Gardens Of The Nighti is a monument of creep. Boy o boy what a monument of creep.
A somewhat smarmy, slightly gay "people person" (Tom Arnold) hits on a 7 year old girl in the street. Classic dog play. She's going to school. He convinces her to get in his (beat up) car. He's suspicious in each bend and every wrinkle, but for an adult. Not for a seven year old girlie.
So you pretty much see how this is going to go, except... he doesn't abduct her. He lets her go. (Obviously, he wasn't prepared, then). He picks her up later, however, leveraging the information he's been able to lift (daddy works at the Water Plant, his name is Whitehead, stuff like that).
And so... you pretty much see how this is going to go. The film is exceedingly well researched (by the director, who also wrote the screenplay), it shows fine understanding of how these things work. The girl wants to call her daddy ? Why sure! They give her a number which is "his cell phone" and let her call to her heart's content. Seven year olds don't do so well with this entire thinking outside the box thing. Soon enough she's convinced her family doesn't want her anymore - and outlandish as this may seem, it's exactly how life works for the vast majority. Take a woman out of her social relations in the Sabine tribe and hold her in Rome for a couple of months ? Sure enough she's going to beg her old family to let her new family be. Tis how the biology of reproduction works, like it or not.
The framing of the story is also very well done. We don't know if the abductors are making a lot of money or barely scraping by, we know there's a couple close calls but can't gauge much of the actual business side of things, the world is uniformly and convincingly seen through infantile eyes. The notion of using the Jungle Book as a supporting narrative proves itself quite clever, it illuminates both the old story and the... well, certainly not novel situation. The old story and the older situation.
Pretty much the only objection that can be brought is the complete absence of any actual intercourse. A film about abused innocence and trampled youth without a single drop of blood, without a single drop of semen, without as much as a pubic hair caught in between baby teeth ? What sense does that make ?!
None, obviously, and it's true that in this sense the film will have to be remade, properly. There's no way around it. We'll probably have to wait for it however, until at least such a time as English puritanism finally dies the quiet death of irrelevance and most if not all socialist pretense is abandoned in favour of more natural approaches to morals. Fail that, we'll have to wait until we learn Malay, or whatever languages they speak in those places where children are still to this day sold by the pound, like any human product and thus merchandise.
Then again all things considered perfection in art is a flower of many petals, and so the fact that this particular one may have to wait for the week after Judgement Day might not be the chief concern on much of anyone's agenda. I for one certainly amn't losing any sleep over it.
To sum up, Damian Harris is meticulously clever and this film's a great way to pretend like you're in touch with horrors you couldn't possibly fathom without any risk of staining your tennis shoes. What could be better than a hundred and some minutes of fake life experience aseptically delivered ?———
- 2008, by Damian Harris, with Gillian Jacobs, John Malkovich. [↩]