WARNING: This analysis contains Spoilers for ‘Quadrophenia’.
Quadrophenia is arguably one of the most important films in British Cinema. Following the styles of both the British and French New Wave movements, and a precursor to modern classics such as This Is England (2006) and Billy Elliot (2000), the film is a necessary commentary on the disenfranchised youth.
Set amidst the fashioned angst of 1964 Mods and Rockers, Quadrophenia follows the story of Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) on the simple but powerful journey of job dissatisfaction, drugs, violence, class war, sex, and scooters – and all set to the iconic soundtrack of The Who. Jimmy is an anti-hero, a character bravely created to be both hated and adored by the audience, a character who in fact, does not feel like fiction at all. He is the cinematic equivalent of The Catcher In The Rye’s Holden Caulfield, a persona all too real to most teenagers.
Talking About My Generation
The often brutal and cruelly beautiful realism of this film can make you feel like you are watching a documentary at times, a fly on the wall in the lives of a generation left behind to fend for itself, abandoned by post-war morality and adopted by a modernism their parents could never understand. It is a concept that sadly resonates in today’s world, a sense of loss and lack of belonging, although perhaps trapped by class, they still enjoy a certain freedom not permitted by the generations that created them. In the words of Mike Mills (Beginners, 21st Century Women):
“Our good fortune allowed us to feel a sadness that our parents didn’t have time for.”
Jimmy is a working-class Mod, he is well dressed, suited and booted, but looked down upon by a society that created him, a society that simply kept him at the bottom of the pile in order to hate him. As a reaction to the disdain the film manages to explore concepts like Nihilism and Minimalism whilst maintaining its humour, simplicity, and level-headed storytelling.
The Nihilism of Quadrophenia
Quadrophenia displays an important education in the various aspects of Nihilism. There is the political nihilism that appears as an inevitable reaction to the events inflicted on Jimmy, which leads him to reject family, law, class, and even gender expectations. The film shows us to kill our idols, to not put anyone on a pedestal like Jimmy and his friends did with the admirably stylish Mod, Ace Face (Sting), who turns out to be nothing special, a legacy at best but a hotel bell-boy by day.
The existential nihilism that seems to follow Jimmy’s loss of friendship, romance, and of course his beloved bike in the most wonderfully odd scene of the movie, leads to his discovery of life’s potential meaninglessness, giving him an emptiness that ultimately leads to his own freedom. Jimmy quits his job, he spends the last of his money on amphetamines and a train ticket, and he throws his suitcase out of a train window, leaving him with only the clothes he is wearing and the recently applied eyeliner that shows he no longer cares for society’s rules on fashion, masculinity, or consumerism.
Quadrophenia is a timeless coming-of-age film, and thanks to an exceptional cast and an outstanding soundtrack, is an iconic piece of cinema as relevant today as it ever has been.