TIFF 2021 review: Wildhood (Bretten Hannam)

“Bretten Hannam sees in Link, the protagonist of his film Wildhood, a perfect way to represent how the concepts of home, belonging, and identity intersect each other.”

What is the actual meaning of feeling at home, or how does one feel at home? Perhaps what makes this feeling so complex and even a fetish for many people, in many art forms, is how close the feelings of belonging and of displacement are. In other words, to be at home, to actually belong somewhere or to someone becomes a conscious thing when you realize that you may not belong anymore, that you have been cast out. It is the journey that grants meaning to the arrival, just as by knowing that there are others, people know themselves. Following this line of thought, Bretten Hannam sees in Link, the protagonist of his film Wildhood, a perfect way to represent how the concepts of home, belonging, and identity intersect each other, since only after fleeing his abusive household with his younger brother is Link able to come to terms with his sexuality and Mi’kmaw heritage.

Wildhood is at the same time a coming-of-age story of a two-spirit teenager and a road movie in which the characters go from one place to another searching for a home to stay in. Along the way, in each of those places, small pieces of Link’s life’s puzzle come together. The film begins in the only place he knows, a house full of violence and hatred, a place he escapes from after finding out that his father lied about his mother being dead. This absent mother becomes a beacon of hope. However, knowing that she is alive also implies that she was the first to flee, and when doing so she left him behind. Later, home is an old car. A car that belongs to a strange, beautiful boy called Pasmay, who decides to help him and follow him during his quest. For the first time he is not being left behind and has someone to walk beside him along the way, and together they go from one place to another, through a succession of homes, bars, and old cars. And yet the more they move, the further Link’s original destination seems to be.

Eventually, in a communal space inside a reservation, he finds his mom and realizes that as collective as that place can be, it was not meant for him. Something is still missing, perhaps because his mom became a mask for what he truly looked for: belonging, a place to rest and stay. In a small yet central scene in the film before meeting his mother, Link finds some of her clothes and puts one of her dresses on. He just sits there wearing his mother’s dress, looking at old pictures; touching them, trying to create a narrative of her life, in a sense, trying to understand the woman who fled and the place where his Mi’kmaw heritage came from. She is a part of him. As undeniable as that is, however, the dress does not fit perfectly, for they are two, not one. Symbolically enough, it is his mother who tells him that he should go because he has people waiting for him. His brother, and Pasmay. He is now on the road again, his odyssey must go on, for as Joshua Whitehead once wrote, “leaving home always hurts… home isn’t a space, it’s a feeling. You have to feel home and to feel it, you have to sense it: smell it, taste it, hear it. And it isn’t always comfortable…” And when all is said and done, the people and places he smells, tastes, and hears are next to him, on the road again, with him this time.