Last night I watched Little Children, a film by director Todd Field. Field's films are dark with with a powerful moral core that questions the integrity of suburban life (see also his film In the Bedroom). As I watched Little Children I couldn't help but wonder how this film was not nominated for "Best Picture." True, I felt like I was watching the sequel to American Beauty, but this should not take away from the power of a film that, in many ways, tells the a more compelling story than American Beauty while tapping into the real horror of white, middle-class life. Infidelity, pornography, perversion, isolation, gossip, and day care: this film has a threesome with comedy, melancholy, and beauty. Ben Folds' picture of the rockin' suburbs finds a home in this film, right next to Edger Allan Poe's usual dose of disdain for the complacent and Van Gogh's idea of a good Christmas present.
Little Children tells the stories of an unhappy mother and a stay-at-home dad who are unhappy in their given situations. During this time, a many who was arrested for exposing himself to a minor (probably masturbating in front of a young girl) moves into the area, and an ex-cop, with nothing else to do, makes it his mission to make this "ex-con" feel unwelcome by posting fliers with his mug all over town, while honking at his house in the middle of the night. This character is the scapegoat of the community. In Walter Wink's Unmasking the Powers, he addresses a community's need for a scapegoat (using the story of the Legion-possessed man as his support). A scapegoat serves several purposes. Obviously, scapegoats allow blame to be cast where it should not be cast. However, this man has done terrible things and, to a degree, does not redeem himself right away. But the community's demonizing of him reveals their own fears. The film reveals the secrets of several people in this suburb: a transvestite neighbour, a husband who travels to sleep with random men, people having affairs, women gazing at men they wish they were with instead of their boring husbands, and a husband choosing porn over his wife. The "pervert" is the blatant example of this community's hidden sin. These are not good people. They are petty, arrogant, and uninspired to do anything meaningful beyond join a book club and discuss what they want to see happen rather than cause change.
I find that I left this film angry and confirmed in my hatred of the burbs, but still hopeful. I refuse to allow my family to become a vacuum of apathy that only cares about who's front lawns are properly cared for. The highlight of my week will be spend reflecting on the old days when I felt more alive. My family will not be tied down by the need for a big house. My family will know our neighbours (but this will be in a city context, still no suburbs). Little Children is a reminder of what happens when everyone around you is white-or has been assimilated into the "white" way of life. It's a sad attempt at the American Dream that ultimately ends in some poor attempts at meaning through meaningless jobs or the pathetic idea that life is all about making it to retirement. Pardon the tangent but I really hate how privileged and isolated so many are in this fucking country. While Little Children does not truly offer a way out, it offers hope in a place that, by nature, is bound to tear itself apart. Conclusion: see Little Children, it's better than every film that was nominated for "Best Picture." Sorry, as much as I loved Little Miss Sunshine, but Little Children was a little better.