Friday, April 20, 2007

Little Children

I didn't know a whole lot about this movie before going in. I knew that it had had some talk during the Oscars, as one of its actors had been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor for playing some sort of child molester. I knew that he (Jackie Earle Haley) had been in some sort of movie years ago as a child actor but had dropped out of the movie business when worked dried up. The blurb mentioned that Kate Winslett was in it and I stopped reading - this was enough information.

The movie opens with talk of some sort of child molester moving into town (town here is some very nice place just outside of Boston) after being released from prison. It is never very clear exactly what it is he did; those who know about him are content to simply call him a pervert and treat him as a threat to the safety of their children. Maybe he is, we never really find out, and it is possible that his crime was nothing more harmful than to be a flasher.
Most of the film, however, is not about him. The main story starts with some yummy mummies in the park: they have seen a hot young man (whom they have dubbed the prom king) frequent the park but have never summoned up the courage to talk to him. They dare Sarah (Winslett) to get his number, and thus starts their affair. I wondered if the film was going to borrow from In The Mood for Love by acknowledging the desire which erupts between them but to never let them cross the line into sex. Indeed, at one point Sarah muses to herself that it would be delicious to sleep with him, but it is equally delicious to sit beside him in a shady spot near the pool in a state of innocence.But the point is that there are no innocents here (except the kids): not Sarah, not her new man (Brad), not Ronnie and definitely not Larry, the self-appointed guardian of this town who hounds Ronnie at every opportunity. He has a history worse than Ronnie's, who has never killed a kid. But loss of innocence does not turn one into Satan, it is merely a flaw. And so we do get to have a good look at these characters. Sarah has crossed the line, but wasn't she pushed by the rather disturbing behaviour of her husband? She's a pretty lovely lady, a former English grad student, and one who has a remarkable empathy for the plight of Madame Bovary (this is revealed at a book group meeting, where the range of opinions was as wide as in my own book group when we read it).

Ronnie is presented as a human being, one who is still loved by (and loves) his mum (and not in that gruesome way in the Epps family in
Bones), but one who is unutterably alone. There's a scene where he has gone to the swimming pool - maybe just to cool off, maybe to look at all the kids as they swim. His presence is enough to make everyone leave the pool, and he is left to swim in his flippers, mask and snorkel looking, not dangerous but pathetic. He actually managed at one point to be very sweet: his mum had decided she wasn't going to last for ever, he'd need someone to cook and clean for him, so she posted an ad on his behalf. This produced a rather tragic character (Sheila) with whom she went on a date. Breaking all the first date rules, she speeks about her various breakdowns and reveals a pretty shitty past at the hands of men: Ronnie actually has her feeling pretty good about herself but, unfortunately, he has intimacy issues of his own - no more dates.

And so the movie moves along, gaining momentum: we know that Sarah and Brad are heading towards a split from their respective spouses, we know that Larry is relentless in his pursuit of the bad guy and in a more conventional movie, our expectations would have been met. But as someone I saw the movie with said - we're all set up for closure and then it is denied to us, well the particular closure we thought we'd get anyway.



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