In 2005 he released Thumbsucker
, a quirky, coming-of-age indie based on the Walter Kim novel starring Tilda Swinton, Keanu Reeves, and a teenage Lou Taylor Pucci as the thumbsucking lead. But it was his 2010 movie Beginners
that really solidified his place in the world of film. It was also the perfect amalgamation of all of his creative endeavors. “Beginners
kind of represents all the things I can do, they’re all in one bucket finally,” he says. It was a movie that resonated deeply with audiences and critics alike, perhaps because it was a narrative that originated so deeply within Mills himself. It tells the story of Oliver (played by Ewan McGregor), a Los Angeles-based graphic designer whose 75-year-old father comes out as gay in the wake of his wife’s (Oliver’s mother’s) death. Shortly thereafter he’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. It was inspired by Mills’s own life. “My dad was dying and he told me a story. He said, your mom hid her jewishness and I hid my gayness and we joined America and we got married,” Mills says. “And I was like, I’m making a movie about that
.” The movie is infused with an authenticity that burrows straight to the heart. It’s a smart and poignant meditation on love and death and family with as many funny moments as there are touching ones. It garnered Christopher Plummer, who plays Hal, Oliver’s dad, both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. Mills received Independent Spirit nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay, and for good reason: it was the movie that helped him find his voice. “It’s like this intersection between things that are very personal, memory-based, and how that intersects with much larger historical societal issues,” he says. “Wherever you are you can always do a Z-axis and look at it from 10,000 feet like, Ok, the personal is political
or I’m a subject in history
or I’m on this particular piece of land, how does that relate to everything else?
That sort of prism-ing, or kaleidoscoping, I feel like that’s something I’m endlessly doing and is endlessly rich for me.”