September 25, 2022
This is not the first time that a film or a novel reveals that children are not always as innocent as they may seem to be. What is revealing here is that the occurrences of malice and cruelty among children seem to happen in a kind of vacuum, when most families have left their homes for family vacations.
The Innocents. A Norwegian thriller and drama by Eskil Vogt, who also wrote the script. It was released in May of 2022.
A young Norwegian family, with two daughters, older sister Anna, who is autistic, and younger sister Ida, move to another city and another home, at a time when most families in their new neighborhood have left for summer vacations.
Among those that are still in the neighborhood are two young children, apparently recent immigrants, from different families, Ben who has some mysterious powers to modify the trajectory of objects and who often uses these powers maliciously, and Aisha, who has powers of her own, telepathic powers, to be more precise, which, in her case, are used for the good, including helping out autistic neighbor Anna.
A lot happens between these four children, including torture (a cat is thrown several stories down and then is crushed to death) murders and deaths, as good and bad uses are made of their special powers. In particular, Ben is presented as, by far, the worst of the lot, as he leaves his mother to lie on her kitchen floor after he, with his special powers, has made a cooking appliance explode in front of her.
As expected, the film commentators have outlined the general idea of the film, which is the fact that children can be cruel in their own way, or as Richard Whittaker, of the Austin Chronicle, has put it, “the ugliness of childhood” or, as Tasha Robinson has described in her post in Polygon, “the banality of evil”.
Freud had observed a long time ago that children are not as innocent as they may seem. Nothing really new there, especially now that we know of all the bullying that now occurs in the physical sphere and the virtual sphere, among children of all ages. The recent European film Playground, earlier in 2021, described bullying at school, through the eyes of children themselves. The malice of children is a recent current theme, at least in European films.
Should we go further in interpreting and understanding this film?
Peter Bradshaw, the premier film critic of The Guardian, does not think we should go much further to understand this film: “It would be tempting to find (the film) legible only as metaphor..for family dysfunction” for example, but ” the film’s force comes from the fact that there is no other level to find in it…(the children) simply have supernatural abilities..something to do with being children, and that is all there is to it” (in this film), adds Bradshaw in conclusion.
This is a very reasonable position, from a premier film critic. But The Movie Shrink, as usual, wants to push a little further, always in search of social dynamics involved, at the risk of paralysis by analysis.
THE MOVIE SHRINK’S TAKE
The Movie Shrink’s take has to do with the particular context of this story about the cruelty of children.
The context of the film is one where most people have left the neighborhood for vacation, and the goings on between the children that are left occur in a kind of social vacuum, in front of deserted and large buildings.
What this context suggests is that the cruel and malicious elements present in children (and in everyone else for that matter) are kept in check in a normal context, in presence of numerous others, where institutions and institutional checks and balances are present and, of course, constraining. This interpretation would seem confirmed when, at the end of the film, when citizens come back to their homes from their summer vacation, and children return to school, things seem to return to some kind of normality.
The Movie Shrink realizes that it may not be exciting to understand a film through the necessary role of institutions (in this case an active school environment and a neighborhood that is alive), but that is nevertheless how the film makes sense and how it is tied together.