Saturday, July 26, 2008

They're Not That Innocent.

"Matilda told such dreadful lies, it made one gasp and stretch one's eyes"
Hilaire Belloc

They say that drunkards and children always tell the truth.
And while it’s true that alcohol makes people lose their inhibitions and children are allegedly pure and good, the adage becomes questionable when you examine the nature of what they understand by the concept of truth.
In William Wyler’s “The Children’s Hour” (1961) and Joe Wright’s “Atonement” (2007) two young girls “misinterpret” facts and create truths of their own, changing forever the lives of those around them.
In “Children’s”, Mary Tilford (Karen Balkin) is a young, spoiled girl living in a boarding school. Faced with the possibility of being accused of bad behavior to her grandmother (Fay Bainter), she creates a diversion by revealing to her that her two teachers (played by Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine) are secret lovers.
Word immediately gets out in the little New England town and before long, the women have become outcasts at the mercy of a little girl’s presumptions.
“Atonement” has Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), a precocious twelve year old devoted to the written word. After writing her first play, which she is to direct with her cousins as cast, she begins to realize that there’s a bigger stage than the one she crafts for her dolls and stuffed animals.
After tying knots in her head she accuses the housekeeper’s son (James McAvoy) of committing a crime she is sure she was witness of. When in fact what Briony is doing is pulling off a deus ex machine (with her as deus) playing with people as literary figures in her most ambitious project.
The definition of lie deems that there must be “a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood” but in both Mary and Briony’s case you can debate the end they wished to achieve by using lies as the means.
When Mary repeats the rumors she’s heard in her school, she uses the word unnatural to the dismay of her grandmother who finds it a forbidden word (Remember that in the 1960’s they couldn’t throw the word lesbian around just like that). But the viewer wonders, what could be more unnatural than a child becoming a messenger of cruelty?
Balkin’s performance is remarkable, if you watch the movie and don’t wish to spank her and ground her for decades then you are the nicest person in the world, but what remains disturbing is the idea that in a way Mary isn’t lying to save her skin, as much as she is trying to satisfy her curiosity.
Deep down she knows that she can’t come and face grownups with issues like the ones dealt with in the plot, her only way of entering the adult world then is using them as scandal.
Only by playing innocent about things, she probably knows nothing about, is she able to justify her existence.
In the very same way a passage in “Atonement”, witten by Ian McEwan, describes Briony as someone who picked up the dictionary and randomly chose complicated words to feel part of the adult world.
While the movie doesn’t show this, Ronan’s performance lets you know that this girl is always picking up things in her surroundings.
This makes you question not only essential parenting skills, but also how important it is for children to understand the world around them.
How long do you have to wait before teaching them about things like sexuality and cause/consequence relations?
Later in the film, and in the novel, Briony grows up to her 70’s but the youngest version of her is the one that lingers in your mind.
Both Mary and Briony have to carry with the weight of deaths and sorrow in their minds, but we only get to see how the burden affects Briony.
She remains looking for the title atonement for the rest of her life, one that could’ve been prevented, but we never know for sure what steps to take to have made a difference.
And in a manner of speaking both characters are so powerful because at one time we were them as well.
Whether we were lying about breaking our grandma’s favorite flower pot, about stealing the last cookie in the jar or about what that cigarette smell is doing in our clothes, we never know for sure what the effect of our words will have on others.
Sure makes you want to be a baby again huh?

- This post is part of the"Rugrats Blog-a-thon" hosted by Michael Parsons of "My Stuff and Cr*p"


Michael Parsons said...

Thank you thank you thank you Jose! That was wonderful. I was wondering is Briony would feature. (I almost did her).

Another fantastic piece. I have yet to see "The Childrens Hour" and really want to. Now I have no choice.

Thank you again! I hope you enjoy it (small turn out, but better than expected!)

elgringo said...

The best part about Atonement is watching Saoirse Ronan out-act Keira Knightly.

The second best part is the score, using the typewriter sounds, fantastic. I had never heard anything like that before.