Hemlock Anyone?

Hemlock Anyone? Room for Panic 

Some film producers have been in their own rooms too long. They need to get out more, take a walk, watch some children playing at the local park…

Having seen the trailer for David Fincher’s Panic Room, I pretty much knew the whole story. Jodie Foster plays a woman, separated from her rich husband, who buys for herself and her daughter a house with a secret room, the “panic room.” Bad guys come into the house and mother and daughter make it into the panic room, only to find that the bad guys want a stash of money hidden there.

Given that premise, what can possibly hold an adult to a movie seat for two hours while this bit of fluff flickers up front? Unless the script is written by Jean-Paul Sartre or Anton Chekhov, the answer is – not much.

Of course, “not much” in the mind of your average Hollywood producer translates into innovative special effects or voluptuous females. Panic Room, unfortunately, offers neither.

So, I must conclude that this film is aimed at a teenage brain. Indeed, only the teenage daughter in the film gets to think; most of the adults wander around in circles speaking meaningless nonsense. The mother, Jodie Foster, is allowed minimal intelligence, but only developed after being locked in the room with her daughter for several hours; one of the bad guys, too, is given a brain, but only because he has a child of his own – no doubt a teenager.

Viewing the film, then, as mindless entertainment designed to keep the kids out of trouble for a few hours on a Friday evening, I am compelled to respond as a parent and a grown-up. I could cite Plato here on art and society to add academic respectability to my comments, but I’ll hold back. This is personal.

Early on in this film, the mother, Jodie Foster, and her daughter, Sarah (Kristen Stewart), sit at the kitchen table in the new house and try to relate. The mother is swilling a gigantic goblet of wine in an attempt to drown her misery and loneliness, the dad having left them only recently to live with some young thing. The daughter, sensing her mother’s trauma, and no doubt worrying about a future with a potential alcoholic, says to mom, and this is a rough paraphrase, “Mom, just say bleepdeep him.” The mother looks up and the daughter repeats this bit of wisdom. “Just say blupbleepdeep.” Mom, the lights going on like they did for the Frankenstein monster, nods dully, and repeats, “blupdeeperreep.” A bond has been formed.

Now, I can’t speak for other parents, but I take offense at the notion that my child can teach me when and how to swear. I don’t swear much, and when I do, my kid damn well better not try to coach me.

In fact, I take offense at the notion that my child is smarter than me. When, between the diapers and the Oreo cookies, did that great leap of learning and experience occur–at puberty? Ah yes, at puberty, my daughter (who is almost thirteen by the way) will receive a special injection of brainpower along with the estrogen when she turns thirteen.

What in heaven’s name are we saying to kids in the pop art we give them? Time was when such a film would constitute a criminal offense – “corrupting the youth.” Socrates was made to drink hemlock for less.

Granted, this film is nowhere near as bad as Brittany Spears teaching little girls that playing prostitute for middle-aged men is okay. But it leans in that direction.

I’m only illustrating the point with this most obvious scene – everything else about the film sends the same message.

The panic room should be seen as a metaphor for an adult person trapped in a neurotic adolescent’s brain. Jodi Foster walking circles in that small space mimics our own trauma as adults in a commercial culture exploiting children as a way to get at the parents’ pockets.

How do I get out of this? Does anyone know I’m in here?

We need to return to sanity as a culture. Our actions have consequences, especially when they shape the coming generation.