Saturday, 14 July 2007

Review of Little Children (2006)

This review contains spoilers. Watch the movie first before reading it.

After directing In The Bedroom, Todd Field now turns his attention to Little Children, a movie about adultery between housewife Sarah and law graduate Brad. Each is already married and each has a child. Sarah has a little girl and Brad has a little boy. The story not only looks at this adulterous relationship but also looks at a pedophile who has been released into the neighborhood.

Sarah, a former university student who has a masters in English literature, speaks about the book Madame Bovary with friends. She says the book is about a woman who is trapped and rebels against the establishment. I have never read Madame Bovary but I think what is happening in the film is supposed to mirror what happened in the novel. Sarah is tired of her dull life and decides to break free by having sex with another man. Her husband even cheats on her but in a much more bizarre way as you'll see if you watch the movie. While Sarah has the affair with Brad it is clear that her daughter suffers. While Brad has the affair it is clear that the suspicious wife also suffers. What this tells me is that although you can rebel against social norms, by pursuing what it is you want you can also hurt other people. At the end, both Brad and Sarah decide not to continue with the affair and the narrator says that although people make mistakes and although people have bad pasts, it's the future that matters.

Running side by side with the story of adultery is the experience of a pedophile named Ronald. The pedophile in this story is not depicted as some monster but just as an ordinary person (for most parts of the movie, at least). An ex-policeman named Larry has started a hate group that harasses Ronald. They go around spreading fliers, telling everyone that a pedophile is living among them. This creates a moral panic and as this moral panic is stirring throughout the community even Brad and Sarah conform to social norms and start fearing the evil pedophile. Larry is no saint himself. He accidentally killed a kid in a mall and, as the story progresses, he ends up killing Ronald's mother.

One of the things I noticed in the film is the hypocrisy of characters. Although Sarah is quick to judge and put down the pedophile at first because his perversion conflicts with social norms, her adultery too conflicts with social norms. This suggests that people may while conforming to social norms also rebel against it at the same time.

One of the points I made before was how Sarah and Brad had the opportunity to right the wrongs. They were convinced that an affair was right but then decided against it. At the end, Ronald castrates himself, signaling a desire to conform to social norms. Larry, who once said that perverts like Ronald should be castrated, tries to help Ronald by getting him to a hospital. So by hating pedophiles Larry at the beginning was upholding social norms and towards the end by helping the pedophile he is rebelling against it. This sequence differs from the experiences of Brad, Sarah, and Ronald who all rebel first and then end up conforming. But Larry's hatred of Larry could be interpreted as anti-social as many in the community start to tire of his extremism. He starts off as a man of hatred and turns into a man of compassion. Interpreted this way, Larry too starts off rebelling but in the end conforms.

So what I got from the movie is the following: There is a conflict between the individual will and the will of society. Due to our psychological limitations we both rebel against social norms as well as uphold it, and the cognitive dissonance that results from this paradox can lead to tragic consequences.

The movie is adapted from a book and with the translation from book to film came changes. In the book, the pedophile Ronald does not castrate himself but rather admits to the murder of a little girl. This was apparently removed from the film so the audience could have more sympathy with the character. I suspect Todd the director was trying to portray Ronald as less rebellious than he actually was and this completely goes against the spirit of Madame Bovary who believed in rallying against the establishment. The director then really gave this film a conservative makeover whereas the original novel was a lot more realist in theme.

Kate Winslet plays as Sarah in this movie. Kate has played in many lesser-known movies after the blockbuster Titanic. Many of these post-Titanic films are films I have seen recently, such as Finding Neverland (not bad) and Quills (excellent).

All in all, I enjoyed this movie a lot. I've been thinking about it for a long time but haven't fully understood everything. I suspect the director may have botched the job and changed the story too much during translation from book to film. By trying to make the story appealing to a cinema audience he may have destroyed any thematic consistency. Many people I speak to say the movie is just a satire on suburbia and marriage and that's it. (The sterility of suburbia: isn't that just so clich├ęd now?) According to them, this movie is about the imperfections in all of us. But all this suggests that there is an objective good and bad. What if perfection is imperfect or imperfection is perfect?

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