When thinking back to the earliest days of being a child it’s quite easy to forget how blissfully unaware you were of life’s most basic fundamentals like manners, healthy habits, behaviours, and most importantly, knowing right from wrong – heck, it’s hard as an adult to keep up with it all given the worlds complex political climate in this age of misinformation. How freeing it must feel that most kids’ primary goal on any given day is to simply have as much fun as possible without getting scolded by the insane adults around them. Kids chase fun to escape boredom and pain, like adults – but unlike adults, many kids lack the social awareness or mental development to correlate actions to consequences; in fact, very young children struggle particularly with forming the connection that others feel physical and emotional pain in the same way they do. The Innocents explores these very things, all through the lens of a bunch of Norwegian kids while they all get superpowers.
This film takes place in an unassuming block of high density housing that contains families from all walks of life, with different backgrounds, struggles, and situations – it is here we follow a group of young children from three different households. These kids all share one thing in common, they face great struggles compared to most kids their age. The lead character of this film is named Ida, a young girl who feels emotionally neglected by her parents, as her autistic sister, Anna, takes up much of their time and energy. We also follow another young girl named Aisha who suffers from facial markings and a young boy named Ben who is abused by his temperamental mother. These kids meet, explore the surrounding forests, paths, and bridges – and eventually discover that they possess unexplained powers.
With that synopsis in tow, the film stages an interesting scenario for audiences to ponder; that being, if some troubled children had supernatural abilities, how would they use them and for what purpose? For good, evil, or merely their own mischievous entertainment? Well, throughout this film we learn it entirely depends on the child. In fact in many ways, the supernatural powers themselves aren’t the star of the show here, their abilities are mere outlets for their own life frustrations. When given power, our true face is shown. Ida’s disdain for her mentally impaired sister, Ben’s troubled home life, and Aisha’s warm household are central to understanding what these children decide to do when given power – and the consequences that follow.
Whether out of naivety, learned behaviour, or a natural disposition, we witness these children commit both selfless and deeply empathetic displays of kindness as well as cruel acts of violence toward animals and each other, as they test the limits of what they understand to be right and wrong. The Innocents really is a story of innocence; of children who don’t quite understand the nature of morality until things get handily out of control. I always find myself respecting film-makers who can imagine a narrative through the eyes of a child in an impactful and interesting way, writer-director Eskil Vogt proves he is a creative of this caliber.
Interestingly writer-director Eskil Vogt wrote a fascinating screenplay for a film called Thelma (2017) that follows a familiar plot beat to this film; however, without a doubt he has improved in almost every conceivable way since then. This film was gripping, unsettling, and shockingly thought-provoking for the type of story that involves kids getting supernatural powers. As I mentioned before, the powers aren’t really important in the wider context of this film, as this is ultimately a story about troubled children each confronting their moral tipping points. However, I can’t deny it doesn’t add to the entertainment value.