The Short Film "Reckless" - 2013 (22 minutes, in Norwegian with English subtitles)
The 2013 Norwegian short film "Reckless" is the work of director Bjørn Erik Pihlmann Sørensen and writer Einar Sverdrup. I saw the film in 2013 and passed it off as a public service announcement about the need to rein in irresponsible teenagers. But as you will notice as I write about the movie, my views have changed a bit since I last saw it. To give you a brief rundown, the movie is about a teenage girl who has to babysit her younger child-age brother - and through a series of related events tragedy strikes. I thought maybe the movie was funded by parents who want their adolescent-aged kids to take better care of their siblings. However, I recently watched it again and the short made me think more about what message it is trying to convey. I haven't read much about the movie online nor have I talked to anyone else I know who has seen it. I am going to take a critical plunge and articulate in a flat-footed way what I think the movie might be suggesting about adolescence, sexuality, and responsibility. It's also a movie about the absence of authority.
Sheltered Suburban Landscapes are the Fodder for Stories of Cooped-up Adolescents with Pent-Up Desire
The setting of a movie can be deceptive. The setting here is a sheltered suburban landscape where everything seems to be cordoned off from the rest of the world. The camera catches images of children looking through the gaps of a wooden picket fence. Kids seem stored away rather than living freely (which is my first clue that not all is as it should be). The characters make their way through cookie-cutter houses and tree-lined streets. If you have seen David Lynch's movie Blue Velvet, then you know not to trust the external surface of suburbia. It looks like a neighborhood where not much goes on. But that is another clue that something is not right.
When the Adults are Away the Kids Will Play
It's Summertime. Kids migrate to the local swimming pool - which functions as the town center. The girl takes her brother to the swimming pool on a hot day, and they meet two teenage boys. There are flirtation and sideways glances. The boys are assertive and they rough house with the little boy in the pool all the while taking a shine to the girl. After the day is done, the boys track down the girl at her house where she's feeding her brother a pizza lunch. The same kids we saw at the beginning of the film become witnesses to the events of the story - as they are the ones who tell the boys where the girl and her brother live. The children behind the fence, then, become like the Greek Chorus: they observe the action of the story and make a comment with their witness, but they are not active participants. The absence of adult authority is even more apparent once the boys arrive at the house, and the girl invites them inside the house. The little boy does not seem pleased - as if something inside of him says not to immediately trust the interruption. The girl sends her little brother off to the store to buy ice cream. It is at this point in the film that it seems as if the girl is shirking her responsibility. Shouldn't she be watching her brother and not entertaining two strangers? However, I think if you zoom out a bit and see a bigger picture, it is clear that the filmmakers have created a worldview wherein the adults are not actively present in the lives of their children.
Seduction and Ice Cream
The following scene plays like a seduction. The girl takes a shower, and one of the boys joins her, then they move to the bedroom and start to make love. The other boy joins in, and soon enough, the three of them are engaging in full-on sexual activity. On the way back home the little boy is hit by a car - but the driver seems to think he is fine (even though there is a visible gash on his forehead). The same children stored away behind the picket fence witness the events. The little boy comes home with his ice cream, peers into the bedroom to see his sister having sex with the two teenagers (although it is apparent that he is befuddled by what is actually going on). The filmmakers make this scene exceptionally bright, and the editing is sharp to center on the trifecta of sexual exploration and erotic sensation. This is coupled with the little boy's evident confusion (as he has been struck by a vehicle) and he goes to the kitchen to eat his ice cream. The boy puts his head down, and it is suddenly apparent that his wound is mortal. He dies.
"Reckless" as a Cautionary Tale; or, Something Else?
The movie is titled "Reckless," so the question is who is being reckless? One view is that the teen girl let go of her responsibility for her little brother by having sex with the two teens. She is not there to watch him when he is hit by a car. Tragedy strikes. The movie ends so we do not see on screen what transpires next, but we can imagine that it is horrific. The girl and the two boys discover the dead brother. The girl is struck with disavowal; she cannot accept this reality. The two teens cannot handle nor process the chain of events, and they run away. The parents find out.
The neighborhood finds out. The girl will have to live with this event - the grief and guilt she will feel - for the rest of her life. Also, will the girl equate her sexual experience with tragedy? How has the death of her brother shattered how she will form future relationships? The film does not answer these questions but instead does what shorts do best: showing us something deeply sensual and pleasurable and in the next scene ending the movie with a denouement of strident violence. But I don't think this is what the film is really about. It seems to curt to say, "Hey, kids have sex. Then your brother dies!" I am thinking that the movie is not presenting an argument for such a simpleminded cause and effect. I don't believe this is a moral tale about excessive teen sexuality. Nor is the film an argument for abstinence.
A Film about the Absence of Adult Authority
The two boys are clued into the underlying logic of authority. They know they have stumbled upon an environment where they can experience an excess of pleasure and fun. One could point the finger at the two boys. They took advantage of the situation! They knew the girl was home alone with her brother. They are tentative at first when they show up unannounced at the house; but, it doesn't take much for the kindling to start to burn. The movie is, on one level, a visual description of the natural development of adolescent sexual exploration. It would be bad taste to suggest that this is all the movie is implying about such topics. Because notice - there are no adults present in the film who are strong characters. When adults are present, they are highly ineffectual. It is easy to blame the girl for not being there for her brother and instead choosing to be with the two teen boys. But what about the adult woman who struck the little boy in the first place? She speeds away, and we never see her again. She could have followed-up on the boy's injury. She could have parked the car and followed the boy home and made sure he was adequately taken care of instead of just assuming he was alright. We get the sense from the way the story is told that the girl is used to taking care of her brother. She is used to having to be the locus of authority. The sister and brother have a sense of being together in the film to suggest that they have done this before. So when the two handsome teen boys show up, it is a sudden release of pressure. She feels a bit free, and she takes part in the excess of pleasure made evident by the situation. The girl is used to being the caretaker. She is a young person. She is not fully formed into adulthood, and her parents are nameless, unavailable, invisible, non-adults. In this way, the accident is a random, terrible intrusion. It is a break in the order of things. It breaks apart the girl's exploration of desire, and it lays bare the facade of a protected suburban landscape. The tropes of innocence - swimming on a hot Summer day, eating ice cream until your belly pops, eating pizza out of a box - are no longer innocent. The characters in this story have crossed over the threshold, but the sad truth is that they were never kids to begin with.
What do you think of this film? Have you seen it? Let me know in the comments.
- It is no doubt that the filmmakers chose beautiful actors to play the roles. Is that on purpose? Probably.
- My gut says that movie is "sex positive" in its messaging, but I am not sure.
- The color schematic in the swimming pool scene is on point. I liked how the blue steps matched the color of the swimsuits.
- The woman who hit the boy definitely committed a hit-and-run. In Europe, what are the laws about that (because I don't know)?
- The movie is not safe for work, and it depicts nudity and sex; however, I think teens should watch it.
- In the bedroom scene, is that the girl's room or is it the parents' bedroom. I am thinking it is a master bedroom (which gives more credence to my claim that is a movie criticizing the adults).
- As I mentioned, the movie brings up some moral issues, but I still stand firm with my thesis that it is less a moral tale and more an indictment of society and the double standards we impose on kids.
If you like movies & TV, read my other random write-ups on my blog.