Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959)


Directed by Francois Truffaut, this movie is a part of the French New Wave. The literal translation for this one is "THE 400 BLOWS" which in French stands for "raising hell".


Angel faces hell bent for violence

- Internet Movie Data Base *

The 400 Blows is a story that tells us of the events in the life of a 12-year old child and his premature struggles against the norms that have been set for him even before he was born. It is a fictional movie with an uncanny touch of reality, not only because of the plot and brilliant acting, but also because of the issues that it involves. The film tries to show the viewers in a very subtle yet piercing way, the life’s battle of a young boy against society and norms. As we can see in the movie, Antoine tries to do his best to be part of the world that he sees while also unleashing himself but every time he does, someone or something will stop him and immediately force him back to the line. Punishment is inflicted to him by an adult (teacher, parents) for every single mistake that he does without the latter explaining why it is wrong. The classroom scenes where Antoine was caught with the pin-up of a woman and the teacher blaming another student for whistling or talking show how arbitrary rules and punishment can be in the world. These incidents show inconsistencies in life for Antoine and these make it harder for him to understand and follow rules. With no adult to set up a good example and guide him, Antoine eventually turns to himself and relies on his own judgment in the way he will conduct his life.

As the movie progresses, you will see Antoine’s alienation towards everyone; his family, his classmates, the adults around him. Everyone is preaching about goodness and discipline but no one is practising what they preach. The mother tries to tell Antoine to be a good boy but Antoine sees her kissing another man. It may not be as serious for Antoine as it should be but Antoine sees it as a “bargaining chip” to get away from his wrongdoing (not going to school).

The film raises the question of corporal punishment to kids and its effectiveness as well as the justification of juvenile detention facilities for young people to so called “keep the young criminals in line”. Should it really be that at a young age, children will be kept in a place where there is nothing but things that reminds them of their wrongdoings outside? Is it really justifiable to punish a 12-year old like Antoine, put him in prison like a common criminal, just because he tried to steal a typewriter? Is it really right to separate these young men, who, in the first place, are already alienated from society, and alienate them even more? Would it really make them more reformed if they were kept together and reminded that they are undisciplined rascals who should be punished because they went against the rules?

That is a debate that we have yet to ask ourselves. The teenage years are the formative years of a person’s life and whatever happens during those times will mold them to what they will be as an adult. If they feel unwanted and unloved, the initial reaction will be to defy convention just to get the attention of the people who don’t want them. It may also result to a “I’ll just do what I want to do because no one cares” attitude.

The film is an inspiring critic about the justice system and the idea of punishment in society. It perfectly captures the oppressive forces around society, our implicit desire to break away from these forces and our fears about what may happen if we ever do.

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