Cinema and Drama

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In the Dardenne Brothers' La Promesse, what are the significant themes?  How do the directors represent childhood?

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La Promesse is compelling because it presents challenging themes that are difficult to confront.  One significant theme is the complicated nature of consciousness.  The film does not depict a modern setting that is simple or reductive.  Multiculturalism, commerce, globalization, and economic incentives are all shown as realities where there is complexity and lack of simplistic certainty.  Another theme is that coming of age and maturation translates into trying to make sense of such challenging realities.  Igor comes of age when Hamidu dies and when he becomes closer to Assita.  Igor is no longer the innocent child that blindly does his father's bidding.  Rather, he understands that maturation means a lack of clarity and lack of certainty where there once was lucidity.  Moments such as Igor's assertion that "My father is wrong, but I am not a snitch," reflects the uncertainty in consciousness.  Finally, the theme of generational conflict is evident in how Igor cannot simply ignore his ethical and moral responsibilities to Assita.  While Roger is certain in what must be done and insists that Igor acts accordingly, the reality is that he must confront his father.  Youth is forced to make right that which the elder generation has wronged.  

These themes are reflective of the intricate complexity throughout the film.  Nothing is shown to be clear.  Such an emotional tone is evident in the film's depiction of childhood.  What Igor used to believe in childhood is something thrown into question as the film progresses.  Childhood is shown to be a condition where simplistic realities present themselves.  Igor follows his father, wishes to be admired by him, and does what he thinks is necessary to survive.  If this involves transgressing against a moral code, it is something that Igor does not hesitate to do because of his childlike belief that what he does is what is meant to be done.  Childhood is shown as a time where there is acceptance without question.  Yet, this condition fades as Igor recognizes the challenges in growing up.  The blind faith of childhood is supplanted with questions that lead to the realization that little is absolute.  Conflict is inevitable, something that was not as present in childhood.  Maturation is a realm in which one struggles to find the right path, an existential struggle not as readily present in Igor's childhood. The realm of childhood is one where blind faith and happy acceptance reside, something that gives way to maturation and coming of age.

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