Bildungsroman: How We Come of Age

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Photo Courtesy of Alamy Stock Photo

Alexis Crisostomo

Staff Writer

Why do we love coming-of-age stories? Why do we like to grow up all over again? The Bildungsroman, more commonly known as the coming-of-age story, is a thematic genre that has existed since the 1700s. Originally appearing in literature, the genre has since been famously adapted to cinema and television. 

It is defined by the growth of the protagonist, often in their younger years, and their journey toward self-realization and maturity. While things like graduating and getting your first job often come to mind when we think of growing up, the Bildungsroman portrays growth as something more: how you’ve come to see yourself and the world around you. 

These movies are an invitation to embrace nostalgia, reminding you where you’ve been and perhaps where you intend to go. Here is a list of coming-of-age movies to help you jumpstart your own intellectual journey of self-discovery. 

“Moonlight”

This powerful drama follows Chiron through three significant chapters of his life. Set against the backdrop of Black neighborhoods in Miami, Florida, Chiron’s coming-of-age story illustrates the challenges one may face as a gay Black man in America. From family struggles and bullies to acts of kindness and remarkable friendships, “Moonlight” tells of deciphering masculinity and finding one’s place in the world. 

“Lady Bird”

Strong-willed Christine, or “Lady Bird,” navigates rebellion and self-identity during her senior year at a private high school in Sacramento, California. Prompted by the desire to go “where culture is,” the story notably places Lady Bird in parallel to her tired, hardworking mom and explores the mirrored, interpersonal lapses between mothers and daughters. Favorite line: “But do you like me?” 

“While things like graduating and getting your first job often come to mind when we think of growing up, the Bildungsroman portrays growth as something more: how you’ve come to see yourself and the world around you.”

“Dead Poets Society”

For those brought up in practical environments, Robin William’s words in “Dead Poets Society” are a great reminder of why we still value the arts. Set in an elite boarding school where preparation to study law or your family’s business is key, this Bildungsroman follows a group of boys on their journey to not only understand poetry, but what it means to be human. 

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

Charlie, a wary freshman wallflower, is a voice for those who consider themselves the outcast misfits of the world. With the help of energetic Patrick, Sam, and their senior friends, Charlie grows more comfortable in his own skin, all while grappling with what made him so reticent in the first place. His coming-of-age story showcases the intricacies of friendships and the difficulties of self-love. 

“The Breakfast Club”

As arguably the most famous coming-of-age movie, “The Breakfast Club” is a classic picaresque about rebellious teens in an institutional environment: high school. This comedy utilizes the Bildungsroman genre to depict how restrictive stereotypes can be, and what circumstances are required to overcome them. Witnessing the group sharing each other’s stories is a great reminder that we never know what someone is going through. 

“Love, Simon”

Simon’s story is a great blockbuster that illustrates the experiences of a closeted gay teen today. From dodging awkward conversations to slowly confiding in friends, this movie helps introduce some of the many challenges that LGBTQ+ youth encounter while growing up. With a major plot revolving around his relationship with a similar, closeted internet friend, this movie also portrays how much the internet has come to influence today’s Bildungsroman stories.

While these are only a few out of many great coming-of-age movies, they cover many common Bildungsroman’s themes about family, sexuality, and individuality. Have any more in mind? Let us know, and happy streaming!