This article articulates several problems with seeing a film from the eyes of a child as the protagonist, in how most films normally portray their younger characters. Lopate quickly summarizes the plots of two films he sees as distinct in their treatment of child protagonists, and then elaborates on the problems of representation that child-focused films offer. His primary argument is that the narrative generally stays too close to one character’s viewpoint, giving the impression that the director shares every sentiment of the child, and often glibly gives the children the moral upper hand. His second criticism is that children are just vehicles for the adults’ own fantasies of “purity, spontaneity, victimhood, and indomitability,” preventing the audience from seeing the situation objectively. Finally, he mentions how camera focus on one character results in a narrow-minded, claustrophobic portrayal of the outside world rather than the expansive, objective film should, in theory, present. He also mentions briefly how children are commonly grouped as simple emblems of joy or martyrdom.
Lopate brings up many interesting points, several of which are relevant to Vigo’s film, and several of which Vigo actively goes against. For example, Vigo willfully and consciously gives his children the moral upper hand, because for him, the children represent a pointed opposition to the adult concept and possession of power, one that they can battle with whimsy, playfulness, imagination, creativity, and dream. However, Lopate’s second argument that children are simply vehicles for the adults’ own fantasies of “spontaneity and indomitability” is a very valid point which challenges my thesis quite excellently. If an adult such as Vigo is still the one writing and directing the film, is the film not just a portrayal of adult fantasies, rather than children’s? Even Agee agreed that the children in the film were not a comprehensive view of all childhood. Perhaps the adult behind the camera is using the children as a vanguard for his own conception of a revolution? Vigo, however, has a noted personal and emotional stake in the filmmaking. As an anti-authoritarian, he believes that the school system can only be opposed by those who are subject to its prison-hold on their imagination, the children, of whom he identifies with most, because of their symbol as oppressed which he empathizes with both personally and politically.
full citation: Phillip Lopate. "When the 'I' In a Film Is a Child's." New York Times (16 Mar. 1997): 13. EBSCO MegaFILE. EBSCO. University of Pennsylvania Van Pelt Library, Philadelphia, PA. 2 Dec. 2008 .