and the letter he receives from her parents ties this up nicely as she's settled once she is home.

    If the clichéd 'home is where the heart is' is true, then that renders pretty much all films with a love story in them as 'coming home movies'.
    I really think that it depends on how you define home and how loosely you're willing to apply it.

    The OED's always a good place to start when defining:
    Definition for 'home'.
    11.c. At one's ease, as if in one's own home; in one's element. Hence, Unconstrained, unembarrassed; familiar or conversant with, well versed in.
    This broadens the scope for 'home', so literally anywhere can be 'home'. So, Kermode has a point here, part of pretty much any narrative arc must have an exposition and complications that must be resolved, something that the characters are not 'at home' with and the narrative deals with the characters resolving or attempting to resolve this, thus 'coming home' or not succeeding in doing so.

    Wow, I can witter on.

  • Comment number 81.

    Apart from Star Trek IV The Voyage Home, you can argue that all the other Star Trek films are about leaving home. You can also make the same argument for the Star Wars, Indiana Jones films there all about adventure. Perhaps this kind of genre is the exception.

  • Comment number 82.

    #81 - Well, from a (forgive my Kenobi-ism) certain point-of-view, Return Of The Jedi has an element of "coming home" in Anakin Skywalker becoming one with the Force; finally escaping the cybernetic shackles of his alter-ego Darth Vader (or Dark Father). A return - in essence - to the hopeful youth he once was in The Phantom Menace.

  • Comment number 83.

    Aren't there two types of stories in Western culture and doesn't it all go back to good old Homer? Story #1 being the Odyssee, which is about returning home, after story #2 the Illiad, which is about pushing boundaries, going away for glory, taking the battle away from home, adventure, questing?

    Good examples can be found in science fiction, as has already been noted above: most Star Trek films are about going beyond the final frontier, ditto Starship Troopers, Serenity, etc. Then you have films like Moon, Alien, Planet of the Apes, etc. which are about returning home after the job's done.

    Still, I'm not sure how the theme of home works for whodunnits and comedies. Is a whoddunit ultimately about rectifying the natural or domestic order of things and do comedies function to provide skewed perspectives of the familiar? Thus horror makes the home scaryingly unfamiliar (The Orphanage) or the quest petrifying (The Descent). Westerns can similarly be about the quest (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) or about arriving (at a new) home.

    Talking about Westerns, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino might be about leaving home, though I'd argue it falls into the the Illiad category.

  • Comment number 84.

    I have a feeling that good old Dr K is sitting at home in his armchair reading this thread and having a good old laugh at how we are all going round and round in circles! As I said before, if the defintion of "home" can be changed then it can be bent to any movie plot.

  • Comment number 85.

    How about Transformers 2? I saw that at the cinema, and I couldn't wait to go home.

  • Comment number 86.

    A clockwork orange
    The spirit (probably the worst movie of the decade)
    What just happened(probably the second worst movie of the decade)
    V for venteta
    and lots more,too many to mention,thats an easy task Doc,give us a challenge.

  • Comment number 87.

    I'm going to pitch for Oldboy. Oh Dae-Su (ODS) is stolen from his home life and confined in a prison which he says became home after 11 of the 15 years. Again he is taken from home when he is released by his captor. ODS can never return home as the police think he murdered his wife, the film is a quest for revenge.

    You can argue either way whether ODS gets his revenge. What is clear is that he never thinks about going home on his quest. When he learns he truth his life and mind are shattered and we are left with his haunting smile as the final image.

  • Comment number 88.

    A film that has yet to be mentioned which doesn't have an element of going home is Terrence Malick's excellent Badlands. Holly's home is torched by Kit at the start of the film and from then on it is a one way ride into the middle of nowhere. The only motivation for Kit seems to be his desire to see how far he can go (hence the pile of rocks at the end). Coming home isn't important to him, leaving his mark is.

    Of course Badlands can be grouped with films that have been previously mentioned such as Bonnie and Clyde, Thelma and Louise, Easy Rider and Natural Born Killers. All these films have the theme of purposefully destroying the Status Quo and never going back. They run and run until ultimately the protagonists are killed/caught or, in the case of NBK, caught then escape.

    Are road movies some of the only films that are part of the anti "coming home" movement? Is that why they finish with such bleak endings? With no home to go back to the only thing left is to accept is oblivion?

  • Comment number 89.

    i think we're substituting home for a lot of things here

    i thought the journey (home) is only one of the 7 basic plots of all stories

    the rest being overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, comedy, tragedy and rebirth

    and about the exorcist, apart from being more of an overcoming the moster story, if it was interpreted as a coming home story, then i think it would be more satisfying if you interpreted it as the mother and daughter trying to regain their home

  • Comment number 90.

    Dear Mark,

    It's a classic device to have an extraordinary story framed by scenes of being at home, at beginning and end. Look at Alice in Wonderland, the Harry Potter books, The Hobbit and countless others. Normal people are thrust into extraordinary situations but everything returns to normal by the end.

    So how about Lagaan, a film which is not about coming home - they are already at home - it's about driving the British out and holding onto home?

    I'm tempted to say Rear Window - how can a film be about coming home when the man never leaves the room? - but of course it's about Jimmy Stewart watching for when other people come home.

    And of course there is that masterpiece, Jackass - don't think you'll find any coming-home motifs there, Mark...

  • Comment number 91.

    I can think of two films that evoke the emotion of 'coming home'.
    The first is "Gladiator", where home is actually his family, even though he only gets back to them in death.
    The second, slightly cheerier version, has to be "It's A Wonderful Life", where home is rediscovered, and found to be wonderful, despite the pressures of life, work, money, etc.
    Both films have the power to make you cry, in response to the recognition of the emotion.
    It's magnified to the nth degree, but it captures the sense of coming home.

  • Comment number 92.

    I agree wholeheartedly with dr. K.'s point that there's hardly a film with a proper narrative that doesn't have a coming home theme or a taste of the nostalgia.
    This also goes for the several "Going away from Home Films"mentioned above. "Home" is where you want to be, not nessecarily a physical place, it all comes down to a metafysical search for "home" even when it's out of reach or doesn't even exist.
    Take a film like "Heat" as someone mentioned, a story seemingly about men who do not want a home en try to escape from being trapped in their surroundings. But still... Just recall Val Kilmer going back to his girlfriend eventhough he knows he's in danger and most strikingly Robert DeNiro who begets his own downfall by caring about the ony person in the world he loved, the girl who loved him. Going home for these men is very dangerous, and means almost certain death, but the theme is certainly there.
    Stanley Kubrick's films are challenging in this regard. In his seemingly cold universum humanity is becoming more and more dehumanised. No 'cosy' sense of home. However, underneath all of that, there is a sense of loss, almost bordering on nostalgia. Think of the writer character in A Clockworke Orange whose home is invaded by the droogs. Later in the fil Alex ends up at that very same place (called "Home"!). There is no longer 'Home sweet home', but the sense of home (or loss of a home) is still burried, hidden in the fabric of the narration.
    2001 a Space Oddyssey obviously contains a "Home" theme, or even more than one. Could it be that the mysterious monolith is a symbol of our 'real belonging'?

  • Comment number 93.

    Dr K,

    Might I suggest the David Cronenberg film Crash. At no point is there any desire or longing to get home. All the protagonists efforts are centred on their fixation with Crashing and their feelings associated with it.

  • Comment number 94.

    Hi Dr K

    I find Don't Look Now to be an interesting film within this context as it starts with an idyllic scene of home that is suddenly shattered with the occurrence of a tragic accident.
    It is from that point onwards that John and Laura Baxter try and escape their tainted memories of home only to be further haunted by the loss of their daughter.
    As was raised earlier (10) horror commonly makes a point of invading the space where you should be safe and comfortable, I believe in Don't Look Now it certainly does that and as a result pushes a loving family unit apart and away from home.

    On a separate note I began to watch Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen on DVD in my sitting room one evening and I haven't been back since, some memories are just too painful.

  • Comment number 95.

    The problem with this entire thread is that unless you literalize "home" into the specific space you live in, then any film with an end goal, either external or internal, or even just with one in mind can be twisted into a "coming home" metaphor. Even if the characters end in a place that is different from where they started whether by intention or not. #93 mention Crash for example - one could argue that the arc of the Ballards' married relationship could constitute "coming home". Or Kes, which was mentioned much early on, could be argued as a film with a "coming home" theme in the sense that the character desires to find a way out to a better life though the desire to do so is never fully achieved.

    What a cruel challenge. I love it.

  • Comment number 96.

    I think maybe certain road movies would be good examples of 'anti coming home movies'. Mad Max, The Road, Romero's Knightriders, Race Against The Devil.. even Vietnam boat/road movie Apocalypse Now are all movies about when you can never go back. They're all about pushing forward along the road, or river even.. and all end with characters having nowhere else to go but forward.

  • Comment number 97.

    Koyaanisqatsi, it's about saving home!!

  • Comment number 98.

    "Crash" would be a good contender. Sure, it is a movie of many plots, but not one plot involves a returning home theme.

  • Comment number 99.

    Danny Boyle's Sunshine has no real coming home element. The crew have a home of sorts on the ship but it is obviously uncomfortable with regular psychiatric checks and escape in the projection room. The room itself also seems to be meant to reassure them of their purpose to reach their destination; this is what you are fighting for, rather than remind them of their individual homes.

  • Comment number 100.

    #70 Amber...looks like you and I have the same theory here...will anyone else notice?


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