Friday, February 6, 2009

Two Sides To Every Story

Going to see Coraline tonight. Have avoided most reviews, but cannot resist some links presented at Neil Gaiman's blog. Compare and contrast:
While watching this movie I couldn’t help thinking it’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers for kids. I wouldn’t let any of my children under 12 see this version of Coraline.
--Diana Saenger's Review Express, via.
There are many scenes and images in “Coraline” that are likely to scare children. This is not a warning but rather a recommendation, since the cultivation of fright can be one of the great pleasures of youthful moviegoing.
--NYT Movie Review, via.

I tend to side with the New York Times on this one. Besides, remember the G.K. Chesterton epigram Gaiman chose to open Coraline with? "Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." Children need to be told that dragons can be beaten. They need stories of children like themselves overcoming frightening situations (and emerging the braver for it) and impossible odds (thereby inculcating a sense of hope).

Clearly, not being a mother myself, I have no right to criticize my friend who insists she will not allow her young daughter to see this, because it's too scary, and her daughter is a remarkably sensitive child. But I can't help but think that I, too, was a sensitive child--oversensitive, to hear my teachers tell it--and I would have bristled mightily at the age of 5 had my mother attempted to shield me from scariness. Granted, I shielded myself from a great deal of scariness. But if I'd wanted to see such a thing, nothing would be more sure to elicit an "oh yeah?!" out of me than Mom telling me that my delicate sensibilities must be protected from frights.

Hell, even had I not wanted to go see a movie like this one, all it would take was Mom forbidding it for me to suddenly, desperately want to go--and to resolve never to admit the nightmares I'd suffer for it later. (And I learned to treasure nightmares by the time I was a pre-teen. Nightmares are adventures.) And you will note that Gaiman says of the "too scary" review that "It's the kind of review that would have had me tunnelling out of my bedroom in order to see the film, when I was a kid."

Tell a kid "It's too much for you," and you will shortly hear the unmistakable sounds of youthful defiance. "Oh YEAH?!" You tell 'em, kid.

John and I are not planning on having kids, which disqualifies us, like I said before, from pontificating on parenthood. When people ask us, "When will you have kids?" we say, "As soon as we stop being kids ourselves." I think that's probably a good answer, actually. The fact that I can remember being 3, 8, 11, 16 in great detail and with undiminished emotional impact would probably make me a horrible mother.

Still, I often wonder if parents who attempt to shield their children from fictional experiences that are "too scary" or "too adult" remember in the slightest what it was like to be a child, and how they reacted as a child when told "no" for no good reason they could see, and how those seemingly unreasonable "no"s engendered distrust, and how that distrust made them reluctant to get Mom and Dad's opinion on stuff later...

Dude! If You Don't Talk To Your Kids About Scary Movies, Who Will?!

Addendum: Were I a parent (go ahead, roll your eyes), and if my youngster wanted to see this movie, and I took him/her instead of saying "No, maybe when you're older"... the best possible reward for this would be to hear my kid say to me afterwards, "Mommy, if you're ever kidnapped by a wicked imposter, I'd save you."

OK, I'll stop with the unearned pontification now.