This is a film which forces you to think differently. Boy A completely shifts its focus from the typical media perspective and instead chooses to concentrate on the one(s) being vilified.
Before watching Boy A, I reminded myself about the facts of the James Bulger case. It's painfully clear that this film was intended to force viewers to have a new perspective on the case and its perpetrators: Venables and Thompson. In both the film and the case, there are: two schoolboys skipping class and getting up to no good, an unspeakable act of sheer horror, and prosecution by both the judiciary and mainstream media. The most heartbreaking allusion that the film makes to the case, though, is in its use of the train tracks. The train tracks are where James Bulger, at only two years old, was sickeningly abused and ultimately killed by the two boys, depicted by the media at the time as Child A and Child B.
Both Eric and Philip have very troubled backgrounds and as a result their morals and values have been entirely skewed. Eric, at least, seemed to lose his sense of knowing right from wrong the longer he was around Philip and subject to his brash, violent nature; the more exposed he was to Philip, the more detached he became from humanity.
Was Eric a bad person? From everything we've seen, no: it seems as though an abusive father, a detached mother, an unsupportive and inadequate school system, and bullying all had a detrimental impact on the growth and development of this young boy. Eric did kill (or at least take part in the killing of) a schoolgirl, and took part in some other very violent acts too; however, this only occurred after he had been exposed to and influenced by Philip for some time. Jack, on the other hand, is one of the most friendly, caring, and vulnerable individuals you'll ever see on-screen - he is totally at odds with Eric. This juxtaposition is excellently handled by the director through the use of flashback to simultaneously introduce us to both Eric and Jack whilst distinguishing the two.
Additionally, it must be noted that the schoolgirl whom Eric and Philip kill is not revealed to be entirely innocent, kind, or vulnerable. Instead, she's portrayed as an arrogant, rude, distasteful little girl. Her attire and well-spoken nature lead the audience to believe she's from a wealthy background, whereas Eric and Philip are the complete opposite. This makes it even more difficult to watch as we know that the schoolgirl is the victim, but ultimately so are Eric and Philip.
A scene which I found especially perplexing was the one in which the pair of them catch a fish and Philip then proceeds to beat the fish within an inch of its life, only to toss it back into the water. He admits that he knows the fish won't survive, yet he's still chosen to release it back into the water rather than show it mercy. This speaks volumes for the way in which young offenders are handled in the justice system. Is rehabilitation truly effective? Can it have a beneficial impact on the offenders? Or by the time they're finally released back into society has the damage already been done too significant?
The drawing we see at the end of the film by the little girl indicates that she sees Jack as a hero. This further reinforces the idea that it's all a matter of perspective. In a past life, Eric used his knife to kill a schoolgirl; but to this little girl, Jack is a hero who used his knife to save her. This stark contrast goes to show how much an individual can change, as Jack's mentor, Terry, identifies when he reflects on how far Jack has come since he met him all those years ago. This notion, then, seems to answer the questions raised earlier in the film as to whether or not rehabilitation is actually effective: we can see from Jack's behaviour and his progress that rehabilitation can and does work. Unfortunately, though, once someone has been broken into so many pieces and they've been put back together, it only takes the most gentle upset for it all to come crashing down again.
In the end, we're led to believe that he jumped. Jack admits that, as Terry often told him, Eric is dead - in his past. But now that his past has been brought up again, it has consequently resulted in the destruction of Jack: his new identity. This leads him to a sense of hopelessness as he realises he's trapped between two worlds and they're collapsing against one another, pinning him in between until he shatters. This leaves us with a bleak message: we, the public, have ultimately caused Jack to take his own life. What makes this far more serious is that public intervention actually has resulted in the deaths of innocent people, such as Scott Bradley, who was wrongly identified as being Venables. As a result of his misidentification, he was harassed, vilified, and took his own life; an innocent man died at the hands of the public's persecution.
If you enjoyed Boy A and the way it encouraged you to see from a different perspective, then I urge you to watch "The Dirties", which deals with bullying in schools and the consequences which can arise from neglecting to address it.
All in all, Boy A is a highly thought-provoking and devastating film, which ask us to pause and reflect on our treatment of young offenders and consider that there may - and indeed likely is - more going on than that which is portrayed by the media. Only once we take a step back and contemplate our crucification of these children can we effectively pinpoint what causes such tragedies to occur and prevent them from happening ever again.
RIP Jamie Bulger.