- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

Todd Field just might be the director most attuned to the public mood of the moment. His new film, “Little Children,” opens in area theaters today. It’s a satirical look at a group of suburban parents who need to grow up as much as their children. In exploring his characters’ emotional lives, he also explores the emotional life of our society.

“There’s a lot of fear, a lot of judgment going on, a lot of finger-pointing,” Mr. Field said of today’s America while speaking last month at the Toronto Film Festival — before the scandal involving disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley.

That idea permeates “Little Children,” but nowhere is it clearer than in the subplot involving Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley), who moves back home after serving a sentence for indecent exposure to a minor. Ex-cop Larry (Noah Emmerich) makes harassing the offender — and scaring the town’s parents — a full-time job.

“We’re sold fear like never before in this society,” Mr. Field declares.

As a child, the director himself was almost kidnapped. “My neighbors came down just at the right moment. I knew if those two men had got me in the car, I would have been dead. But my parents never stopped giving me freedom,” he recalls. “My time was my own from the time I was 10 years old. That gave me a tremendous amount of self-possession and confidence and independence that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.”

When asked if this observation has political parallels — freedom vs. security — Mr. Field nods. He seems excited and starts to speak — but he doesn’t say much before deciding to demur.

“The main thing was this idea of judgment and self-judgment and shame and … what that does to us,” Mr. Field explains of his film. “America is a fairly provincial society. We were established by Puritans, and that hasn’t really changed. We have very overt behavior as Americans; it’s very gaudy and almost ridiculous because we’re so desperate, I think, to protest that puritanical repression this country was based on.”

He adds, “We’re quick to judge in this society. We’re quick to think that we know things about other people that we may not know. That’s what I got out of reading Tom’s [Perrotta] book. That’s why I wanted to make the film.”

“Little Children” was based on the novel by Tom Perrotta, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mr. Field. The director’s first film also has a literary pedigree: “In the Bedroom,” from 2001, was based on a short story by Andre Dubus.

“It’s less lonely,” Mr. Field says of adapting the work of others. “The first script I ever wrote was completely autobiographical. I finished it and thought, ‘I can’t make this now; it’s too close to me. I have to wait 10 years to make this.’ When you read something and it resonates for you, even in a way you don’t completely understand, there’s a lot of freedom in that abstraction you don’t get if it’s something out of your own psyche.”

“In the Bedroom” explored a couple’s teetering marriage in the wake of their son’s murder. “Little Children” shows us a man with a self-described “psychosexual disorder.”

Nevertheless, when asked why he seems drawn to such dark material, Mr. Field rejects the question’s premise.

“At school, I would show [my films] to people, and one of the people I worked with kept saying, ‘Your stories are so dark,’ ” he recalls. “I don’t see things as dark or light,” he continues explaining that his stories are about particular people dealing with particular circumstances.

Five years have passed since the release of Mr. Field’s debut, “In the Bedroom.” It seems he has taken a page out of the filmmaking book of his mentor, Stanley Kubrick. Mr. Field started his career as an actor and says it was “a dream come true” to play Nick Nightingale in Mr. Kubrick’s final film, “Eyes Wide Shut.” That movie ranks in the book “Guinness World Records” as the longest constant movie shoot, at 400 days.

“Stanley would tell you that people make too much about it,” Mr. Field says. “Back when the studios were going, there were films at Warner’s in the ‘40s and ‘50s that would be 12-, 13-, 14-month shoots, and no one thought anything about it.”

Mr. Field describes Mr. Kubrick as “a very disciplined filmmaker,” but he shies away from saying just how the master has influenced him. “I think every filmmaker I’ve gotten to work with has probably influenced how I approach a film,” he says.

Mr. Field received many awards for “In the Bedroom,” but in some quarters, that’s not how he’s best known. He once went to the Royale, a Los Angeles art-house cinema, and was recognized. Mr. Field was rather surprised when the fan said, “You’re Ol’ Drippy on ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force.’” Mr. Field supplied a voice on the cult cartoon, seen on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block.

He laughs, “I kill myself; I make a movie for two years; I walk into an art house; I get recognized for something that took me 10 minutes to do.”

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