Seen and not Herd

13/11/2011 in Alexis King, Drama, Romance

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When a voice-over is used in film I often find myself asking… why?

In many cases we are being presented with the inner world of a protagonist making confession in contrast or sometimes complementary to the activity we are watching that cannot be conveyed in a simultaneous visual. Think Ray Liotta in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990).
On other occasions it is simple narration like a storyteller providing transition from scene to scene or time to time, like Morgan Freeman in Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption (1994), a device borrowed from as far back as Shakespeare and beyond.

In the worst of examples it is used to condescend to the audience upon the assumption that you are too ignorant and unsophisticated to understand the subtleties of the piece and in so doing not only does it undermine the skills of the actor but makes an attempt at being definitive and therefore authoritarian.

Then there is the voice of God.

Todd Field’s Little Children (2006) manages to capture the essence of the latter two of these uses for voice-over in the most magnificently irritating fashion.

Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson in Todd Field's Little Children

The brilliance of a film like Donnie Darko (2001), not dissimilar in its sleepy neighbourhood setting or its unseen shadow character issues to Little Children is that at no point did director Richard Kelly attempt to define what you are watching or each character’s ‘point’, ‘motivation’ or ‘moral degree’.

Field by contrast has Will Lyman interject his chocolate and rum soaked baritone frequently but neither to enlighten nor from the perspective of a character made manifest visually and so from a disembodied position seemingly apart from and apparently ‘above’ this world he furnishes us with at the least a pulpit definition of the narrative and at worst an attempt at ordaining a divine righteousness.

So, what is that code?

You are all helpless little children who just can’t manage without big daddy.

The morality ‘bed time story’, conveyed through this voice over, completes its fable at the end of the film, when select characters realise the error of their ‘errant’ ways and appear to ‘grow up’.

Kate Winslet as Sarah in Todd Field's Little Children

This kind of preaching of adherence to a social code of peer pressure so imposed upon the neighbourhoods of middle America to a wider audience not conditioned to it in their everyday life, exposes the apologist sympathies of Mr. Field and writer Tom Perotta.

Kate Winslet’s hopeless romantic is condemned to a marriage with a man in love only with business and commerce, a man disconnected from humanity by an existence spent attempting to enslave people to consumerism by the sorcery of ‘branding’.
In apparent punishment for her being adjudged the archetypal “bad mother”, she will be made to accept a life with the kind of person, almost logically given his corporate habitat, who becomes at first titillated and then obsessed by a character who only exists to him as a result of the technotronic world.

Patrick Wilson is perpetually hounded by wife Jennifer Connelly to enter the already over-populated tomb that is the United States legal profession while she makes a seemingly upstanding living from, amongst other unknown documentary topics, re-traumatising the bereaved children of war dead soldiers and exploitatively filming it for our ‘infotainment’.

Jennifer Connelly as Kathy in Todd Field's Little Children

Again, almost as a punishment for his extended play time that has continued into his adulthood, and culminating in his apparent relenting when he dares to take to a skateboard, an activity that is the exclusive preserve of no good dropout anarchists, Wilson must not be allowed to succeed in his bid for freedom.

Jackie Haley’s ‘demon’ pedophile only finds redemption through self-mutilation, in apparent acknowledgment that if you cannot use your equipment in a responsibly adult manner, you don’t deserve to have it and in echo of the media alarms and the more draconian repeater character’s suggestions throughout the film. Yet there is only suspicion and suggestion not proof of Ronnie being a genuine threat to actually harm.

In a wider sense this presentation of a character to suggest that the threat to the exploitation, molestation or potential abuse of children will only come from a lone individual, a stranger in the neighbourhood and not from a far more pernicious source like within the family or via institutions and organised networks systematically operating to serve the sick proclivities of those at the highest levels is appealing all the more to a current and ubiquitous media misdirection for what is child abuse and who are the genuine and most frequent perpetrators of it.

Sadie Goldstein, Kate Winslet, Ty Simpkins and Patrick Wilson in Todd Field's Little Children

‘Responsible’ Connelly and orthodox Edelman escape any moral comeuppances, whilst Noah Emmerich’s child shooter ex-cop Larry exits stage left a veritable hero.

It would appear then that this story is asserting an idea that adulthood be less about growing to any genuine maturity or self discovery than about conformity and falling in line.

So whether we write in a diary of our longings for love, run to our mummy when we need help, want to just play with the boys or bully those weaker, because we in turn are subjected to bullies, should your behaviours fall within the narrow defined parameters of the group-think you are good to go.

If not you will receive a smacked bum from Uncle Sam.

Available at Amazon

Little Children (2006) – Directed by Todd Field.

Images courtesy of New Line Cinema.

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