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Teenage (2013); And Reflections of Being a Teenager

September 12, 2014


The teenage years: for most people it was overall some of the best of times while for others it was the worst. That delicate age between adolescence and adulthood is a roller coaster ride of hormones, awkward spaz moments, love, self-exploration, and decadence. My teenage years began with embarrassing moments of getting torn apart by the gnashing tongues of my peers muddled with a constant need to remember wearing deodorant due to my recently changing body, before it finally evolved into a pretty awesome era filled with the independence I had long craved since childhood, self-actualization, and even self-admiration. For me being a teenager was about friends, socializing, making money, then spending it at my leisure, experimenting with drugs, delving into politics, and above all getting my kicks while I was still young enough to get them.

Perhaps this is why Teenage enamored me the way it does. Simultaneously, my love of history and receiving insight into past generation’s culture allowed Teenage to both fascinate and fill me with nostalgic wonder. The teenage years are a turbulent time for anyone lucky enough to survive them. Matt Wolf’s documentary dives into the distinct parts that make up being a teenager by focusing on the concept of teenager, which emerged through the first half of the 20th century. Beginning in 1904, Teenage visits various decades to expose viewers to the ways in which teenagers emerged from the brutalities of child labor work to becoming wartime enlisters, then on to flappers– to builders of society and destructors of nations, before finally being able to simply exist in the way we are accustomed by the end of WWII. The concept of a teenager did not always exist, but its emergence has changed the world for good.


Wolf’s storytelling methods rely on footage and still images from the eras in which it visits. Using a unique practice, Teenage is narrated by familiar voices that read transcripts and diary entries from teenagers of a specific time. There are no talking heads present in this film, nor speakers with authoritative titles under their names to give us facts and figures. These lack of narrative tropes grant the voices and words of teenagers of the era authority of their own period speaking firsthand about feelings of war, love, and resentment. The words spoken are from teenagers from all over the world giving an incredibly deep insight into how the developing nations dealt with the changing social norms.

From the spoken entries and narratives of teens, like a German girl who led a youth camp devoted to the ideals of Hitler, it becomes easy to gain a humane understanding of the tragedies that took place during the rise of the Nazi party. We can sympathize with these impressionable youths, and furthermore the country, to understand how and why a country drained by the depression could follow under the blind fate of a tyrant who promised prosperity, community, and order. Teenage incorporates scenes of reenactments shot with Super 8 and 16mm to emulate the style of the era, an attempt that allows viewer to experience life through the eyes of those who lived it. The flashbacks tend to have a slightly cheesy factor associated with them due to actors looking into the camera and putting on an obvious show, but what titillated me the most was getting a glimpse into the specific cultures from a different perspective.


Teenage is a brilliant look into the origins of an anomaly whose presence still lingers strongly today. Though the film tends to lose its focus when the topic of wars command the narrative, Teenage is still an engaging, enlightening experience. It’s relatable to every single being who has experienced the turbulent teenage years and it’s a fascinating learning experience. Teenage looks to the past to make us question our future and how change can engulf the planet with a new sociological group. How will the Tween affect society outside of its marketing capabilities? In time, how will the mellineals and young adults of the world today change the tide of history? Will the age of current twentysomethings become a new age of distinction that will change the fabric of time? Will this period be considered uneventful? Only time will tell, but to make a change we must first know our history.

SEE IT. And reflect on your teenage years and how you’ve changed yourself and the world since then.


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