Cast: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley
Director: Todd Field
Year of Release: 2006
ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE
Loneliness comes in different shapes and sizes. Little Children, it can then safely be said, is a department store of solitude. Set in a Boston suburb, the film’s many characters find themselves marooned. Their islands have been invented by both, them and their circumstance. Their desperation is a result of their discontent. Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) finds that her three-year-old daughter Lucy is unknowable. Compared to the overbearing mothers she meets in the park, her parenting seems insufficient. Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson) finds it impossible to pass his bar exam, and the father of four-year-old Aaron suffers an unshakable nostalgia. Life for them was once better.
Rebelling against the prudery of housewives who lecture her on morality and motherhood, Sarah kisses Brad when they first talk. A wife whose husband is addicted to online pornography, Sarah soon discovers an agency she had otherwise lost. For Brad, the affair he embarks on is escape. Sarah is everything his wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is not – imperfect, indulgent, intuitive – and finally, there are two characters in the film who are on the same page, whose desire for pleasure isn’t thwarted. Sarah becomes part of a book group that meets to discuss Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Defending the protagonist’s infidelities, she argues that a life of misery should be struggled against. Sarah makes a case for hunger, “the hunger for an alternative, and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness.” She audaciously says Madame Bovary is a feminist. It’s clear that she is one too.
Little Children is a film that assaults preconceived notions of right and wrong. As you see Sarah and Brad make love in the attic, your empathy is not clouded by judgment. But it is the character of Ronnie James McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley) who violently challenges your comfortable moral framework. A convicted paedophile, Ronnie lives with his mother. Their home is vandalised. They’re woken up in the middle of night by vigilantes. Despite these intrusions, however, Little Children does not simply make the victimiser a victim. You feel dread when you see Ronnie stare at the legs of children swimming in the town pool. He even masturbates outside a playground, but by lending him an interiority of sorts, the film forces us to detect something human in a nebulous evil.
Adapting the book Little Children by Tom Perrotta, Todd Field had directed a film that is beautifully literary. With Will Lyman as narrator, Field filled the inherent silences of suburbia with a voice that was rich and illuminating. In one scene, Sarah and her husband Richard (Greg Edelman) are invited by Brad and Kathy for dinner. We hear the voiceover say, “Sexual tension is an elusive thing, but Kathy had pretty good radar for it. It was like someone had turned a knob to the right, and the radio station clicked in so loud and clear it almost knocked her over.” These lines, much like the film’s performances, are delectable. Winslet especially deserved the Oscar nomination she earned.
The surface of genteel domesticity is constantly scratched by Little Children, and like any good book, it doesn’t browbeat you into arriving at any pat conclusion. There’s no comeuppance or retribution in the film which seems to oscillate between drama and black comedy. It simply observes the actions of those who throw caution to the wind in their pursuit of fulfilment. With ‘Eleanor Rigby’, the Beatles had asked some pertinent questions – “All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” This film does throw up answer or two.