Beginning in an east-coast trailer park, Wildhood tells the story of Link (Phillip Lewitski), an angry teen who lives with his abusive white father (Joel Thomas Hynes) and his younger-half brother (Travis (Avery Winters-Anthony). Believing that his mother has died years ago, Link struggles to make it through the day. However, when he discovers that his Mi’kmaw mother may still be alive, he and Travis break out of the grip of their father and escape to find her. On the run from their father, they meet a Two-Spirit Mi’kmaw teenager Pasmay (Joshua Odjick), who offers to give them a lift. As they venture forward together, the chemistry between Link and Pasmay begins to develop, creating an undeniable attraction that could change them forever.
Written and directed by Bretten Hannam, Wildhood is a coming-of-age drama that explores the parts of our lives that are missing and the search to put them back together. Though the film functions as a road movie, Hannam beautifully weaves his themes together like a puzzle, with each piece shedding light on the next. Despite its difficult themes and broken characters, there’s a certain sense of peace that moves within the film. Even though the world feels unsafe, Hannam’s script never lets us feel like his characters are in any danger. They are on a trip towards self-acceptance and we are journeying with them.
Living with his brother and his abusive father, Link has lost all sense of his identity. To him, the world is very small. Fueled by his own inner rage, his drive to survive has hardened his heart to everyone except his younger brother. However, upon the discovery that his mother is alive, a piece of him comes alive as well and sets up a journey into his soul. From his First Nations heritage to his sexuality to his role in the family, Link gradually begins to flush out a deeper understanding of who he is. While his life may have been broken by the lies of his father, every new breakthrough helps him begin to reconnect with his story and give him a greater sense of peace.
As he continues on his journey, Wildhood does a wonderful job of disseminating the shame that he feels about his heritage, especially as it relates to his First Nations background. Dying his hair blond and refusing to learn the language of his people, Link does not wish to be associated with the Mi’kmaw population. Soon though, his hardened shell begins to melt away as he meets those who own their heritage with pride. (In fact, one youth even demands that he dye his hair to its proper colour so that he stops hiding from who he is.)
What’s more, the same is also true in regards to the shame that he feels about his sexuality. Although there’s an undeniable attraction between himself and Pasmay, Link remains hesitant. Plagued by the toxic masculinity of his father—the only parent he has known—he struggles to allow himself to connect with that portion of his heart.
As he begins to break down the stereotypes that have plagued him, so too does he also reframe his perspective. In many ways, while the film is driven by the quest for his mother, whether or not he finds her is almost irrelevant. Yes, it would provide a key building block for his past but the journey inward has been equally valuable either way.
Incidentally, it’s also worth noting that, while the emphasis may be on Link, each character is on a journey of their own throughout the film as well. For all three adventurers, this trek into the wild is an opportunity for them to heal from the hurts that have scarred them. With grace and acceptance, Hannam gives hope to their spirits by drawing them out together. All of their lives are a complex mix of brokenness and hurt, yet also they can be celebrated with hope. For Link, there’s a journey of the soul that he must endure to understand who we are and who we want to be.
Because, like Link, everyone deserves a chance to put the pieces back together.
Wildhood is available in theatres beginning Friday, March 11th, 2022.