Friday, March 2, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine: A Dark Cloud Over America

Blind Man's Bluff by Jean Honore Fragonard, 1765

The state of families has gotten so bad in the United States that Little Miss Sunshine is heralded as a movie that celebrates the existence of the family and won for an Oscar for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It is true in the movie, for instance, that everyone is drafted or otherwise persuaded to go to the little girl's beauty pageant for the crown of Little Miss Sunshine. It is true that on the way the suicidal brother does notice that they have left the little girl at the gas station and also true that, thankfully, they do go back and get her. It is true that they show in their own peculiar ways their love for the brother who finds out that his dream of being a Navy pilot is shattered because he is color-blind. It is true that they even have the suicidal brother with him at home instead of turning him out in the street. It is true that people in the family, to varying degrees and not always, accept each other and each other's foibles.

That said, Little Miss Sunshine conjures up the image of a Fragonard painting (French painter 1732-1806). It is true that in the Fragonard painting exquisitely dressed aristocrats are idyllically swinging in lavish gardens, but the clouds gathering above overpower the happy scene.

In the case of Little Miss Sunshine, the overpowering shadow is that the movie is an inducement to accept the idea of the family as an amalgamation of people all out for themselves. No one is really taking care of the other--until they all come to the support of the little girl, who then proceeds to put on a pornographic display directed by her grandfather who committed suicide by means of a self-administered heroin overdose! Is this culmination something to celebrate? Is this to be the model for American family life?

We are supposed to believe that the coming together of the family in pornography is a major step forward. We are supposed to believe that the discussion between the suicidal brother and the estranged son on the nihilisit Nietzche is a step forward. We are supposed to believe that under today's philosophy of unbridled selfishness--starting with the grandfather who imbibes heroin and celebrates the pleasures of lust rather than love--we can still find true love in a family.

This is not the case.

Families today may be organized around the principle that the purpose of the family is to give us (read "Me First") the freedom to do whatever we want. That is the leave-alone principle of the family in Little Miss Sunshine. No one really knows what the other person is doing. The wife works and slaps food on the table so her husband can indugle his fantasies of being a winner. The father has no sense of responsibility to his family. No one evidently cares that the son is completely hateful. No adult bothers to reach him, to guide him. Most importantly, no one bothers to preview the display that the little girl will make for lthe Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, despite the fact that they know it is being directed by the sex-obsessed, heroin-intaking grandfather. Is there a problem with leaving our daughter in the hands of a complete degenerate?

So there might be loose ties of love here, but the end shows the debacle this is all heading toward: the defiant family gyrating in front of an equally pornographic audience.

This may not have been the intention of the authors. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they may be desperately seeking to rescue some notion of love from the oblivion that family life has become for many in America. That is the alluring part of the movie. But the assumption of the authors is that family life in America is dead and gone, that the self-sacrifice that is its foundation has been forever eclipsed by notions of "self-realization, " and that morality represents a contraint from which we long ago have freed ourselves. And that is the terrible dark cloud over Little Miss Sunshine.

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