Movies That Ruined My Childhood – The City of Lost Children
It’s time for another installment in our series that examines movies you should never let a child watch. We’ve covered The Care Bears, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and even a few Disney flicks that are really really not suitable for young viewers. Now, we’re going to Europe to check out avant-garde director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s visually unsettling masterpiece, The City of Lost Children. Jeunet bakes a layer cake of crazy that involves kidnapping (of actual kids no less,) giants, dwarfs, clones, and a guild of orphan thieves. Thieves who are orphans…not thieves who steal orphans…but they also do that as well. It’s complicated. From the cracked mind that brought you Delicatessen, Aliens Resurrection, and Amelie (that last one is pretty tame, and therefore not my favorite of the three) this film fits in perfectly with our month-long look at insanity and mad scientists.
The City of Lost Children (1995)
Trying to summarize the plot of this film is like trying to write a short story only using the screams of the criminally insane. A demented genius creates a clan of genetic weirdos: Krank, a super-genius whose inability to dream causes him to go insane and age quickly; Irvin, a brain in a box who tries to temper Krank’s insanity; Martha, a dwarf who was intended as Krank’s love interest, but acts more like his mother; and the clones, all played by Dominique Pinon, who are Krank’s servants but have the mental capacity of gold fish, and suffer from narcolepsy. In order to “cure” Krank, they set up an operation to steal children, and then steal those children’s dreams. Unfortunately, stolen children have messed up dreams, and this causes Krank to become even more unhinged.
A child-like circus strongman named One (Ron Perlman) has his adopted little brother snatched by Krank, and sets out on an adventure with Miette (Judith Vittet) who is a young member of the thieves guild which may have a connection to the kidnappings. The two run into several unsavory characters trying to keep Krank’s lucrative operation running, but eventually discover the hiding place of the lost inventor who created Krank. With his aid, they head under the sea to infiltrate Krank’s lair, to free the children and stop Krank once and for all.
Crazy Like a Fox
There are lots of things to love about this film. Jeunet is known for his flair for both great characters and fiendish settings. All of the characters in this film are a treat to watch, if you don’t happen to mind them all being completely bonkers. Likewise, the unnamed port city where the action takes place is full of great visuals and a deliciously bent world-view. Jeunet’s unabashed love of the arcane and bizarre lead to several amazing set pieces where the flow of action is breathtakingly unhinged: in one scenario, a single tear from Miette causes nearly a dozen unforeseen events to occur that ultimately lead to an ocean liner crashing into the city. The whole film is a Rube-Goldberg device, with crazy causes leading to insane effects.
Crazy Like a…Well…a Crazy Person, Really
“That sounds like a quirky but lovable film!” you may be thinking. And you’d be right…if you edited out the other 80% of the film that is not the uplifting journey of Miette and One to save the children. The bulk of the film is a pants-wetting and hysteria inducing pastiche of disfigurement, crematoriums, squalor, child abuse, and screaming. Lots of screaming. The youtube video entitled “City of Lost Chidlren: Best Moments” is 3 minutes of Krank screaming, children screaming, adults screaming, and a funny little dance number by Pinon…followed by more screaming. And Krank dressed as Santa Clause, causing a room full of children to (you guessed it) scream.
As wonderful as Miette and One’s journey is, even the mismatched adventurers tale is full of horror. Miette is nearly choked to death at one point. Don’t worry, she doesn’t die…at that time. Because yes, she totally does die in this movie. Relatively early in the movie, too. A chance event revives her, but she spends a good chunk of the film as a corpse. Sweet darling little Miette, our orphaned thief hero. Dear god, what the hell is going on in this film!?
Parental Guidance Advised
The City of Lost Children is a wonderful film that should be enjoyed in a fully lit room by adults who are sound of mind and body. It would also help if there was a security blanket available, a puppy near at hand to clutch, and perhaps a poster of kittens and ducklings frolicking in a field pasted behind the television. There is just enough whimsy and fairy-tale posture to this film to have enticed me to check it out as a youngster, and I can still remember thinking that it was a great movie…between all of the screaming and child murder. So if you’re looking for a visually rich and psychologically shattering way to spend a couple of hours, enjoy The City of Lost Children, and be thankful it didn’t ruin your childhood. Sweet dreams!