Movies that capture "The Horror of Childhood"

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A trio of excellent movies dealing with the terrifying experience of childhood and all its psychological and social and sexual growing pains.

My Life As A Dog (Mitt liv som hund, 1986)

Ingemar is perhaps nine or ten when his Mother becomes too ill to take care of him. Her illness seems to grow in proportion to the trouble he causes. When Ingemar wakes up and realizes he has wet the bed again, his brother hides the sheets in a cupboard. At breakfast, Ingemar spills a glass of milk. His mother searches the cupboards for a towel, finds the bedsheet, and knowingly wipes milk off the table with the urine-soaked bedsheets. When a female friend makes playful sexual advances, her father finds them and screams at the boy, "What are you doing to my daughter?!" Later, Ingemar's brother tries to demonstrate how babies are made, using a bottle to represent the womb and female genitals, demanding that Ingemar demonstrate the male genitals. When Ingemar gets "stuck" in the bottle, they have to break it to get it off, and his mother acts as though he's been malicious instead of childish.

Ingemar spends a strange and wonderful few months living with his aunt and uncle, doing odd jobs at the glass-blowing factory where they work, making new friends. He is not quite old enough to understand what sex is about, yet he keeps stumbling over the subject.

  • A feeble old man in their boarding house gets Ingemar to read aloud the brassiere and undergarment ads from a catalog, but he's not so feeble about stuffing the catalog under his mattress when his wife knocks at the door.
  • A woman at the glass factory calls Ingmar her "boyfriend," and asks him to be a chaperone for her nude modeling. She doesn't want Ingemar to see her naked, but wants him close enough to hear her scream if the eccentric artist attacks her. The boy stays just outside the artist's room, begging to be let in, until he finally sneaks out and climbs up to the skylight above the room and peeks down at her. Suddenly the skylight gives way, and he crashes down on top of her. Another case of women compelling him into dangerous situations, always ending in pain.
  • Most confusing of all is Saga, the most aggressive soccer player, who gets Ingemar to strap down her growing breasts so they won't kick her off the boys' team. She's also a great boxer, except that she sometimes gets Ingemar in a clinch and won't let go.

Mixed in with all this is Ingemar's narration of how his life is not as bad as stories he has heard on the news. Think of Laika, the dog that was shot into space by the Russians. She got the glory of being the first animal in space, but they never figured a way to get her back down safely. They didn't send up enough food for her, so she eventually starved. "You have to keep things in perspective," he keeps saying.

When he sees his uncle barking flirtatiously at his aunt, biting at her skirt, Ingemar gets down on his hands and knees and does the same. Except aunt and uncle trot into their bedroom to continue their play, slamming the door on Ingmar.

So if Ingemar's life is the same as a dog's, you have to wonder if he's going to prance happily after women like his uncle, or be shot into space and left to starve.

LESSONS: Being naughty could kill your mother. If you're having a bad day, remember there are always people who have worse stories than you. Females are compelling, but dangerous and impossible to understand.

The Reflecting Skin (1990)

There's no way to summarize all the odd events in this one. It opens with Seth and his two friends hiding in thick weeds while a woman walks along the dirt road. When she gets near enough to see the huge, bloated frog on the edge of the road, one of the little b******s peeks out of the weeds with a sling-shot and fires. Rotten frog guts explode all over the woman.

Later, the three culprits find the corpse of a baby, possibly stillborn, maybe an abortion. They decide that it must be an angel. They fight over possession of the angel, and hide it in the barn.

Seth hears stories about vampires from his father, about how they seduce people and steal energy from their victims. The vampires live forever while their victims grow old too rapidly, leaving only bones and remnants for the vampires to collect. When Seth meets the young widow next door, she seems to meet all the requirements for being a vampire. She has locks of hair and teeth saved from her late husband. She claims to feel very old, but she looks young. And when she starts an affair with Seth's brother, his hair starts to fall out.

Sex might seem like a good thing, if you judge by the way Seth's brother feels about the young widow. But mainly Seth observes that it's a terrifying thing, sometimes fatal. His brother begins falling apart after too much contact with the vampiric widow. And then there are the mysterious disappearances of little boys around the countryside, one of Seth's little friends found raped and murdered, accusations about Seth's father.

LESSONS: Sex is tempting, but it will probably kill you. The only people who appear to do it are vampires and killers. It might make you feel guilty enough to swallow a lot of gasoline and light yourself on fire.

PARENTS* (1989)

An awkward kid about eight tries to survive the nightly barbecue and mambo sessions his parents engage in. A one-sentence TV Guide description of this movie would just say the kid gradually finds out his parents are cannibals, and that they might be fattening him up to eat. But that description misses all the other frightening images. Another aggressive little girl gets our protagonist to play with her inside a freezer. She initiates play that's too intimate for children, so he gets punished when adults discover them. Then there's the scene, maybe a dream sequence, definitely nightmarish, where the boy hears his parents making frantic noises in the living room. They're apparently having sex, but what's all the blood on the sheets? Is it barbecuse sauce or lipstick smeared around his father's mouth when he shouts at his son? Are they angry because he caught them having sex, or because he caught them eating someone?

LESSONS: Sex is messy and scary and dangerous because it's all about consuming someone. Just be sure you're the one consuming, not the one who gets consumed.

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