Capturing the lives of children on film is one of the most difficult things to do successfully, but one of the most rewarding when pulled off properly. The tendency is to dive headfirst into the sentimental, focusing on drab themes like “the loss of innocence” and other such fluff, rather than telling a story from a child’s perspective as viewed through the eyes of an adult. It’s an easy get-out for writers to cast judgement on the world through the eyes of children as happens in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for example, but truly great films from the child’s perspective make us remember what it was like to be eight years old again.
The Rocket fails in its attempt to capture childhood, instead going for the easy option at every opportunity. Ahlo is a ten-year old boy who finds himself and his family being moved from their village somewhere in rural Laos when the land is to be flooded to build a dam. Cursed from birth for some reason, where a clever modern film would dismiss these curses as the natterings of crazy old lady Ahlo instead has a rather uninspired conflict with this belief that only pops up when it’s convenient to the plot.
The child’s gaze in this is too self-assured and too certain of itself to be in any way believable. He goes around telling his useless father how it’s going to be and because his father is written by the “useless” guidelines he sees his son as a kind of authority figure which isn’t done cleverly or touchingly at all like it is in certain other films. Here it’s just a fact that leads nowhere and seemingly has no purpose other than to give the director the impression that his view of childhood as a time when a certain wisdom is granted is somehow not a complete fantasy.
The Rocket comes in a recent barrage of child-based stories that try to make use of motifs more than things like character or emotion. Beasts of the Southern Wild had its flood and ice monster things, Extremely Loud…had its keys and falling man and now The Rocket arrives with its rockets. These are all hollow stories that show no love for the art-form they’re working in or the characters whose stories they are supposedly telling. And while The Rocket isn’t nearly as obnoxiously awful as those two others it isn’t one to get too excited about. The Rocket is released exclusively at the IFI on 14 March 2014.