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Best coming-of-age adventure films to watch during your reading week

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

Reading week is among us! Most importantly, of course, this is a time to catch up on coursework and get ahead of lectures. But let us not forget the crucial value of giving our overworked brain a much-needed breather. And what better way to unwind (and bear the guilt) than with a film? Actually, how about four films? 

Here I have carefully curated a list of touching coming-of-age adventure films that couldn’t be further from the theme of late-night library sessions and the juggling of assignments. These movies will likely tempt you to drop everything and flee the country (take that as a warning for all students on the verge of dropping out). If not, they’ll be your sign to book that summer trip you’ve been yearning to go on, enjoy that mini-break during reading week or simply help you sleep at night after feeling obligated to watch that horror film during the spooky season.

Either way, these heart-warming films are sure to spark a spirit in you. So put the relentless books down, your feet up and get ready for an adventure!

Into the wild

This account of Christopher McCandless, who ventures into the North American wilderness, is an astoundingly meaningful piece on the quest for freedom. His inspiring tale is based on a true story formulated from the journals he wrote. 23-year-old McCandless’ wild spirit and “I’m done with society” outlook on life is immediately recognised as he rejects his father’s graduation present of a brand-new car, destroys all his credit cards and, much to his parent’s surprise, donates his $24,000 law school savings to Oxfam. 

Throughout his search for truth and connection with nature, he engages in various relationships along the way. His encounter with an insightful, hippie couple is our first introduction to his possible naivety and recklessness. Here he’s questioned about the selfishness of leaving home without a word to his parents, burning the only money he brought on his travels and is reminded about the importance of cautiousness. However, McCandless’ ambition and stubbornness drive his desire for liberation from superficiality. He continues his hitch-hiking journey towards Alaska working in various jobs, coming in and out of people’s lives with effortless goodbyes. 

McCandless believes that new experiences are what brings joy in life, not human relationships. But upon reflecting on the touching encounters he has during his journey; you are sure to say otherwise. This visually stunning exploration is sure to leave you with a profound dispute about our own path. Much like the film Captain Fantastic, it answers the question of what happens when you leave a materialistic world and completely cut yourself off from human society, deciding instead to embrace hunting and berry-picking. Except, in this version, McCandless had a choice and chose the authentic wilderness over the strength of family and human connection. His enthusiasm is infectious and will certainly nudge you to step out of your comfort zone – but I advise you to tell at least one person where you’re going!

Stand by me

It would be wrong to not include this cult classic when discussing coming-of-age adventure films. Stand By Me is a trip down memory lane taking us back to our foolish and childish youth. It tells the tale of four friends in their early teens who bestow upon an adventure of self-discovery as they search for the body of a missing boy. 

The story is nothing without the outstanding performances put on by the young actors. They play the characters Gordie, the narrator, who lives in the shadow of his recently deceased older brother; his best friend Chris, who puts on a tough-guy act but takes Gordie under his wing; Teddy, the ‘crazy’ risk-taker with an abusive dad; and Vern, the jittery kid who isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.

In a simpler time before technology, the bond between the boys is deepened as they trespass a junkyard, face the ‘ultimate train dodge’ and share stories around a campfire, all beautifully captivated within a great soundtrack played on a basic radio they carry with them. The film does not shy away from revealing the insecurities that every teenager faces, which is perfectly conveyed through the deep understanding between Gordie and Chris. Each character unveils a level of vulnerability and innocence which can so easily be lost in male adulthood. This gives the film its warming and intimate charm; the perfect comfort film this fall. 

Y Tu Mama Tambien

One of my favourites I’ve watched this year, this unforgettable road trip film is a temptation for an outing. With their emotional baggage packed, two bromantic immature teenage boys, Julio and Tenoch, venture on a spur-of-the-moment trip from Mexico City to a heavenly beach with the beautiful, but troubled, Luisa. Luisa plays a mentoring role to the two boys, tearing down their false self-assurance in women and sex. She light-heartedly teaches these inexperienced, sex-obsessed boys about how to really please a woman leading to revelations about their masculinity, desires and relationships. The humorous sexual openness during their journey is perfectly balanced with heartfelt discussions deepening the connection between the characters. 

Set against a backdrop of Mexico’s sociopolitical instability, I swear this story is not solely sensual! The narrator explores topics of class, inequality and political corruption filmed amongst the magical Mexican landscape. Offering historical context and a touch of foreshadowing, a unique layer is added to this film. 

This wonderful, emotionally charged coming-of-age reminds us of the complexities of our adolescence and the realities of growing up. 

Moonrise Kingdom

Of course, this list would be nothing without a Wes Anderson. This quirky film is about the fantastical imagination of youth within the tale of a love story. Suzy is a quirky bookworm who decides to run away from home with Sam, the unpopular, yet wise and intelligent, orphan. These two misfits decide they’ve had enough of the adult world creating an enchanting rescue mission and a divide between the conventional, spiritless adults and the impulsive, passionate youth. As a soft spot for these two characters develops, we learn about their awkward habits; Sam who built a fire while sleepwalking and Suzy who threw a rock through the window. Neither of these two has friends yet they establish an understanding and fairy-tale-like relationship. 

Wes Anderson’s signature visual style comes through, adding to the picturesque dreamscape. Every detail is perfectly arranged – a utopian vision. 

This magical and adventurous story of young love explores the harsh reality that we aren’t young forever and won’t always have an excuse for reckless, blasé behaviour. It is certainly a must-watch to give you that daydreaming yearning for something more. 

I am a third-year Philosophy and Economics student studying at the University of Bristol. Currently, I spend most of my time caught up in the beauty of Italy while I study in Venice for my year abroad! I am particularly interested in articles on philosophy, film and culture.