Saturday, January 01, 2005

It's a Wonderful Kid

Our household New Year's Eve tradition is to stay in, eat too much, and watch movies until midnight, when we toast with sparkling cider, open doors to let the old, stale year out and usher in the fresh, spandy-new one, and go to bed. So last night we watched, first The Day the Earth Stood Still--one of Sarcasm Girl's Christmas presents--and It's a Wonderful Life--a gift from Santa to the whole family.

Sarcasm Girl knows enough now about the early '50s and the climate thereof so that she was able to appreciate TDTESS for its social merits as well as its whiz-bang SF qualities. Younger Girl was a little restive; she got it, but wasn't overwhelmed by it.

As for A Wonderful Life, Sarcasm Girl had seen it before and loves it. As for Younger Girl...I am not sure where the film got the rep of being this treacly confection--it's very dark, with the hero's willingness at every turn to take care of others to his own apparent detriment reading like an anti-Ayn Rand testimonial (or perhaps her worst nightmare of where altruism can get you). By the time the ending comes, you feel like poor ol' George Bailey has earned a little good luck. But YG is a tough cookie, and I had no qualms about her watching it. So we put on the DVD. Younger Daughter gets the whole angels-talking-about-someone-who's-having-a-dark-night-of-the-soul thing at the beginning. She feels terrible when George loses hearing in one ear after he saves his brother's life. But it was the sequence, a few years later, when the druggist, drunk and beside himself at the news that his son has died, boxes George's ears because the kid refused to deliver the pills the druggist had mistakenly put poison in, that got her. I don't think I've ever had my ears boxed, and I know my kids haven't, but I grew up knowing that some parents (or other adults) did strike children. That scene never bothered me. It completely wrecked Younger Girl. We had to stop the DVD for the first time to help her deal with it; she was in tears, outraged at the injustice of the druggist's reaction and horrified that any adult would hit a child hard enough to make him bleed.

There were a good number of other "stops" during the film. We kept asking if she wanted to stop watching, but she kept at it as if it were a particularly tough project she was bound and determined to conquer. At each juncture where George Bailey is forced to put aside his own goals to take care of other people or things (the scene where he swears he's never going to marry anyone, ever! right before he kisses the girl he does in fact marry is particularly good) YG would get tearful and upset. But she kept at it. She hissed Mr. Potter with the gusto of a silent-movie viewer of old ("I want to kick him in the butt!") and thought the children were adorable.

And at the end, when George decides to live, and returns to find that, in the words of Lina Lamont (another film) all his hard work "ain't been in vain for nothin'" YG was absolutely rapt. We congratulated her for sticking it out to the end. "It's a really good movie, but it's hard. I'm glad Clarence got his wings." And then we watched the ball drop in Times Square (adjusted for time differences, of course).

Sarcasm Girl, of course, could not go to bed until I had seen this. Not quite as biting as the bunny version of The Exorcist, perhaps, but satisfying nonetheless.

5 Comments:

Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

It's impossible to guess what film (or story) will catch at a child's imaginative sympathy. I have seen my kids watch movies that I thought would reduce them to tears, and they react as though they had been listening to an oral translation from a cuneiform tablet. Then something else will hit home big-time.

Same thing with the moral imagination, which sounds as though it played a part here. The sense of fairness may be more easily roused than most responses. I remember Emily, at a very young age, watching some Madeline cartoons, in which she usually took an uncomplicated delight. Then from the next room I heard her cry out indignantly, "She saved Madeline's life and you don't even CARE?"

9:49 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Go, Emily! Miss Genevieve has always been one of my favorite dogs.

The one that got Sarcasm Girl, when she was very small, was the Shirley Temple Heidi. The film, which takes considerable liberties with the source text, has Fraulein Rottenmeier, the evil housekeeper, taking out her wrath upon Heidi by trying to sell her to the gypsies. Worse, she's keeping Heidi from getting back to her rightful Grown Up, her grandfather. We had to stop the tape, as the kid dissolved into tears; she was so small she could not quite explain what disturbed her so, except to say "She's only a child! That's a horrible lady!"

Moral outrage indeed.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

I'm so impressed at Younger Girl for sticking it out. Although there is something to be said for Getting To The End so you can know it's over.

1:53 PM  
Blogger claire said...

I knew that girl had it in her.

She is a brave lion. She has has a hard road as a younger sister and yet is One Who Knows She Can Rule The World. But for her to stick through the end of the movie and get it like she did...

What kind of garnet do you think the lass would like?

--claire

7:28 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Oh, something set into a Secret Mistress of the Universe ring, no doubt. (I'm flashing back to Tiberius Foote in Help: "With this ring I could--dare I say it?--Rule the World!"

8:50 PM  

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