I was up half the night earlier this week, my mind darting this way and that for no apparent reason. I got to thinking about movies as I always do and soon found myself revisiting Breath, Simon Baker’s stunning directorial debut. It dawned on me that this film was an instant classic, a quintessential Australian narrative and one of the most compelling coming of agers I’d ever laid my eyes on.
Set in Western Australia in the 1970s, it follows Pikelet (played by Samson Coulter) a curious young man and his path to awakening. Befriending a young larrikin by the name of Loonie, (Ben Spence) the pair share a love for the ocean and soon find themselves entangled with a mysterious surfer named Sando (Simon Baker) and his invalid girlfriend Eva (Elizabeth Debicki).
I took to the story like a pig in shit, partly for the fact that it laid bare the shallow realities of male bravado. As Pikelet begins to question his choices, he finds himself romantically involved with Eva and comes to suffer his first bout of heartbreak. Losing more than his virginity in the process, he takes his first step into adulthood by learning that true courage comes from following your heart, not your cojones.
Baker is the living, breathing manifestation of Pikelet in adult form, an empathetic soul that still enjoys moonlighting as an Aussie beach bum. It's more than his sunkist skin and sea-salt locks. He carries himself with a jovial humility, the secret to a life well-lived in his magnetic smile. As he confesses: “The story was profoundly relatable to me. It feels in some parts, autobiographical… That familiar terrain of figuring out who you are and that defining moment where you become an adult."
I didn’t grow up like Pikelet and Loonie. I wasn’t a beach bum, couldn’t ride a wave to save my life and rarely spent more than a couple of minutes in the surf. Truth be told I was terrified of the deep blue sea (watching Jaws as a child didn't help) and preferred to enjoy it from the safety of my beach towel. That didn’t stop me ogling those sun-bleached souls as they dived into the surf with reckless abandon, wading out into the choas until they were no more than a speck on the horizon.