In Lean on Pete, Charley’s search for home moves the plot, but the emotional journey to find home is at the heart of all Andrew Haigh’s work (Weekend, 45 Years, the TV show Looking). This essay on Andrew Haigh’s films is the fifth feature in our Special Issue on Lean on Pete, which is now available for purchase as an ebook here.
“Can I come in?” 15-year-old Charley (Charlie Plummer) is standing at the threshold of his kitchen when he poses this question to his father’s latest one night stand. “It’s your kitchen,” she replies. But no place really feels like it’s his to Charley, the quiet teenager at the centre of Lean on Pete. He has never felt at home or safe in a space. Even this kitchen is in a house in a new city, just the latest in a series of moves his father regularly puts him through. Before long, his father lands in hospital, and Charley sets off alone, in search of somewhere and someone to call home — first at the local horse racing stable, and later, on the road and into the wilderness, toward his long-lost aunt’s house.
Charley’s search for home moves the plot of Lean on Pete, but writer-director Andrew Haigh’s previous work also follows people either trapped by home or stagnated by their inability to find one. Among all of Haigh’s protagonists, Charley’s needs are the most basic: he literally needs a roof over his head and an adult to care for him. In contrast, Haigh’s other characters are all adults whose homes are often carefully built and hard won. These homes are at once physical manifestations of the characters who inhabit them, and also a source of suffocation, stunting their owners’ development — because of who they do or do not share it with. For Haigh, home is made complete by someone loving to come home to.
Andrew Haigh’s second feature, Weekend (2011)
In Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, Russell’s (Tom Cullen) home is a quiet, safe space that he’s carefully carved out, away from the loud, disorienting, and often homophobic city. Russell grew up in foster care without a proper home, so having a place to call his own is especially significant. He’s made the apartment his own: postcards are arranged on the kitchen cupboards and taped to the wall of his bedroom in a collage. There are plants on every windowsill, brightening the space. His rooms are filled with things from charity shops, in part due to financial necessity, but also because Russell likes things with history — even someone else’s. At one point, he gives a speech about the mismatched mugs in his kitchen, positing a possible backstory for how one of them ended up in the charity shop. Inventing stories like that is half the fun because It imbues every object with meaning.
Russell’s home is a refuge so comfortable that it’s become a hideout. He practically hides from his window, from which he can hear homophobic slurs shouted. He’s on a high floor of an apartment tower, but he barely registers the view of the city laid out beneath him. He’s boxed himself into this private place, where he brings one-night stands and no one else. Retreating to the safety of his apartment has prevented Russell from being open with others about his life. More importantly, it’s prevented him from finding the romantic connection and intimacy he so craves.These homes are at once physical manifestations of the characters who inhabit them, and also a source of suffocation, stunting their owners’ development.Click To Tweet
That starts to change when Russell unexpectedly spends a weekend talking to, having sex with, and getting to know Glen (Chris New), an artist he picks up at a club for sex — in exchange for a conversation about it that Glen will tape the next day and use as part of an art installation. Glen is moving to America at the end of the weekend, so their connection is inherently fleeting. But it sparks a sea change. Their discussions about coming out and past flings are the first time we see that Russell really yearns for a partner and for romance. Glen pushes Russell out of his comfort zone, challenging him to enter spaces he wouldn’t otherwise — emotionally and physically.
Haigh registers Russell’s emotional changes in how he interacts with the outside world in how he moves through and manages his space. Walking through Nottingham at night, alone, the city is loud, and the screeching of the tram is deafening in the mix. But sitting on the tram with Glen, shot from afar, where the pair peek out from the crowd of moving people, it’s quiet enough for conversation. More than that, it’s pleasant. Together, they’ve carved out their own little world in the bigger, scarier one.In WEEKEND, Glen pushes Russell out of his comfort zone, challenging him to enter spaces he wouldn’t otherwise — emotionally and physically.Click To Tweet
The deeper Russell’s emotional connection with Glen, the more he comes out of his shell, and the more Haigh shoots him as a part of a bigger ecosystem. When they kiss passionately for the first time, Haigh pulls back to view them from outside, just one couple embracing at one window among many in the building. The film’s final scene finds Russell not hiding from the window but poking his head and torso out of it. The credits roll on a wide shot with the whole apartment building in the left third of the frame; for the first time, the cityscape isn’t something we’re looking down on from afar; it’s on equal footing with Russell’s apartment building. The world outside is no longer distant, but present and there for the taking.
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