I’ve recently grown fascinated with coming-of-age stories, and I adore how some of the superior works in the genre are able to capture the naivety of youth and combine it with the themes of isolation and identity. One of the more memorable coming-of-age stories in recent years is Closet Monster, not only a wonderful story of growing up, but also one of the most heartbreaking films I’ve seen in a while, and a film that isn’t afraid to be slightly controversial and often very explicitly dark to get its point across. This is not a film for everyone, but it certainly is an utterly amazing film and just one of a myriad of brilliant bildungsromans that takes a very unique look at the process of growing up and finding out who you are.
Honestly, Closet Monster is one of the biggest surprises in recent years, because it seemed to have very muted buzz. I can attribute this to two factors – first of all, it is an independent film, and while that label doesn’t carry the same stigma as it used to, it does occur that sometimes an independent film can be lost in the shuffle and not be noticed. The world of independent cinema is often very brutal in the fact that it is easy to just gloss over a film if it doesn’t have a hook, and as great as a film it is, Closet Monster just does not have an attractive factor that would bring audiences in just based on the story. This brings me to my second point as to why Closet Monster seemed to go by without much notice – it is a small, low-budget Canadian drama film, without a major star in any of the roles, and a story that doesn’t appeal to everyone. It isn’t surprising that Closet Monster didn’t receive as much notice as one would have hoped on initial release – but at least the film has one thing going for it – Closet Monster is an absolutely amazing film.
In short, Closet Monster is about Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup), a rebellious teenager that has a passion for makeup, transforming himself and friends into monsters and other creatures. Oscar seems to be a relatively happy boy on the outside – but on the inside, he suffers from a variety of problems. Most of all, he has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after, as a child, seeing a teenager beaten to near-death for his sexual orientation. It doesn’t help that Oscar himself is sexually confused, and throughout the course of the film, Oscar has to come to terms with his own sexuality, and does his best to hide behind a metaphorical mask, transforming himself into something he clearly isn’t, all the while trying to come to terms with his own identity – which is further confused by the presence of Wilder (Aliocha Schneider), who seems to ignite a passion in the quiet and reserved Oscar. Divorce, failed romances and coming to terms with one’s future all help frame Closet Monster as we go on this journey with our complex and conflicted protagonist.
In Closet Monster, the main role of Oscar is a tricky one, because it requires an actor with a certain amount of talent to lead us on the journey throughout the formative period of an individual’s life. The role was occupied by Connor Jessup, who astounded me with his performance here. I was absolutely shaken by how good he was – it was one of the most natural, complex and beautifully constructed performances I’ve seen from a young actor, and Jessup was truly astonishing. He inhabited the role of Oscar so wonderfully, and created a character we were drawn to. Jessup imbued his performance with such complexity and brilliance, and forced the audience to feel extreme emotional resonance towards the character. If there is any justice in this world, Connor Jessup will become a big star, because if there is one thing I know for sure, based on this performance, he has an abundance of talent.
The supporting cast of Closet Monster is impressive as well. Aaron Abrams plays Oscar’s father, a questionable character. He is shown as being an often compassionate father, and one that wants to get to know his son – but he is also someone with his own life, and his own identity, and because it conflicts with that of his son, there is tension. Abrams is far from being the villainous father-figure evident in many of these kinds of films, and he is shown to be quite good, yet he is still framed to be unlikable and nasty, when he actually isn’t that bad. Aliocha Schneider is also impressive as the mysterious Wilder, and as the film progresses, we discover more and more about the elusive character. Of course, we cannot forget the fact that the iconic Isabella Rossellini provides the voice for Oscar’s pet hamster (and despite this sounding too off-beat, I will tell you that Rossellini’s performance adds much-needed lightheartedness to the otherwise very serious film, but without the risk of being too funny to distract from the serious themes of this film).
I’ve been on a bit of a binge with these kinds of films that display a coming-of-age narrative, and the efforts of young people trying to find their identities. Closet Monster is a film about identity and coming to terms with the fact that everyone is unique, and everyone has their own lives. Closet Monster is not just a film about a gay teenager – it is a film about finding a place in this world, finding happiness and pursuing one’s dreams, to be able to become who or what we want to become. Closet Monster is driven by Oscar’s insatiable lust for some form of greatness, which in his mind is attending university in New York City, but as the film comes to a close, we realize that Oscar has found himself able to achieve his dreams no matter what. It is a classic coming-of-age story, infused with contemporary themes. Identity, in whatever way you want to apply that theme, is a driving force behind much of independent cinema, and perhaps even the entire industry of filmmaking. Everyone is looking for their corner of the sky, and Closet Monster just takes a look at one individual and his own quest to self-happiness, the most important thing for anyone to have.
Closet Monster is such a unique film in the way that it approaches its story. It could’ve easily been a straight-forward narrative, and it wouldn’t have felt out of place as a comedy. However, Closet Monster is a very serious film, and actually falls into the category of a surrealist film. Often very off-beat and filled with dream-like imagery, Closet Monster forms a somewhat nightmarish outlook on the teenage years, and the film has some seriously unforgettable moments scattered throughout, where the limits of what is considered normal in filmmaking are stretched, and as a result we receive a truly memorable picture of teenage angst liek we have never seen it before. Honestly, if Luis Buñuel and John Hughes collaborated on a film, it would most certainly bear striking resemblance to Closet Monster.
Closet Monster is a great film. Touching in many ways, and featuring an astounding performance by its cast, particularly led by the astonishingly brilliant Connor Jessup. It is an unforgettable and often terrifying film, and one with wonderful touches of melancholy. It may not be a film for everyone, but for those that are interested, you won’t regret it. Closet Monster is one of the more fascinating films I’ve seen recently, and it deserves a lot of acclaim, both for its incredible lead actor and for the fact that it is a beautiful and poignant portrait of growing up, as well as a complex film that tackles the idea of identity. An absolutely brilliant film and one of the most extraordinary surprises I’ve come across recently.