I think anyone with intense and hard to reach ambitions dream about the day that they will one day come true. These dreams can morph into something that doesn’t resemble what that ambition would be in real life. But the scary part about these dreams isn’t the overt unreality of them is that the possibility that they will one day come true. For Billy Fisher, he struggles with this problem in early sixties England.
Billy Fisher is Billy Liar. He is stuck in a boring job, still living at home with his anxious and ignorant parents, and dreams of one day being a writer and running away with the perfect woman embodied by Liz. In order to overcome all of these awful (at least in his eyes) circumstances he lies to almost everyone in his life. He lies about having a father in the hospital, about having two fiancée, about having a lucrative job in London lined up and even about mailing out Christmas calendars for his company. It seems almost too easy for him to lie to everyone. The only person who sees through his lies is Liz, a free spirit who goes exactly where she wants to go and does exactly what she wants to do. Liz is the ideal for Billy. She has no cares in the world. Although he seems to “make love” to two other women, it is clear from the first appearance of her on the screen that it is she that he loves. After a night of talking where Billy reveals his imaginary country that he is a president of (Ambrosia), Liz convinces him to leave the small town he lives in and go to London to pursue his dreams. When he returns home to gather up his stuff to leave on the midnight train to London with Liz, he learns that his grandma is dying in the hospital. His father guilts him into going to the hospital to visit her and his mother. Will these events be enough to derail his ambitions or will he meet the love of his life and live the life he always wanted? I guess you will have to watch the film to find out.
This film has an urgency about it that feels refreshing. Tom Courtney plays Billy Fisher in a comic fashion but it doesn’t stop him from feeling real emotions and passion. He wants nothing more than to be a success in life, but nobody seems to believe in him. This makes him easy to relate to even if on the surface his lies hurt some and annoy others. He is the ultimate misunderstood protagonist.
Just like in my previous entry, Billy Liar was made during a time of transition for England. Like South Korea, England was crawling out from under the devastating effects of war, producing children that wanted more than structurally safe apartment and no more bombings. In fact most of the young people in this film were mere babies when the great war happened. They see their future not as an obligation but as a potential for fame and high profits. This produced a sense of discontented in the struggling economy of England. The division between his parents, who just want him to have a reliable job, a sweet wife and a bundle of kids, and Billy, who wants to be a famous writer, is a direct result of this cultural transition. But at the same time this conflict is universal and timeless. Their bickering are a result of the parents just wanting a good life for the son they raised for so many years. They want him to settle because that is what they did when they were his age. This is what makes Billy Liar so effective so many years past its release date. Should he stay and settle or follow his dreams and take a risk? This is the ultimate question a lot of artists have to ask themselves at a certain point in their lives.