When I first saw this film three years I’m afraid that some of the themes may have went over my young head…so last week when I caught it showing I decided I’d take a look. After all Kate Winslet plus Jackie Earle Haley in Oscar nominated performances and directed by Todd Field – it was at least going to be a good film. Little Children is not an enjoyable film though…there were scenes that just made me recoil in something – not quite horror but close.
The main story is Sarah’s. A suburban housewife, the story is not exactly new. Married to a man she has come to despise with a child she has doesn’t understand or care to, Sarah is the cinematic equivalent of a desperate housewife – but without the hilarity. She doesn’t fit in with the other mothers. But she isn’t the only unhappy person in the neighbourhood. A stay at home dad, Brad has been studying for the bar for some years, failing consecutively. Brad feels trapped and emasculated staying at home as his wife goes off to earn the money. In the wake of both their moroseness the two begin an affair. But although, Sarah is the core of the story there are others.
Most notably Ronnie, a middle aged man living with his mother. Ronnie has a record for indecent exposure to a child. He is a sad and lonely man shepherded by his mother.
Little Children does establish itself as a sort of thriller. There are some shots by Field that just seem to heighten the suspense – suspense for what? I’m not exactly sure. The amount of time the screen goes black and that pulsating score begins – I can’t even remember. Field’s directing is succinct and appropriate. The film is bleak and although it’s not exactly quality cinema [what is?], he does the best he can do with it.
I remember the first time I saw this I was annoyed with the ending. After a thoroughly bleak film, at least they could have their happy ending. But this time around, it was not a sense of sadness I felt as much as a sense of relief. I can’t be sure what the author of the novel intended to establish with the screenplay [and the novel]. But I know what I think. I always though that the Little Children referred to in the title were the offspring of Brad and Sarah and the prospective victims of Ronnie. But this time around I realised that all the characters are like little children. Brad’s passive aggression and indecisiveness, Sarah's dissatisfaction and pettiness, Kathy’s immaturity at that dinner scene where she drops her spoon to see if Brad and Sarah are playing footsie, Larry, who is so frustrated with his life he wants to destroy all around him…and the list goes on. They all are little children…and I think, maybe, at the end Sarah, and possibly Larry do grow up.
Sarah realises the importance of her daughter and she leaves with her. Brad, however, still remains a child. If one is going for a romantic getaway with a young lady, will you really stop to skateboard with some street hoodlums? I never understood what was behind this decision. But it’s Brad’s childishness. Even if he doesn’t know it himself, this is his indecisiveness – his unreliability. He doesn’t want to make a decision; he doesn’t really want to run off with Sarah, he doesn’t really want to stay with his wife either. He wants a decision to be made for him. Maybe it's sour grapes on my part, but perhaps, it's better for Sarah if he stays with his wife.
There is a line in the film where the narrator comments about Brad's physical goodness. It’s a powerful scene as we see that Brad just may not be as nice as he looks... and perhaps one of the film’s themes is the blurring of inner beauty against outer beauty. Measuring Ronnie against Brad against Larry, Sarah against Kathy. Maybe there is no obvious answer as to who is a better person – and that’s probably the terribleness of this all. This could be real life. But there’s good and evil in us…and at the end of the day…maybe we all are little children.