Little Children Inhabit a Land of the Lost
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- Updated Apr 30, 2010
Release Date: October 20, 2006 (wide)
Rating: R (for strong sexuality and nudity, language and some disturbing content.)
Run Time: 130 min.
Director: Todd Field
Actors: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Gregg Edelman, Jackie Earle Haley, Noah Emmerich
We all make mistakes, and everyone has flaws. These are truisms that even a little child knows.
Todd Field's Little Children fleshes out these lessons in a film of remarkable performances, solid storytelling, cinematic skill - and a whole lot of flesh. Too much flesh, in fact. For in telling the story of two unhappily married individuals who enter into an affair, Field gives us explicit scenes of sexuality that illustrate too vividly the destructive desires of his protagonists.
Little Children is also a film with no heroes - if you're looking for role models, look elsewhere. Where the film excels - and does so in spades - is in showing the power of private sins to damage our lives, and how public sins can destroy reputations and turn an individual into a community pariah.
Kate Winslet stars as Sarah, one of a cadre of married moms who meet regularly at the neighborhood playground. While their children play, the women obsess on the playground's other visitor: a lone stay-at-home dad, whom they fantasize about from afar. On a bet, Sarah approaches Brad (Patrick Wilson) to acquire his phone number, but ends up kissing him instead. The kiss sparks a longing within both Brad and Sarah (given voice by a droll narrator who recites plum portions of the Tom Perrotta novel on which the film is based), and the two embark on an affair.
Brad uses football practice and supposed studying for his third attempt at passing the bar exam as cover for the romantic interludes, while Sarah attends a neighborhood book club to acquire the social interaction lacking in her marriage. Her husband, Richard (Gregg Edelman), is too consumed with online pornography to pick up on his wife's wandering eye, but Brad's wife, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), is not so dense. She invites Sarah and Richard over for a dinner party, waits to have her suspicions about Sarah confirmed, and then puts Brad on a short leash.
Adding to the personal unrest at the heart of Little Children is Ronald James McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley), a convicted sex offender who has recently moved to the neighborhood to live with his mother. Though softened from the book, Ronnie is a loathsome character who fights a losing battle against his sexual disorder. His presence in the neighborhood gives Sarah and Brad a focus for their discontent, and, in the case of disgraced cop Larry (Noah Emmerich), an outlet for bottled-up rage.
Ronald's mother, May, shows her son compassion, but hers is a naïve love. And yet it is, though frustrating, fiercely protective against the vociferous attacks on her son by Larry, who makes it his mission to humiliate and publicly ridicule Ronald.
Field's impressive adaptation of Perrotta's novel (Perrotta and Field co-wrote the screenplay) retains the biting satire early in the story, and the growing insecurities that lead several characters to a climactic rendezvous at the same playground where Brad and Sarah first met. The film alters the book's conclusion, giving Ronald a different comeuppance and spelling out a moral equivalency among the characters that would better be left open to interpretation.
The conclusion also includes multiple apologies for wrongs committed, but forgiveness is another matter. It's not clear that Field and Perrotta are interested in forgiveness as much as they are in insisting that we're all moral failures. Nevertheless, this recognition of weakness is not the same as acceptance, and the film's hope-filled final words make clear that transformation may await these characters - or already may be under way.
Little Children is the first movie of the fall to lay claim to awards consideration. The acting, from the leads as well as the supporting players, is impeccable. Field's direction is visually spot-on, especially in depicting female isolation and macho male bonding. However, the film includes explicit sexuality, images of online pornography and episodes of sexual disorder that go further than needed.
Field may want to confront us with the raw realities of these behaviors. If so, he succeeded, but to what end? Anyone familiar with Scripture already understands the depths to which created beings can sink. It's the renewing power of godliness that re-creates us. Little Children dives into the former, but barely even hints at the latter. Viewers are advised to proceed with extreme caution. There are rewards here, but a price to pay in acquiring them.
- Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; multiple four-letter words; a woman is referred to as a goddess.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Bar scenes.
- Sex/Nudity: Explicit sex scenes, with nudity; passionate kissing; a woman speaks of others' fantasy lives; a woman wears a revealing bathing suit; online pornography; scenes of implied masturbation; brief references to transvestites, anonymous gay sex, and anal sex; a man sniffs a pair of panties.
- Violence: A young child strikes her mother; a young boy recounts hearing about his father's death in combat; a police officer is accused of shooting an innocent boy; tackle football, without any pads; a frail woman gasps for breath after a run-in with a bully; multiple verbal and visual references to castration; a man cuts his finger with a knife.
Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema