Driving home from a college class every Wednesday night in 1969, a friend and I would listen to his eight-track tape of the Beatles’ White Album. Whenever “Julia” came on, I felt bemused by its daringly monotonous tempo, the seesawing melody, and the lyrics, “Julia, Julia, ocean child, calls me / So I sing a song of love, Julia / Julia, seashell eyes, windy smile, calls me...” Was this an earthly lover whom John Lennon mourned or a daydream, a mermaid?
As biographies eventually made clear, Julia was a boy’s daydream that became a reality. She was his longed-for but absent mother who gave the five-year-old John to her sister Mimi when Julia’s marriage unraveled. Unaware throughout his childhood that Julia was living only a few blocks from his Liverpool neighborhood with a new husband and two young daughters, the teenager John finally found and confronted her. She melted. The intense bond between mother and son aggravated the already existing tensions between Julia and Mimi. This nexus of neediness, resentment, guilt, and joy is the substance of Nowhere Boy, a British film written by Matt Greenhalgh, vividly directed by Sam Taylor-Wood (a woman, by the way), and superbly acted by its cast, especially the actresses who play the sisters, Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff.