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Family and Consumer Science

“This Boy’s Life”: Review and Analysis

The film “This Boy’s Life” recounts the biographical story of author Tobias Wolff, who wrote the book on which the movie was based. The book, like the film, offers a look at several years in the life of Wolff during his teenage years. Wolff’s mother, who seemed to bounce from one abusive relationship to another, is portrayed in the film as a victim, but also as a woman who demonstrates a fair amount of independence and self-reliance, both traits that were somewhat unusual in the average woman in the 1950s. Wolff’s story has a happy ending, and his portrayal of the manner in which he and his mother eventually overcame the abuse heaped upon them by Wolff’s stepfather is certainly heartwarming in the classic sense of a Hollywood film (Russell, 2009). The performances in “This Boy’s Life” by Leonardo DiCaprio as young Toby, Ellen Barkin as Toby’s mother, and Robert DeNiro as the abusive stepfather are all solid and believable, and the film does a competent job of demonstrating how “normal” child abuse can sometimes seem.  At the same time, however, the film falls a bit short in portraying just how damaging child abuse can be for its victims over the course of a lifetime. Tobias Wolff may have really surmounted the challenges of his childhood in the manner shown in the film, but the reality for many victims of child abuse is that the damage can last a lifetime, leading to serious and significant problems for adult survivors.