Confronting ‘The Selfish Giant’

And the Giant’s heart melted as he looked out. “How selfish I have been!” he said; “now I know why the Spring would not come here. I will put that poor little boy on the top of the tree, and then I will knock down the wall, and my garden shall be the children’s playground for ever and ever.”

— from “The Selfish Giant” by Oscar Wilde

In recent years, British directors such as Shane Meadows, Lynne Ramsay, Andrea Arnold and Ken Loach have given audiences some brilliant, heart-wrenching films about characters who live in poverty.

Now, we can add Clio Barnard to that list.

This week, I watched her first narrative film. It’s called “The Selfish Giant.” (It’s available on VOD.)

It absolutely pummeled my heart.

The film was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s short story of the same name. In this case, the movie is definitely better than the source material.

Here’s the synopsis:

THE SELFISH GIANT is a contemporary fable about 13 year old Arbor (Conner Chapman) and his best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas). Excluded from school and outsiders in their own neighborhood, the two boys meet Kitten (Sean Gilder), a local scrapdealer – the Selfish Giant. They begin collecting scrap metal for him using a horse and cart. Swifty has a natural gift with horses while Arbor emulates Kitten – keen to impress him and make some money. However, Kitten favors Swifty, leaving Arbor feeling hurt and excluded, driving a wedge between the boys. Arbor becomes increasingly greedy and exploitative, becoming more like Kitten.

After watching the film (and reading the story), I feel compelled to ask: Is our society a selfish giant, and has a permanent winter taken residence in our garden?

Read the story. Watch the film.

See what you think.

I’m convinced we (whether we’re talking about England or the United States) can do better. (Remember this from yesterday’s post?)

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