When children are at an early age, they learn about Mother’s Day. About a month later, they learn about Father’s Day. Actually, Father’s Day is just another Mother’s Day in disguise. You see, if it were really a holiday for Dad, Mom would let him go to the pool hall or bowling alley and swill beer all day with the other fathers. But no, Dad has to stay home and play the role of the fully domesticated male, whose life centers around the family, which is just the way Mom wants it.
In any event, it doesn’t take long for children to ask, “Why isn’t there a Children’s Day?” to which the standard answer is, “Every day is children’s day,” by which is meant that parents spend their lives doing stuff for their children, so if the kids think they are going to get a special day on top of that, they can forget about it. Now, there is such a thing as Children’s Day, but not in the sense that children have in mind. That is, they see Mom get a present on Mother’s Day and Dad get a somewhat less expensive present on Fathers Day, but they themselves never get presents on Children’s Day, and without the presents, the so-called Children’s Day is just a lot of talk.
And maybe the children have a point. Adults get special treatment and consideration, if they have children. For example, I have heard stories of parents getting off work to take care of their children while their single coworkers have to stay late and make up the difference. Moreover, I have heard of criminals getting leniency if they have a child they have to take care of. In other words, having a child can get an adult benefits that his or her childless counterpart does not.
All this is anecdotal, however. I have no statistics. I don’t have any children either. But what I do have is the movies. And since art reflects life, and life reflects art, then from what I see in the movies, I figure something must be going on.
There was a time when the heroes of crime dramas and westerns were mostly bachelors. Occasionally, a child might be featured to give the audience something to worry about, as in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), or to provide a point of view, as in Shane (1953). But mostly, children were marginal characters, if they appeared in a film at all.
In the 1980s, heroes started becoming family men, as in Lethal Weapon (1987) and Die Hard (1988), and children played larger and larger roles, as in Aliens (1986) and Terminator 2 (1991), both of which feature heroes who are mothers. In fact, God himself became a child in Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014).
Recently, however, the villains have started having children too. Now, it was one thing when the heroes were portrayed as having children, for that was only supposed to make us love and admire them even more. But when the villains have children, it definitely interferes with our natural desire to see them come to a bad end, and so much so, that they typically get away with their evil deeds. How can we enjoy seeing a villain get what he deserves, whether by being killed or sent to prison, if we know that there is a little girl left behind, crying because Daddy is gone? That is why in Shane, the Riker brothers do not seem to have wives or children.
Of course, when I say “children,” I am referring primarily to prepubescent children. In My Darling Clementine (1946) and other Wyatt Earp films, we are not bothered by the fact that the chief villain, Ike Clanton, has sons, because they are all adults. Conversely, if we are suspicious of a man’s character in a movie, the fact that he has no children, even though he is married, only adds to our misgivings, as in the movie Whispering Smith (1948).
We were able to forgive Vito and Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972), for instance, because they both loved their children. But that movie was, at that time, an exception. Usually, gangsters died the way the title character of Scarface (1983) did. Scarface might have been married, but that did not impede his glorious, blood-splattered death, especially since his wife was a sourpuss. If they had had a child, however, the final scene where Scarface introduces the horde of killers to his “little friend” would have been spoiled by our misgivings on that account. Actually, one of the reasons we liked Scarface was that he refused to fulfill a contract, because it would have meant killing the man’s wife and child too. But as long as the child was not Scarface’s, we still got to see him pumped full of lead.
For this reason, villains seldom had children in the movies. But that has changed. Now villains have children much more often, and such is the sanctifying nature of those children that these villains are redeemed. In other words, villains are purposely being given children so that they can get away with their crimes with full audience approval. In fact, they even get to live happily ever after.
For example, in Gone Girl (2014), a woman fakes evidence to make it look as though her husband murdered her, so that he will go to prison. She leaves town with a lot of money, but when she is robbed, she needs to figure out another plan. She looks up an old boyfriend and goes to stay with him. They start having sex, and just as he is getting to the good part, she slits his throat. Then she tells the police the guy abducted her. Normally, she would be punished for her crimes, as she rightly deserved. But at the last minute, she turns out to be pregnant. Oh well, that changes everything. Now her husband takes her back, and they live happily ever after.
Because this pregnancy saves this woman at the last minute, we are abruptly jolted from wanting her to get her just deserts to wanting her to get away with it all on account of the baby she is going to have. Other movies, however, let us know about the children in advance, so we know to pull for the bad guy right from the beginning. Moreover, they usually provide us with a throwaway villain who doesn’t have children, so that we can still enjoy seeing him come to a bad end, while allowing the villain who does have children to get away with it.
For example, in Hell or High Water (2016), which is a modern western, two brothers rob banks. We really aren’t worried about the banks losing money, because wasn’t it the banks that caused the Great Recession somehow? Anyway, one brother is mean and vicious. The other is basically a nice guy. Guess which one has children. That’s right, even though innocent people are killed in their crime spree, the one with the children gets away with it, especially since he only wanted the money for those children. There is a hint that the surviving bank robber will eventually get his just deserts at the hands of a retired sheriff, but we don’t really buy it. If it didn’t happen on the big screen while we were watching the movie, it just didn’t happen.
In the movie Logan Lucky (2017), the main character plans a heist of a race track vault. Just as bankers seemed to be fair game in Hell or High Water, so too do race tracks seem to be fair game as well, so we figure he just might get away with it. But the fact that he has a little daughter, whom he adores and loves to spend time with, absolutely guarantees that he will not come to a bad end. And just as there was a hint that the sheriff in Hell or High Water might eventually arrest the bank robber who had a child, there is a hint in Logan Lucky that the FBI agent, who shows up in the local bar at the end, might someday crack the case, but we don’t buy that either.
In the movie Don’t Breathe (2016), there are three villains. One villain is really disgusting, obnoxious, and mean. We know that he has been put in the movie to satisfy our need for justice, to see a bad guy get what he deserves. Needless to say, he doesn’t have children. A second villain is a nice guy, but he doesn’t have children either, so he too is doomed. Being nice is not enough. A third villain, a young woman, has a young sister that she takes care of, all motherly like, so we know she is going to get away with her crimes.
These three villains burglarize houses. They decide to escalate to a home invasion of a blind man, who they figure has lots of money stashed away in the house. The blind man lost his daughter in an automobile accident, so that makes us really feel sorry for him. Turns out, however, that this guy has the woman who killed his daughter chained up in the basement, so he is a villain too, actually a worse one than the three burglars. The blind man got the woman pregnant, because he wanted a replacement child. Oh, well that’s different. I mean, if he wants a child, he must be all right. Except, we are a little bothered by the idea of his raping the woman he has chained up. But never fear. He didn’t rape her. He artificially inseminated her. When that woman ends up getting killed, he plans on making the female villain take her place, artificially inseminating her too. But she gets away. So, in the end, the female villain gets away with her crimes, because she has a little sister she loves and takes care of. And the blind man who is a monster gets away with his crime, because he lost a child and just wanted another one.
And so, if these movies are any indication, having a child will let you get away with murder and other such horrible crimes. At the very least, they give you an excuse to get off work early. Therefore, it is time for adults to show their appreciation and declare a national Children’s Day. And I mean one in which the children get presents.