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Archive for September 24th, 2015

Bobby Henrey as Phillipe

by Lee Price

Sometimes as adults, we forget how lonely and confusing childhood can be. Produced in England in 1948, The Fallen Idol (1948) resonates long after its final scene for its moving central depiction of vulnerability and helplessness.

Fade in on Bobby Henrey as Phillipe, an inquisitive-looking boy peering through a second-floor railing, watching the clockwork precision of the embassy staff below. Everyone has a job to do but him. In his privileged position as the diplomat’s son, Phillipe is simply an observer, like a child in a movie theater (or, more pessimistically, like a prisoner behind bars). Being so young, nine-years-old at the most, he watches intently but probably understands only a fraction of what he sees.

Throughout The Fallen Idol, Phillipe is shown standing apart, often on a threshold, trying to discern what’s going on and how he should respond. He’s struggling to learn the art of social interaction—including the lies and evasions of everyday life—through his clumsy imitations of the adults around him. He misinterprets dialogue and misses important nonverbal cues. He lacks the knowledge and communication skills needed to navigate the confusing adult environment of the London-based embassy where he lives. Virtually parentless and friendless, with only a pet snake and the kind attention of the embassy butler Baines providing company, he appears desperate to make connections. But his attempts at communication increasingly fail as the movie progresses.

At one point, Phillipe overhears Baines on the phone, talking to his lover. “It makes no difference about the boy,” Baines says. “Of course, he doesn’t understand.” The adult viewer naturally anticipates that Phillipe will be hurt by the comment. But Baines is right! His unflattering remark whizzes right past Phillipe. He really doesn’t understand.

With some movies, I tend to forget the actual closing scene. For me, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) ends on a highway, in terrifying communication breakdown with the desperate Miles (Kevin McCarthy) screaming, “You’re next!” at passing cars with oblivious drivers. After that brutal scene, the coda where the authorities suddenly realize the truth—“Operator, get me the Federal Bureau of Investigation!”—swiftly fades from memory. It’s the scene on the highway that cuts to the core of things. I remember that no one is listening. (more…)

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