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Little Children

September 15, 2015

LC2004’s Mystic River examined the terrible impact child abuse can have on a person’s life. The Woodsman, also starring Kevin Bacon, took an unflinching look at the life of a convicted child molester trying to re-integrate back into society whilst attempting to free himself of his condition. Bacon’s character is unable to hold down a job once his colleagues uncover his past, and struggles with the temptation to re-offend, whilst simultaneously trying to prevent another man committing a similar crime.

Little Children goes a step further. Whereas Bacon’s character was in some sense sympathetic, Ronnie – convicted of indecent exposure to children – is far less so. Whereas Bacon’s film star looks, and numerous “good guy” roles make it easy to identify with him, Ronnie is played by Jackie Earle Haley, a relative unknown. Furthermore, whereas Bacon is tempted but resists, Ronnie fails and we realise that previously we have only seen him through his mother’s eyes.

Ronnie, who is banned from going within 100 yards of places where large numbers of children might be, turns up at the local pool. The sequence where he swims unnoticed through the water is shot and edited to make it seem like he is on the verge of re-offending. Indeed the sequence incorporates a number of brave point of view shots that make the audience see the world from his distorted perspective. Yet as he is taken away by the police he protests his innocence. In the middle of an unbearable heat wave he was only trying to cool down. Somehow his claim is believable, that is, at least until that latter unveiling.

Ronnie’s story is only part of this film’s overall narrative. The film also draws a number of parallels between each of these three characters.

Firstly, all three are outsiders. Sarah’s undoubted love for her daughter does not hide the fact that she is not as good at it as the other mums she hangs around with. Whilst they introduce strict routines, and obsess about their children’s diets, Sarah forgets her daughters snack. Her friends leave her to desperately thrash about, drowning in feelings of anxiety and inadequacy before offering her a lifeline. But the lifeline seems to be more to demonstrate their superiority than a genuine offer of help.

As a man, Brad is also an outsider to this group of super-parents. Whilst they fill their days dreaming about him, they have no desire convert their fantasy into reality. Brad serves them best as an idealised figure so they keep him at arms length (they don’t even talk to him) to prevent their dreams from getting spoilt. Whilst they condemn Sarah for kissing him they fail to notice the log in their own eyes, resulting from the adultery they have committed in their hearts and minds.

All three lead characters also experience a sense of isolation. Ronnie is pretty much forced to stay inside to avoid trouble. There is no indication of any love in Sarah’s marriage and her only friend is a woman far older than her who she dare not confide in. Whilst Brad and his wife do love each other, their child has come between them, quite literally in fact when it comes to bedtime. His wife Kathy (played by Jennifer Connolly) is so focussed on her career during the day, and her child at night, that she has squeezed Brad out.

A third parallel is the way these three are driven by their desires. Whereas Ronnie is driven by his unhealthy desires, in spite of the consequences, Field also portrays Sarah and Brad in a similar way. There is an inevitability about the path they are moving along, they are caught in the moment, unable to see the consequences of the broken marriages and estranged children that may result if they pursue their current course. Even in those “moments” they are unable to see past their desires. Sarah’s daughter is not good at sleeping during the day, yet Brad and Sarah have sex with no thought that they might be interrupted at any point.

Themes: marriage and family life, sexual abuse and the rehabilitation of offenders, suburban life and personal responsibility.

The film ends with an image of a saddened Sarah sleeping alongside Lucy in their home with the film’s narrator stating: “You couldn’t change the past. But the future could be a different story. And it had to start somewhere.”

When the shot pans over Sarah’s books, they include John Updike’s “Couples” also about married couples in adulterous affairs in the suburbs.
 

May McGorvey: There are four columns of lonely women in here, and only one of lonely men. The odds are on our side. Now why wouldn’t any of these women want to meet a nice person like you?
Ronald James McGorvey: I’m not a nice person.

 

May McGorvey: [Helping Ronnie get ready for his date] There, you look handsome. She won’t be disappointed.
Ronald James McGorvey: Yeah, wait till she hears about my criminal record.

Mary Ann: [the mothers are discussing Ronnie] He should just be castrated. Just snip, quick and easy.
Sarah Pierce: [sarcastically] You know what else you should do? Nail his penis above the entrance to the elementary school. That’d really teach him a lesson.

Mary Ann: Oh that’s nice. So now cheating on your husband makes you a feminist?
Sarah Pierce: No, no, no. It’s not the cheating. It’s the hunger – the hunger for an alternative and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness

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