Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Movies About Childhood

I'm still working on the next chapter of my "Justin Trudeau vs. Free Speech" series. (The world awaits the next installment with bated breath, I know!) But today I feel like typing about three movies about childhood that really moved me.

The first film I'll talk about isn't so much about childhood as it is about single-parenting. In "The Babadook" an isolated single-mother begins to receive sinister messages from a mysterious book. The reasons why she's found herself alone with her son, and the reasons behind her son's difficult behaviour are all connected. And they combine to put this woman on-edge even before things begin to take a frightening turn.

But through it all, you can also see the scared little boy trusting earnestly in his mother's ability to protect him, even when it seems least likely.

In the end, they realize that there is just the two of them together and they both have to accept that fact. Very good acting and directing. It's a small, low-budget horror movie that produces some of the most intense feelings of dread that I can remember. (To say I'm not a fan of slasher/gore "horror" films is an understatement.)

Next up we have "Room" based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue. Remember how a few years back there were two cases of Austrian girls kidnapped and forced to live in confined quarters as slaves to their psychopathic male captors. (In one of these incidents, the psychopathic abuser was the young woman's father who imprisoned her for years until she escaped.) This was followed up with those three women in Cleveland imprisoned for a decade by another scum-bag and the young woman in California kidnapped and held captive for 18 years by a deranged couple of meth-heads.

So, the novel, and the book are about what it would be like to survive such an ordeal as well as to be born and raised in such circumstances. Now, the actor playing the little boy "Jack" (Jacob Tremblay) was a natural for the part. I don't know if he'll go on to mature as an actor, but he's perfect in this role. And, for my part, though I don't really see that many films, when I was watching Brie Larson as "Ma" trying to explain to "Jack" that the world she's been describing for him for the past five years (she's tried to raise him so that he doesn't think he's a captive who can't escape) is all a lie, and her desperation in the face of "Jack's" refusal to accept this new narrative and her panic over the risks they're taking when they attempt their escape; I thought her acting was amazing. She would eventually receive an Oscar for it.

The kidnapper is given very little screen time. But his few moments are disgusting. Credits to the actor, the script and the casting director. He exhibits such clueless self-pity and entitlement.

The thing that affected me the most was the little boy's experience of a paradise lost. As he grows older he'll come to understand more and more that his early world was a nightmare place for his mother. You see, the mother tried to make their world as good a place as she could for her son. And when you're a child, the world does seem to be a better, magical place. "Room" really made me think that the innocent world of childhood can never be returned to. Because it never existed. For instance; there is no lost, glorious, perfect "Canada." This country is steeped in racism and theft. It's a story of plunder and bigotry and elitism.

I heard one review say he didn't like the last shot, but I thought it was powerful.

Finally, there is "The Florida Project":

It's also a story of the innocence of youth. Even children living in rather squalid circumstances. The cinematography is brilliant. The acting is great. It's a sad story about people forced into desperate circumstances. The mother character in this film isn't supposed to be an inspirational figure. But she's trying to provide for herself and her daughter as best she can. And she has her moments where her love for her daughter is transcendent.  Will Dafoe's character is someone else trying to do the best he can. Caring for people without letting himself care too much.

The director was trying to do a few different things at once and one of them was to recreate the spirit of the "Lil' Rascals" films. Where (basically poor, Depression-era) kids were left on their own to their own devices. The scene where the kids get into some dangerous mischief in the abandoned motel complex feels quite real. And the way the little boy stared at the TV set afterwards, with a worried, guilty look on his face, seemed very real too.

I guess I'll add another film. "Slumdog Millionaire." Because it too was about childhood to a great degree. And writing the last paragraph reminded me of that one scene where the "bad" brother is about 12 years old and he's coming to the realization that he has to kill the two adults who are harassing them or they will never be out of danger. That kid was brilliant in that scene.