ACIDEMIC Journal of Film and Media

Post-Grave Clinginess: GODSEND

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When it comes to overbearing parents, sometimes even the grave isn't far enough away

By Erich Kuersten


Signalling the tail end (hopefully) of the "You can’t bring my son back!" genre,  Godsend (2004) offers a damning critique of parently love. By the "privileged grief" of the title, I am referring to the movies wherein “average” parents must deal with the kidnapping, murder, or disappearance of their child/children. They tend to damn it all to hell, drinking, cursing out the FBI agent in their living room, and ultimately taking matters into their own hands. Of course Arnolds can always go psycho when losing a toddler, as in Extreme Measures, but unlike the standard Revenge flick, the typical "privileged grief" entry focuses more on martyring the suffering than celebrating the vengeance. "You can't know what it feels like to lose a kid," is their rallying cry. And no, the FBI agent can't, and subsequently we in the theater are also put in the inferior position of "not knowing what it's like" (unless of course we've lost kids of our own). Thus we have to let the privileged grieving parent rant and rave, unable to judge or stop or comfort them due to the fact that we are shut out of their private temple of grief, unable to "know" their pain. As with Gibson's Passion of the Christ (2003) we must kneel and watch in reverent awe as they squirm under the lash of loss.

 This phenomenon in horror commenced with The Exorcist (1973), but that film and the many "demon children" movies that followed differ from the arc of the privileged grief saga. Yes, we were afraid for little Linda Blair, kidnapped inside her own body by the devil, but the figure of a demon child was itself scary. Kids could be seen as evil in those earthy, pre-Aids days. Now within the context of the privileged grief genre, children are always little angels, even if they are possessed by evil, their innocence remains intact. It's as if the entire nation was saying "not my kid-my kid doesn't do those things."

 Meanwhile in Japan the "haunted child" has made a huge comeback with films like Ringu, The Eye, Suicide Club, Stacy, to name a few, but in these films it is children themselves who are scary; not "my child" in particular, but the entire generation. The Japanese perhaps lack our capacity for "sanctifying" their roles as parents and children. Perhaps they are more open to disobeying the unspoken contract of silence between parents and adults, and so don't have to deny the dark side with the same demented rigor. Also, there is more "sanctification" and privileging in their culture to begin with, they don't have to go looking for it. Americans are conditioned to reimagine their childhoods as Steven Spielberg movies, replete with cotton candy and rollercoasters, and it all becomes canonized for sainthood, the theme park souvenirs are to be honored and cherished as museum works. The dark underside is denied until it becomes a matter of suicide or rehab. Thus if we are all saints, parenthood is next to godliness and there is surely no shorter way out of your own personal morass than to bear some kids. The search for self gets canceled in favor of championing the child who is then denied the right to "be" his/her true, complex, evil, murky, ambivalent self because that’s not what it said in the commercial and there is no refund..

 The refrain throughout the beginning of Godsend, heard time and again in self-sacrificing tones, is: "This is about Adam." Neither of the parents' enjoyment of life can come before their son's; he is their excuse for not enjoying life outside of the parental context. The movie begins with Adam having his eight-year old birthday party in the cluttered inner-city apartment he shares with his parents, self-sacrificing high school teacher Paul (Greg Kinnear) and career-sacrificing photographer Jessie (Rebecca Romjin). We learn what a "difference" Paul makes to troubled inner city youth when he's spared a mugging due to one of his old students recognizing him. Of course Paul and Jessie have thought about moving out of their bad neighborhood, but Paul feels he's needed by these ghetto youth. He's willing to sacrifice his and her personal happiness "for the kids," but Jessie reminds him "this is about Adam" who could benefit from some time in the country. So even within the constricted parameters of his selflessness, Paul has choices: does he sacrifice Adam for the ghetto youth, or the ghetto youth for Adam?  He's high on the martyr horse, as is his wife. For her, the sacrifice comes more in the form of "not" doing. She's a photographer but keeps her photos locked up in boxes. Embodied by the beautiful Rebecca Romjin, she wears dumpy "mom" clothes, purposely dimming the wattage of her super model sex appeal in a willing enslavement to family drudgery, not unlike Veronica Lake renouncing her powers to keep Frederic March in I Married a Witch.


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c. 2004 Acidemic

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