Quantcast
subscriber help

artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Orphan’ and the generational aspects of horror

If you’ve been reading my online writings for any length of time, you may already be aware that I’m a fan of the works of William Strauss and Neil Howe, who’ve proposed a generational theory of history and culture that involves a regular, pendulumlike shift in attitudes every 25 years or so — that is, about once per generation. I’m not gonna go into a lot of detail here: read The Fourth Turning [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.] or particularly Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.] for more info, or see FourthTurning.com.

Briefly, though, as it relates to pop culture, a very illustrative example concerns how small children are treated on TV and in the movies. In the 1950s and early 1960s, for instance, kids were Opie and the Beaver: they were cute and coddled and treasured and protected. In the later 1960s and through the 1970s, kids were quite literally demons — Rosemary’s baby and Damien — or tough, cynical adults in miniature, like Jodie Foster’s 12-year-old prostitute in Taxi Driver. Move ahead to the 1980s and early 1990s, and it’s all “baby on board” signs and precocious young’uns who are wiser than the grownups around them. Things are just starting to shift again… to the point at which depictions of small children are almost absent from pop culture.
The general attitude sticks with a generation: Gen Xers were the spawn of Satan, and now we’re, oh, cynical, lonely, 40something Adam Sandler in Funny People (while, notably, the 16-years-younger Seth Rogen is smarter and wiser than his elder). Or we’re the Bad Mother of Orphan.

SPOILERS FOR ORPHAN FOLLOW. DON’T READ FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT THE LEARN SPOILERISH DETAILS ABOUT THE MOVIE!!

Back when Lee Remick was the adoptive mother of the son of Satan in 1976’s The Omen, she didn’t do anything wrong to deserve the cruel treatment she received at the hands of Damien: she was just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the hellishly wrong time. But Vera Farmiga’s Xer mom in Orphan: oh, man, she’s practically Satan herself, and clearly needs punishing. She’s an alcoholic, and her alcoholism, we’re meant to infer, was the contributing factor in the accident that, we’re meant to infer, is the cause of her youngest child’s deafness. She lost a job to her boozing, and though it’s not directly implied, it’s not so much a stretch to think that perhaps the stillbirth that ended her most recent pregnancy was the result of her drinking, too. Or perhaps she turned to drink in her grief: either way, she has neglected her two living children as well as her husband (Peter Sarsgaard), which is probably why he cheated on her.

Farmiga’s punishment may not be out of generational character, but her oppressor seems to be: We simply should not be seeing murderous small children in pop culture at the moment. It just doesn’t jibe.

Except, it turns out that it does…

See, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), the demon child Farmiga and Sarsgaard adopt, the rotten little monster who torments her new mom and turns vile and homicidal, isn’t actually nine years old. She’s 33, an adult woman with a hormonal condition that keeps her perpetually childlike. (Fuhrman is actually only about 12.) She was born in 1976… which makes her a member of Generation X. She’s not just Damien-esque, she’s almost Damien himself, generationally speaking.

Would you believe me if I told you that this lack of adhering to the generational theory was bothering me all through the first hour or so of the film, and that it was my refusal to believe that anyone really thought they’d get away with a movie about a demonic actual child today led me to guess Esther’s secret?



Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/flick/public_html/wptest/wp-content/themes/FlickFilosopher/loop-single.php on line 106
posted in:
movie buzz
  • knowing your attachment to the generational theory as i do, i, of course, would believe you — and would have been very surprised if you *hadn’t* been bothered by that particular plot problem.

  • Not overly familiar with this generational theory, but I’ll just point out that attitudes are never monolithic. For example, right in the middle of your 50s to mid-60s period of treasured angels came 1956’s The Bad Seed. Evil.

  • Paul Dini did wonders with a similar case study in a Batman: The Animated Series episode called Baby Doll. It found chilling and devastating pathos in the villain Mary Dahl, a thirty-year-old woman who suffered from Systemic Hypoplasia, a rare disease that kept her physically arrested at age five. Slipping into madness and desperate to escape reality, she employed muscle to kidnap the cast members on her long ago canceled Leave It To Beaver-inspired show. The episode gets more grim when she lights a stick of dynamite in a birthday cake that will kill everyone including herself.

    Saturday mornings used to be so much fun.

  • hdj

    I don’t want to make you feel old Maryann, but if you hated the message of Orphan, why are you buying into it? Isn’t that how they get you? Its just a stupid horror movie, a softcore horror movie. Its the type of movie Moms take their kids to and say ” now don’t you be like that”. Then all the hardcore horror cronies in the audience groan because it’s telling them, your this old and still a brat!?
    Also with Surgeon’s General label of , Drinking around the kids don’t mix

    You really oughta not worry about your generation because when I think Gen-x’ers I think of Kevin Spacey in “America Beauty”, that was a pretty good depiction of people that age.

  • Would you believe me if I told you that this lack of adhering to the generational theory was bothering me all through the first hour or so of the film, and that it was my refusal to believe that anyone really thought they’d get away with a movie about a demonic actual child today led me to guess Esther’s secret?

    Surely the two Ring movies and Dark Water weren’t that long ago…

    And don’t get me started on the popularity of those darn Chuckie movies…

    You really oughta not worry about your generation because when I think Gen-x’ers I think of Kevin Spacey in “America Beauty”, that was a pretty good depiction of people that age.

    Thanks a lot, hdg.

    Considering the fact that Spacey’s character in that movie acts like a jerk up until about the last fifteen minutes of the movie, that’s hardly the best example you could have picked.

  • Sorry.

    I meant hdj.

  • hdj

    I didnt think he was a jerk Kruger, He was fed up with things, people get like that. Besides I meant the whole bit where he was working out, smoking joints and over spending; Thats my image of Gen Xers

  • wooster182

    What I’ve noticed as a trend in recent horror movies is that it’s either a nonstop torture porn or a rather sanguine “boo” flick in which the first half hour has to explain why we should care about the very gray-layered, very sad characters (Orphan, Vacancy, The Strangers, etc.)

    The only really good horror films I’ve seen of late are those that don’t try to be either of these. All of the action is off screen and the character motivations are purely psychological instead of sappy, such as Funny Games.

  • SaintAndy

    @ Chris Beaubien

    Paul Dini did wonders with a similar case study in a Batman: The Animated Series episode called Baby Doll.

    Thank you, Chris. I wanted to mention that episode myself, and, to tell you the truth, I wish they would make a film based on that idea ..and the horror and psychological torment of being, at least outwardly, perpetually five. If there’s one cartoon series I used to watch religiously as a kid and I can rewatch even now, so many years later, it’s Batman:The Animated Series. The plot lines were fantastic, the stories grown up and complex, the characters believable ..I mean, some of the episodes were better than some of the garbage Hollywood has been spewing lately. Most importantly, in spite of its name, I didn’t feel the series were so much about a superhero, but a flawed individual who was trying to fix things to the best of his abilities.

Pin It on Pinterest