Friday, January 25, 2008

Children Underground

Just watched Children Underground; a Docurama production. A film crew of three took up residence in a Bucharest subway station, as houseguests of a group of five Romanian street kids for – I forget how long. Long enough to contract tuberculosis, lice and scabies from them, anyway.

My first observation was, “Wow. What an ugly bunch of kids.” They looked downright misshapen. Three of them, in fact, were girls so uncomely that I had to learn one by one, amid confusion, that they were in fact girls and not boys.

I sense a lot of integrity and sacrifice went into this project. And did it ever pack a punch.

They adapted a non-interference policy, which I can understand is necessary if you want the film to be effective and serve as a catalyst for societal change. But they broke that directive on at least one occasion. A boy bearing a strange feature – a heavily lined, scarlet-red left forearm suddenly demonstrated the reason for it; a habit of self-mutilation. When his companions failed to restrain him the crew stepped in and desperately tried to calm him as he attacked himself with his own bloody fingernails. Of course, I only caught glimpses of all this. It was too much for me to watch.

My capacity for pity seems to be growing and growing these days. I can’t hear a horror story without feeling deeply compelled to act out against it; to take some action. But in each case it’s really hard to find a way to make a meaningful difference. It’s not like a poor uninsured family’s home has burnt down and a finite sum of donations will rebuild it. The problem is – the capacity for humans to hurt other humans is not at all finite. It’s not me these kids need help from.

They need help from the older boys who extort younger ones into begging for cash. They need them to help by not throwing them off the second floor of a construction site when they fail to return with enough.

They need help from the subway station worker who is sick and tired of listening to a young girl constantly crying. He can help her by declining to kick and punch her. Apparently a good kick in the ribs is not an effective way to ease a young girl’s tears. Who knew?

They need help from the father who says he can’t imagine why his small son would say he won’t come home because he’s terrified of him; who can’t understand why his son would run away from home with a collar and chain around his neck. He could help by not shackling the boy to a radiator. Oh, and maybe see a psychiatrist too.

They need help from all the passers-by who blame the kids for their own circumstance and huff at their disgusting paint-sniffing habit. They could help by asking why they do it.
And finding out that that’s the only thing that makes them dream that they’re not hungry.

I know how I’d like to help. I’d like to gather the whole goddam population of earth on my doorstep and say, HEY! Here’s the fucking rules, people. Love your kids. Keep them safe. Don’t beat them up. Okay? Got it? We're all in agreement?

By the end of the film the kids didn’t seem at all ugly to me anymore. They looked like pretty beautiful creatures by then. What a difference an hour and a half makes. If only more people would give them that much time – and see for themselves.



Anonymous said...

I completely 100% agree with you. Those children, ALL kids who are dealt brutality on a daily basis are always in my heart.

I just cannot imagine... that across the world our most precious beings are used and abused and killed like they were nothing. THEY ARE SOMETHING...

I know what you mean when you say You want to help... if it were that simple and if everyone could hear you.

Babs Gladhand said...

That was absolutely beautiful. And, dammit if you haven't made me cry again. Maybe I'm crying this time because this is so close to my heart. I want to help, too. I feel so helpless and at times guilty because I'm not doing something.

I don't know how anyone could hurt a child. I really don't.

Kathleen said...

I can see this film ripping my heart out. And I'm sure that I'll see it at some point, because I'm a glutton for punishment and, I guess, like to have somewhere to focus my anger.

Thanks, FWG, for bringing this to my attention.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for talking about this - it made me curious, and I poked around, and found that the whole thing is up on youtube. I've watched half of it so far, and it is really powerful.

Fantasy Writer Guy said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. They're comforting to hear.