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Scary Kids

Friday 21 October 2011, 18:17

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

I've been thinking a lot about Lynne Ramsay's new film We Need To Talk About Kevin and how it fits into a sub-genre that really interests me - movies that explore a strange fear of children and young people. Just why is it that we seem to be afraid of our own kids?

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    Comment number 1.

    I have this hypothesis that it has to do with the nature of children as unformed potential people. There's an inherent uncertainty as to how they will turn out. It could go either way: little angels, or little devils. How many people do you know, under 40, named Damien?

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    Comment number 2.

    I think the root of paedophobia has to do with dependancy, as babies children are dependant on their parents. As they get older that dependancy diminishes to the point where the balance of power tips over to the child and the parent becomes insecure. To use the analogy "baby alligators, grow into great big alligators".

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    Comment number 3.

    Maybe it's a kind of fear of the unknown (as Brian more or less says above) - after all, who can remember exactly how they thought as a child? Maybe there's something inherently alien about children, because we'll never be able to relate to them in the same way that we can relate to other adults?

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    Comment number 4.

    I'm not quite sure that We Need To Talk About Kevin fits into paedophobia and the fear of children. I think it has a much more deeply provocative theme: the hatred of children. Throughout the film Eva shows a loathing for her child, even at the end when everything is revealed, she still hates Kevin, not fear him.

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    Comment number 5.

    I was about to launch into a waffle about how Alien could be seen as paedophobic, but then I remembered that it isn't.

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    Comment number 6.

    [ TECHIES: hey is the video missing, or have you changed how you deliver it. I can see video on other entries of this blog, but it doesn't appear here. I've tested it under multiple browsers / computers ]

    I think there is an element, even for those of us with relatively happy childhoods, that memory of how deeply unpleasant children can be to each other, especially those moments when as soon as adult supervision disappears, it can turn on a dime and go all Lord of the Flies. These films tap into that helplessness in the face of irrational, merciless cruelty. Also, perhaps the great magnification of emotion in childhood (if the film of Where the Wild Things Are was successful at anything, it convincingly replayed that bipolar intensity), leads both pain and rage to be writ large, and we rightfully fear the power of that monster, moppet, child.

    Of course the theme isn't only on the big screen, but in lit and on stage as well. Apart from Lord of the Flies, there's Ray Bradbury's The Small Assassin, William March's The Bad Seed (subsequently an adapted broadway then film hit by Maxwell Anderson). These play with the notion that children are indistinguishable from sociopaths (and vice versa when they are pint sized), as it is only as they mature that they are seen to conform to those societal and social rules that keep us from maim, murder and mayhem.

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    Comment number 7.

    Village of the Damned

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    Comment number 8.

    The Picturehouse Exeter have We Need to Talk about Kevin as their Big Scream club (film screenings exclusively for parents with babies under one year old) this week - now that's challenging film scheduling

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    Comment number 9.

    The video doesn't show up on my computer either. So the issue is indeed on the end of the beeb.

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    Comment number 10.

    I think #6 (Brian) may have hit the nail on the head there. That (the obvious fact that children lack the judgment that (most) adults do have) was what I was going to say too but then I changed my mind.

    Anyway, I assume that's one of the main reasons one could be uneasy around children.

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    Comment number 11.

    Isn't it just a variation on the fear of the unknown, the fear of change? Children represent our future, but that future isn't known, and it's a very human thing to fear what we don't know. Haneke got to the very root of this in The White Ribbon, where the children represent the future of Germany, the generation who would mature in the 1930s.

    I'm not even sure that paedophobia is that dominant a theme in cinema, since there are just as many that deal with its flipside, the sins of our fathers - A Nightmare on Elm Street, Pan's Labyrinth etc.

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    Comment number 12.

    [Thanks TECHIES!] Now that I've seen the video, I'd say my shot in the dark comments above are slightly beside the point that Mark has made, but that these films prey on a set of anxieties that include both the fear of the wild irrationality of children, and the nagging suspicion that they've smarter. This means they've out evolved us, and made us obsolete, and may have no compunction about doing away with us if it suits 'em.

    That's why Hollywood makes films aimed at teenagers, to keep them dazed and confused, entertained, and therefore docile. We've got to stop Mark Cousins trying to teach children how to make movies themselves, we'll have outlived our usefulness. God bless Michael Bay, he's making the future safe for everyone over thirty.

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    Comment number 13.

    As a teacher and hopefully one day parent, I agree with some of the posts here that liken the fear of children or young people as a fear of the unknown. The thing I'm most fearful of when becoming a parent is that despite my efforts my children will turn out corrupt, socially inept or just plain bad. Often people blame parents for wayward children, and while this may on the whole be a worthy argument there are many instances when despite the pained efforts of loving parents their children turn out...well...just plain wrong and there's nothing that can be done to influence them. Now how scary is that?

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    Comment number 14.

    Hello from the Good Old USA

    I have two suggestions:
    1) The Shining - I believe that the between the twins who talk in monotone and at the same time and Mr "Redrum", "The Shining" has some terrifying children.
    2) Paranormal Activity 3 - Come on, those two girls were terrifying, and furthermore, why did they have to wear those white gowns? I thought those were only required for people going through an exorcism.

    Have a great day good doctor

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    Comment number 15.

    When you say "they're smarter than us", I don't think it's necessarily rational, IQ-type smartness. Sure, better diets, as a result of raised standards of living in the last century, may have improved human brains somewhat.

    But I doubt that is what the horror genre is concerned with. I'm convinced it has more to do with the fact that we see children as being closer to nature, and thus potentially feral, because they have not yet been conditioned and domesticated to the level of civilized adults. Not that adults are less violent, it's just that adult violence has been given a seemingly justifiable context, such as "defending the fatherland" or more recently, "spreading freedom and democracy". The violence of children does not have such a "reassuring" context and can thus be seen as diabolical. The horror genre, being romantic, has always considered nature as being more powerful than civilisation and thus something to be feared.

    As you alluded to, with the rise of mass media the role of conditioning children has been increasingly taken away from parents. And the media itself have become more visual, and therefore more prone to conveying irrationality (more nature-like), which children, with their not yet fully-formed rational defence mechanisms, connect to far more easily than adults. Adults (in particular parents) may feel "left out", and in the horror genre this "bond of irrationality" is often given a hyperbolic, consipiratorial angle.

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    Comment number 16.

    Dr. K.

    It's funny you should bring this subject up. I am film school graduate and am currently writing a horror feature on this very subject. It still needs work but I'm very excited.

    As you are a horror fan and authority on the genre it would be great to get feedback on the concept and script.

    If you feel like it.

    It's a long shot, but hey you know.

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    Comment number 17.

    Can't believe you quoted Stephen King but failed to mention Children of the Corn! Or Who Can Kill a Child? for that matter.

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    Comment number 18.

    One of the most interesting things about We Need to Talk about Kevin the novel is it is essentially written by Eva. The reader has no idea whether she is telling the truth and she seems to think that Kevin, even when crying as a child is doing it to spite her.

    I have not seen the film yet but am incredibly exited to. It looks incrediable.

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    Comment number 19.

    Great timing for this blog entry.
    I've just recently seen "The Exorcist" for the first time (really great movie, although I'm not sure I would consider it to be the masterpiece Dr.K. sees it as), as well as the original "Ringu". I love horror movies with scary children. They really hit a nerv in me and I can't explain why. Maybe it has to do with the fact, that the children we see and meet in our daily life are laughing or crying, are innocent and occasionaly clumsy. The children we see in horror movies are often portraid in a way that you wouldn't expect from a child. Many of them behave in an unusual way, like Regan in "The Exorcist" who uses very stong language with sexual content that just doesn't seem right with such a young girl or Lilith in "Case 39" who psyco analyses the adults around her. Others are shown to be emotionless and cold for example Damien in "The Omen" or the little boy in "The Grudge" (not a very good movie but this little kid freaked me out like hell!). A cold, expresionless child face has something very unnatural and scary. It simply can be very frightening when you have a child which is capabel to hide it's emotions, because usually children are exactly the opposite. The usually have their emotions written all over their faces.
    I think the best example for those scary elements is Sadako in "Ringu". She's not scary, because she has those dangereus powers. She is scary because you can't see her face and therefor no emotions. Also her body language is completly unnatural. Slowly walking, hanging arms and sholders... if anything she moves more like an old person than a young girl.

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    Comment number 20.

    Possesion is something different to a realistaion. At some point you start to realise the spawn of your loins might be the son of Satan and causing your friends and family to die in nasty ways is pretty terrible. Gregory Peck tried to kill Damien. Ellen Bernstein tried to help her daughter who was possessed and hadn't really done anything other than swear and annoy the Pope.

    A more apt question would be, if your son was Henry from 'Portrait' or Pesci in 'Casino' or Hitler from 'WW2' perhaps...

    I'm actually not even sure what your question is really, is this a test of the morality of the readers and contributers to your blog? Are you perhaps trying to weed out those with Satanic, serial killer or possessed off spring?

    Paranoia is scary, reality is far worse, being a prisoner to your fears is terrifying.

 

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