Grief is the centerpiece of Christopher Honoré’s coming-of-age drama, which features a seventeen-year-old boy trying to stay afloat amidst the various worldly forces while being acutely aware of the transience of life. Following his father’s untimely death in a car accident, Lucas (Paul Kircher) desperately tries to seek answers to the greater questions of existence. Awkward yet wondrous, his tale of suffering seems to be an open letter that is borne into the unknown. It is no wonder that Honoré dedicates Winter Boy to his own father, as is revealed in the end credits.
In Winter Boy, Honoré explores sexuality against the backdrop of the all-pervasive motifs of death and love. The plot revolves around Lucas, his grieving mother (Juliette Binoche), and his brother Quentin (Vincent Lacoste) coping with their mutual loss—a loss that brings them together (at least in the loose sense of the term). But soon, they realize that their suffering is as intricately layered as their own selves, and it entails a journey that each of them must face up to.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Winter Boy’?
The film opens with Lucas addressing the camera, but not exactly the audience. He introduces himself as a seventeen-year-old high schooler who lives in a small village near Chambéry and whose ‘life has turned into a wild animal, which bites whenever it is approached.’ He further mentions that his own thoughts have become his greatest threat, and he feels a desperate urge to start afresh.
As he talks about his ‘before,’ one can discern that he is a diffident and quiet teenager who shares an amorous relationship with another boy from his class, Oscar (perhaps also his only friend). He recounts an incident when his father was driving him to school, and there was a pressing silence looming large between them. This is the only sequence in Winter Boy where the father is on screen (a short cameo by Christopher Honoré himself). They exchanged scant words, and his father ended up expressing discontent about his life and career. This was a momentous event for Lucas—his father being skeptical of his life in front of him. And to top it all, his father momentarily loses control of the car while driving, and it swerves off the road, barely avoiding an accident. This episode seems to be of great significance to Lucas, and he feels that it was a presentiment, hinting at things yet to come.
Indeed, soon after, his brother Quentin and one of his cousins turn up at his boarding house one night and ask him to come with them—his father has met with an accident and is in the hospital. When, instead of taking him to the hospital, they drive him home, he realizes that his father must already be dead. A horde of relatives have arrived at his place, and they offer him their condolences. His devastated mother tells him about how his father inexplicably lost control of his car right in front of a truck. Though Lucas seems to be a bit dubious about this account, his concern for his mother spills over during that interaction, and he suggests she start a new life. Quentin joins them shortly, and all three of them lean on each other in anticipation of confronting their uprooted lives.
In Krzysztof Kielowski’s 1993 film, Three Colors: Blue, Binoche plays the role of a woman who is the sole survivor of a car crash that killed her husband and their only daughter. With no one left to care for and no future to look forward to, her character was indeed a spectacle of unfettered sorrow. But Isabelle feels responsible for their younger son, who is not an adult yet, and for Quentin, too (though perhaps to a lesser extent). She dearly wishes to lend them her strength (whatever is left of it) so that they can cope with their loss and lead good lives. Striving to put up a brave front adds another layer to her suffering. She is confused, resentful, and agonized, but she never expresses any of it in front of her sons.
Reality presses hard against Lucas, and unable to suppress his anguish; he has a breakdown. Isabelle comforts him. Later that night, he sleeps at Oscar’s place, who is clearly in love with him, but Lucas is certain that what he feels for him is not love. On the day of his father’s funeral, he refuses to attend the church proceedings, and his mother does not mind. At dinner, his relatives begin an argument over politics, to which Quentin reacts and asks them to stop. Lucas, on the other hand, takes advantage of the awkward silence to indicate that his father was an atheist, and a church funeral hardly makes sense.
To prevent the situation from getting out of hand, Quentin drags him outside. He tells him that he must return to work the next day and asks him to take care of their mother. Lucas, who is already troubled, feels that Quentin is indifferent toward them and wants to escape from the situation. They argue with each other and get into a fight, which is assuaged by Isabelle. Following this incident, Quentin suggests (albeit reluctantly) that Lucas stay with him in Paris for a week.
The second phase of Winter Boy follows Lucas’s misadventures in Paris, and he is thrilled to take this unexpected detour to keep his mind off things. As he narrates how he spent his first day in Paris, he wavers between a sexual encounter and his conversation with a priest about resurrection and redemption, which is perhaps indicative of the state of affairs in his mind. As he struggles to settle on a worldview in order to find an explanation for his suffering, his mind flickers like a candle flame, taking everything in and not knowing what to hold on to.
Lucas is taken with Quentin’s friend and housemate Lilio, whom he often spends time with when Quentin is immersed in his own life. Lilio seems to be an artist who has given up on his ambitions and pursues art only for his own pleasure. He introduces Lucas to the city streets at odd hours. Once, he is moved to tears as Lilio plays him a song about the ephemeral nature of existence. Lucas discovers that Lilio secretly works as a prostitute, and when he asks him about it, Lilio vaguely mentions that he does not do it for the money. Following an evening that he spends with Lilio, when Lucas, drunk, tries to make a move on him, Lilio turns him down. He tells Lucas that it would be inappropriate, given that he is his brother’s friend, and he is much older than Lucas. To this, Lucas responds that he has been through things that make him more mature than he is.
Heartbroken, Lucas tracks down Lilio’s client (a man much older than him and even Lilio) and offers to do him sexual favors only if he tells Lilio everything that they do. Quentin walks in on them in the middle of the act and gets him out of the situation. Livid but confused nonetheless, Quentin decides to send Lucas back home. Lucas is greatly ashamed of the whole incident and is unable to make peace with it. What drove him to it might have been an overwhelming concoction of feelings: a desperate need to prove himself and get Lilio’s attention, resentment, and a desire to escape reality by drowning himself in extraneous experiences.
As he returns home, Lucas is mostly quiet. When he confronts his mother, asking whether his father’s death was a suicide, she is exasperated and disengages from the conversation. A deep cynicism ossifies in him, and he feels that everybody is pretending, and the truth is completely lost. He vows to never speak of anything again. On the day of his return to his boarding school, he smashes the rear-view mirror of his mother’s car and slashes his wrists with the shards of glass.
‘Winter Boy’ Ending Explained
The final phase of Winter Boy peels off all the meager embellishments and plunges into despair in its elemental form. Lucas, who has gone completely mute, is advised to stay in an asylum till he feels better, and Isabelle trudges through her days, striving to maintain her reassuring demeanor. One day, Lilio visits Lucas in the hospital. He is gentle and unassuming, and he tells him that even though he does not think about him in that way, he cares about him. He admits that Lucas has been through things in life that forced him to be older than his age and that he struggles with his own life at times.
Lilio’s acceptance and confession helped Lucas come to terms with his own dark past. Later in the afternoon, he speaks to his mother, who is overjoyed and moved to tears. This is the first time she addresses the camera and acknowledges that it would be fanciful to think that she played any role in her son’s recovery, but she would like to revel in the belief, even if for a little while. It felt as if she had been set free from an era of darkness. She has finally befriended her own grief.
What Does The Camera Signify?
As I have mentioned before, the whole film seems to be addressed to the camera, but it does not seem like it is addressed to the audience. It seemed like there would be a psychiatrist or some form of listener who would be found behind the lens, but till the very end, nothing of that sort was revealed. Often the narration would be in the second person as if they were addressing a dead person or the unknown. Death is a strange force that brings them together and yet tears them apart. It feels as if, when speaking to the camera, they are speaking to Claude, who is watching over their lives as if he is watching a film.
Did Claude Commit Suicide?
Isabelle’s version of Claude’s death is certainly not convincing. It is difficult to say whether she really believed that account or was in denial. And if it was neither, one cannot blame her for trying to keep that gruesome detail to herself. But subsequently, many things hint at the fact that it was indeed a suicide. For instance, Isabelle’s resentment when confronted by Lucas about the same Also, Lucas’s own struggles with mental health suggests that his father might have also been afflicted.