Lemony Snicket's Is Quite the Clever Film Indeed
- Thursday, December 16, 2004
They go to live with their Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), a lovely widow with great affection for children, but who is afraid of most everything one could possibly imagine. Josephine does not venture near her refrigerator, for fear that it will fall on her. Nor does she eat avocadoes (the pit might stick in her throat) or use her doorknobs, which could explode at any moment. That she lives in a rickety house perched precariously over a lake full of the same leeches that killed her husband seems to miss the poor woman entirely – unlike perfect grammar, Josephine’s specialty. But Count Olaf manages to insert himself into their lives yet again, and it does not bode well at all for their grammatically-correct aunt.
At his wit’s end, Olaf attempts to marry Violet by kidnapping Sunny and locking her in a cage that hangs several stories high. To carry out his plan, he stages a theatrical performance – his real love, after money, despite the fact that he is a most horrific actor. But yet again, the children prevail.
This last story happens to be the first one in the book, for those who care about such things, and some of the other stories are cut short or even omitted. But this rearranging of the narrative of the first three books (upon which the film is based), is a rather petty detail. Rest assured that the film adheres quite strictly to not only the various plots, the tone and the magnificent characterization of the books, but also makes use of their excellent employ of the English language, which teaches children difficult words like persnickety and puerile. The acting was, quite unanimously, inspired (Carrey is very, very good, as are Streep and the children), and was only topped by the most excellent sets and costumes (both of which are a combination of Victorian and Gothic). Children – those who love dark tales, that is – will be most delighted, as was this reviewer. It is quite the clever film, and it is not surprising that the 11 books in the series were not only the first to knock “Harry Potter” off the top of the New York Times children’s bestseller list, but have also remained there for more than 600 weeks combined, having sold more than 27 million copies worldwide. Author Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) must be very wealthy – er, happy – indeed.
Of course, it must be said that the message of both the film and the books is a humanist one (a word meaning, relying on humans – as opposed to animals, nature or especially, God – for solutions to all of their problems). There is nothing spiritual about it, not one bit. It is also a very dark tale indeed that, despite a strong history of this kind of writing in literature (most notably Victorian), may alarm certain parents because it teaches children that the world is an evil place and that few adults can be trusted (although the narrative, by Jude Law, attempts to overcome this message at the end). Also disturbing to some may be the use of a few profanities (three muffled; one overt) and some questionable subtitles (such as “Bite me” and “Schmuck”) used to “interpret” Sunny’s babbles. Such a shame. So proceed with caution.
On the other hand, the film presents very clearly the battle that we all face, between good and evil. It emphasizes the values of knowledge, reading and problem-solving for children. And, as all stories must, it does end on a positive note, despite the author’s claims. Count Olaf is still after the children and their considerable fortune, but they have learned that “as long as there is something to invent, something to read, and something to bite” – which there will, most assuredly, always be – “there will always be a way to create a sanctuary, however small, to comfort oneself.” And in a world full of great peril – which this film does not hesitate to underscore, be well advised – this is a message that will no doubt fill many children with a sense of power. That will be particularly important for those who live in what would clearly be considered powerless circumstances.
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