Little Children

In the last issue of The Catholic News, the article, Pornography Plague, touched on the concerns and effects of pornography to marriage. In an upcoming adult film, Little Children, we see that effect on the big screen when neglected wife, Sarah (Kate Winslet) discovers that the waning of her husband’s interest in her is largely due to his addiction to a pornographic website. Frustrated with her life (she also dropped out of graduate school), she begins an adulterous affair with Brad (Patrick Wilson), a stay-at-home father who struggles with his own insecurities as his wife (Jennifer Connelly) brings home the bacon and centres her affections on their young son.

The adult characters are ironically the “children” in Little Children and the central theme of the film is captured metaphorically in a single scene towards the end of the film: Sarah’s daughter stares at moths fluttering around the glare of a street lamp, and some ultimately burn themselves up. The film too helps us to observe and penetrate the flawed human condition - often restless and dissatisfied with the status quo, always desiring for more, and eventually, recklessly indulging in dangerous temptations.
A sub-plot portrays Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley), a convicted paedophile, now living with his mother in the neighbourhood, but who is harassed by a former cop, Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich). As Larry vandalises Ronnie’s property and wakes the neighbours at night with his tirades, some observers may rightly attribute Larry’s “war on terror” against Ronnie as the film’s political comment on the rash violence inflicted upon another nation in the name of security.

In their struggle for identity, Ronnie becomes a distraction and excuse for the other characters to rationalise their own fears without looking within their true selves. It is only when disaster strikes that each person learns to take responsibility for their actions, start to grow up, and discover who they are. Although the end is not a neat fairy tale ending, it strongly hints at redemption for the characters.

Yet the film invites us to go deeper. While we may not indulge in adulterous affairs or harass criminals, each of us too is flawed and sinful. Yet do we self-righteously condemn others or do we offer them the compassion and gentleness of Christ? At a Book Club meeting in the film, Sarah comments on what led the title character of Madam Bovary (thus also implying herself) to lead a life of infidelity, “It’s the hunger for an alternative and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness.” It was from unhappy homes where love and understanding were somewhat lacking that led Sarah and Brad to each other’s arms. When we honestly question our own sinfulness and that of others, we realise that as one body in Christ, what we do (or don’t do) affects others. We are responsible for not only our actions but indirectly that of others. In our search for happiness and love, we make choices that can be made responsibly and maturely or childishly and selfishly. But even as we behave like children who are never satisfied as Jesus comments in Matt 11:16-19, we are assured that he also says, “let the little children come to me” in Mark 10:14. It is only when we turn to God through prayer and discernment that we can be assured that our choices and actions lead not to fleeting happiness but lasting joy.

Directed by Todd Field. With adult themes and scenes the film has been rated M18. Caution is advised as some scenes could be offensive to viewers.

(published in The CatholicNews Feb 12, 2007)

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