07 January 2007

Little Children

Generally I am put off by voice-over narration in film, as it is usually condescendingly explanatory -- moving pictures ought to speak for themselves. The narration in Todd Field’s latest movie, Little Children, is no exception, and yet it manages to work successfully by complementing the film’s visual elegance with an aural literary elegance.

Fields displays a masterful command of the medium through his powerful imagery (for example, an empty stroller left in the backyard in the rain while inside and upstairs adultery ensues), gorgeous widescreen composition, and exceptional editing. Two stories are told simultaneously, and they occasionally overlap: one concerns an extramarital affair born of suburban malaise between Brad (Patrick Wilson) and Sarah (Kate Winslet in a fearless performance), while the other concerns an ex-cop’s pathological obsession with a sex-offender, Ronald McGorvey, recently released back into the general suburban population. The film is often hilarious, particularly in its portrayal of suburban life.

But more often it's disturbing; in one scene, McGorvey frankly confesses to his mother, marvelously played by Phyllis Sommerville, “I have a psychosexual disorder.” Every character in the film has a psychosexual disorder; they are all dissatisfied with their unfulfilling suburban existence and they express it sexually, whether through extramarital affairs, internet pornography obsessions, sexual frigidity, or inappropriate public exposure. Unhealthily and unfairly, they displace their sexual anxieties onto McGorvey, particularly Larry, the ex-cop, whose inability to deal with his own latent homosexuality loses him his wife and motivates him to stalk McGorvey obsessively. They are all reduced to little children, and unfortunately many of these irresponsible people have little children of their own.

Ultimately, though, the film is modestly hopeful, at least for some of those involved. Honest introspection, and growing up, isn’t impossible, just hard. Not every Emma Bovary wannabe needs to drink poison.

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