Spoilers for Honey Boy below!
“The only thing of value my father gave me in life was pain.” As someone who has a great relationship with my father, this whole notion from 22 year-old Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges) in Honey Boy is completely foreign. But the beauty of storytelling is that there are almost always little things that you can grab onto and relate to.
Honey Boy can be tough to watch at times. It shows the verbally abusive relationship between a father and young son, one written by Shia LaBeouf, based on his own life. Living with his father, 12 year-old television star Otis Lort has very different life experiences than most kids his age. He lives in a motel with just his father (played by Shia himself). It’s rough for him as his father pushes him hard to be the best he can – it just isn’t in a gentle and loving way.
And it is so obvious that this a very personal and cathartic experience for Shia. Though, again, the fact that the story is personal for one very specific person doesn’t mean it can’t be relatable.
Everyone has experienced pain at some point in their lives. What we choose to do with that pain is what will define a lot about us. Early on in his life, Otis acted out in a negative way as he tried to deal with his own pain. His father was verbally abusive, a recovering alcoholic, and overall a difficult person to have raise him. Consequently, Otis becomes an alcoholic himself and quite the hothead, which eventually landed him in rehab.
Otis didn’t have any examples in his life to show him how to cope with hard situations. This left him to try to deal with things on his own, which only has negative effects. Because as much as young Otis hated the way his father treated him, what other outcome would there be?
His father’s biggest problem is his disappointment in himself. He wanted his own life to turn out better, so he copes with that by trying to get his son to have the best life possible. The problem is how he goes about it. He takes his problems with his own life out on other people, namely Otis. Therefore, Otis does the same once he gets older. The movie explores the way parents trying to live vicariously through their kids can have such harmful effects.
By the time Otis makes it to rehab himself, he’s in a bad place. Fortunately, his counselor is patient with him and has him write a script about his childhood. The script he begins writing is the very script for Honey Boy, which shows perhaps Shia hasn’t worked through all of his demons quite yet. This is true to life in that we don’t get over our pain and problems overnight. It takes time and intentionality, and it takes deep introspection. It’s no coincidence that Otis’ better times are when he is in silence, rather than when a counselor is trying to reach out to him, or his father is yelling at him. He needs the time to look at his life and think.
The movie ends with 22 year-old Otis returning to the place he lived with his father. He confronted the source of so much of his pain and hardship so he could turn a corner in his road to recovery. That’s all we need – confront our pain and accept it. Turning that corner is a huge and necessary step, and apparently it’s working for Shia. The last shot of the movie is 11 year-old Otis smiling straight at the camera. There’s a sense of hopefulness that we all could use.
All images retrieved from IMDb