More than anything else, Movies should make their audiences feel something. Whether it’s the mindless blockbusters that just build excitement or the films that go the other direction and manipulate emotions, films can illicit feeling. William seems like it will be an overly emotional movie with little plot. Instead, it is a touching story that will engage anyone who sees it.
William is the story of a Neanderthal. William is cloned using the DNA from a college exhibit. The story follows him over the course of his life. It sounds like another unexceptional fish out of water plot. In the beginning, the movie moves very quickly. Professor Julian Reed (Waleed Zuaiter) lectures his class before meeting Doctor Barbara Sullivan (Maria Dizzia). The two immediately fall in love. Over the course of two years, they write papers, work on their studies, and eventually clone William using Doctor Sullivan as his surrogate mother. It is a lot to take in, especially when William starts throwing around very heady scientific terms.
One of the things William does so well is it does not make it just about its main character. By making his parents just as important, the movie adds another dimension to William and his story. Very quickly it is obvious that both parents are have opposite views about William. This makes it more understandable as to why he is as conflicted as he is. This is not a movie where one parent supports their child while the other hates him for his differences. It is a story about two parents who encourage their child but for different reasons.
This also leads to some powerful and moving scenes. Many of them involve Willam’s father. It is clear from the beginning what Dr. Reed’s intentions are for William. Seeing the two interact is like watching any father and son. The two play catch and go through flash cards. Yet, some of the exchanges they have illustrate how they feel and highlight the difficulties both are having.
Will Brittain does excellent work as the Neanderthal. He plays William with passion and curiosity. In a nice change, his character is also very intelligent. The twist is, he is not highly intelligent due to secrets lost to time; he is a normal kid who gets good grades and does not test very well. The charm of the character is not in how much he loves or how badly he wants to fit in. It is based on the fact that he is extraordinarily ordinary.
Director Tim Disney does great work behind the camera. The movie is filled with beautiful shots that show off the various settings William takes place in. The small island the family lives on looks beautiful. Disney takes advantage of location with camera work that never overpowers the scene. The story is told through the writing and the merely adds to it.
More often than not, it is easy to tell when a movie is made with a smaller budget. They do not necessarily look cheap, there is just something about them that screams “indie.” This does not affect the quality of a movie, but it can be noticeable. Disney somehow makes William look like a big budget picture. Again, this does not make it a better movie, but it is worth noting since it separates from other movies about someone trying to figure out their place in the world.
Symbolism plays a huge part of the movie. William’s parents symbolize the different types of love. Love of family, love of work, and love of the familiar are all touched on. The film also has different characters almost define the limits of love. This is done cleverly many times throughout the movie and each time it is very poignant. William even deals with love of life in general. When William discusses the meaning of symbols in literature, it does come off as heavy handed, however.
William has an interesting narrative structure. The movie starts in present time and over the course of its run time jumps back and forth over the past eighteen years. This is done in many movies that are basically a character’s life story. What is different about William are the key changes we see. At times, the movie is almost like a thriller or a mystery. There is not a sense of tension, but there are facts from present day scenes that conflict with what is known about the past. It is interesting to see how the movie fills those gaps in. It is also neat to see how Reed’s class lectures change over the movie.
(One thing I found odd – and this may just be me – I have never been to any class where the professor does such a good job the class applauds when its over. Reed gets this reaction in every class he teaches.)
William sounds like a typical coming of age movie or family drama. There are certainly some elements of those genres. What makes this movie different from similar ones is its willingness to explore the entire family dynamic. There is an easy story here: caveman is cloned, world does not understand the idea and ends up hating the caveman, caveman teaches everyone about the meaning of love. Instead, William tells a story that is much more human, simple, and original.