Columns Film & TV

Boyhood before ‘Boyhood’: Imagination, Intelligence, and Terry Gilliam’s ‘Time Bandits’

Now on my second article of this series, I come to the devastating realisation that I am not actually funny. A shocking revelation to you and me both, of course, after reading the magnum opus that was my first. So, before I continue, I just want to warn you that this is going to be a pile of shit; I’m not going to be funny, I’m going to write poorly, and you won’t enjoy it at all. 

Kidding! That was reverse psychology. This is going to be fucking brilliant. 

Now on my second article of this series, I also take quite a severe U-turn. Previously, I named boyhood the niche of the neorealist. Now, I change my mind: boyhood is also the subject of the surreal, the fantastic, and the not only unrealistic but out-of-this-world. Imagination and intelligence allow the little boy to go beyond the realms of the literal and believe the unbelievable. 

I have argued that boys are little shits. If this is true – which it is, I’m the boyhood oracle – then adults are big shits. When you become an adult, naughtiness becomes nastiness, ignorance becomes wilful and imagination shrivels up and dies. 

I’m not saying kids are particularly smart, in fact the best thing about childhood is its stupidity. It is this that is so necessary for the possibility of intelligence. Boyhood is the time of the play-doh brain: impressionable, playful, and probably smells kind of weird. 

When you become an adult in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, you become a soulless couch potato: addicted to television, technology, and ignoring your son. Gilliam satirises parenthood, sits it on a cellophane-wrapped sofa, and gives it a combover. There is a stagnation to the living room that we begin Time Bandits in; we can smell the microwave roast dinner served night after night. Time Bandits opens with an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia – a cage that is burst open with the wardrobe doors that the band of time-travelling dwarfs fall out of while on the run from the ‘Supreme Being.’

I acknowledge I have not yet really introduced what Time Bandits is about, and that as of yet my synopsis is Time Bandits: A Tale of Dwarves and Gravy – but to be fair I did tell you this one was going to be poorly written, which, to be fair again, I did say was a joke, so now I’m without any excuse at all. But, anyway, let’s carry on. 

Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981) tells the tale of Kevin, the eleven-year-old history whizz who gets caught up in the escapades of a group of dwarves after they have stolen a map of time and space. Their journey is through the Napoleonic Wars, Ancient Greece, Medieval England, and Hell; or, across Kevin’s bedroom floor (excluding Hell, obviously – I don’t think Satan themed action figures are that popular with little boys). Gilliam fills the screen with cowboys, knights, spacemen, and soldiers; builds his set of super-sized Lego bricks; and creates a film made up of the constant escalation of events making Time Bandits a true testament to the possibilities of imagination. 

The ability to unlock these possibilities is dependent on the boy’s willingness to be impertinent. The willingness to prod his parents’ arms and ask ‘why, why, why’; to ask the Supreme Being ‘why do we have evil?’, a question that adults ‘wouldn’t dream of asking.’ 

The thing that stops the child from being a big shit is his very willingness to be a little shit – to ask what isn’t appropriate and to speak before spoken to. 

Exploration is the product of impertinence, intelligence the product of being dumb, and imagination of being childish; and, really, what better qualities are there? 

Time Bandits is not available for free streaming, but you can rent it off Amazon for the very reasonable price of signing your soul away to Jeff Bezos.

With illustration by Alex Abrahams. 

Martha, one of The Oxford Blue's columnists, is a second-year English student at St Hugh's College. She is really funny, pretty and cool.