The Innocents (2021) Movie Explained: Ending, Themes, & Subversion Of Childhood Innocence Analyzed
The Innocents (2021) Movie Ending Explained & Themes Analyzed: Norwegian filmmaker and screenwriter Eskil Vogt who made his sparkling feature debut with the twisty and sexually-explicit Blind (2014) returns to the director’s chair a second time with an original and gripping supernatural thriller titled The Innocents (De uskyldige). Marked by an extraordinary juvenile performance from a cast of children all under the age of 12, this superbly atmospheric and deftly crafted Scandinavian horror is a dark and disturbing morality fable that deals with a bunch of unpredictable tweens who possesses some dangerous paranormal abilities. Screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, The Innocents is a visual and visceral film about the magical and scary world of childhood.
Set during the tranquillity of a bright Nordic summer, The Innocents follows four children who discover astonishing and mysterious powers that they innocently summon in their games, far from the eyes of adults. Through experiments and game-playing, they discover that their powers grow stronger from their association with each other. But playtime takes a dangerous turn when things turn sinister and one of them seeks revenge. It is quite reminiscent of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies as it also attempts to manifest the terrible consequences of what happens when children possess extraordinary abilities and powers. The title of the film recalls Jack Clayton’s spooky 1961 adaptation of Henry James’ The Return of the Screw and falls in the same spirit of every other film where kids discover they have special and freaky powers from The Omen to the Harry Potter franchise to Midnight Special and Stranger Things. However, Vogt’s approach is unique and distinctive as it challenges the conventional and deeply-set assumptions of children and childhood.
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This write-up is an attempt to explain some of the aspects of the film that requires more clarity. Some of the narrative aspects fall behind in explaining the rationale for the certain turn of events, but the ambiguity opens the possibility for expanding the imagination of the viewers. Refrain from reading the article and save it for later if you haven’t watched The Innocents.
THE INNOCENTS SYNOPSIS & SUMMARY:
THE TWO SISTERS – IDA AND ANNA
The Innocents commences with the close-up shot of a freckle-faced sleeping child in the back seat of a car, and then the camera slides over to her sister. The two sisters, 9-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Flottum) and her slightly older, non-verbal, autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), are moving with their parents during the summer holidays (Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Morten Svartveit) to a new home in the block of flats near a peaceful Oslo suburb. Since their busy parents shower most of their attention unknowingly to the disabled Anna, Ida feels left out and unnoticed.
Anna is nothing but a nuisance and inconvenience to Ida with her restricted socialisation and repetitive behaviours. She hums a lot and spins objects like plates or tops stuck in the interior world unmindful to everyone else around. Ida seems to enjoy deliberately hurting others, her sister and animals alike. Unbeknownst to her mother, Ida is casually dangerous to an unresponsive Anna who watches unblinkingly when she indulges in pinching and hurting her.
NEW PLACE NEW FRIENDS – MEETING BEN AND AISHA
Ida is left to her own devices, to play alone in the area, a tower block at the edge of a wood, as her parents are busy settling in. In the playground, she meets a sulky loner Ben (Sam Ashraf) who shows her his hiding place as well as his telekinetic abilities while Ida reveals that she is double-jointed. Ida is fascinated and delighted by his ability to make a bottle cap dropped from her fist fall crookedly to land a few feet away. When Ida reaches back home, she puts glass shards in Anna’s shoes, attacked by a bout of jealousy for gobbling up the parent’s attention.
Quite surprisingly, a dark-haired young girl with vitiligo Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), from the same apartment complex building, feels the pain of Anna. When her cat goes missing, Aisha goes to find it and reaches the block of flats where Anna resides. While searching, Aisha puts her hand on the same doorknob Anna has her hands-on, on the other side, and feels an eerie connection between each other developing telepathic powers. When the camera sweeps through the misty high-rise, we hear the voices of children communicating through thought transference.
When her mother entrusts Ida to take care of Anna, Ida finds it a hassle and leaves her alone in the park to accompany Ben. Before leaving Ida and Ben take turns in pinching Anna in the hand, but Anna is still detached and unemotional. In the playground, Ben gets bullied by other older kids while Ida stands as a passive bystander. When Anna is left alone in the swing, Aisha finds her abandoned, sits along with her providing companionship.
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Near the woods, Ben finds Aisha’s cat which he had christened as Jabba. With a natural predilection for cruelty, Ben and Ida drop Jabba down from a tall building. Jabba survives the falls but gets injured gravely. Much to Ida’s apprehension and shock, Ben kills the cat by stomping on its head. Distressed by Ben’s slow-burn sociopathy, Ida goes back to find her sister. However, Ida cannot find her sister by the swing set where she left her. When Ida finds her, Anna is playing with Aisha and Aisha seems to understand what Anna is thinking. Ida tries to take Anna back home, but Anna refuses to move. So, Aisha helps Anna in leading her to her home.
THE QUARTET OF MISFITS DISCOVERING PSYCHIC POWERS
The next day, as promised, Ida takes Anna directly to Aisha for them to play together in the park. As Anna goes to find out what happened to the cat, Ben finds both Anna and Aisha and chooses to join them. By the time Ida gets back to them, Anna can move objects with her mind in the presence of Ben. But when they reach back home, Anna cannot do it. It makes Ida realise that it was the power in their group that made her abilities work. Ida brings them all together and Ben is now able to move bigger objects than he is usually able to. Aisha reveals that she cannot move objects like Ben and Anna but she can communicate with Anna telepathically, and she can also feel the thoughts of Ben a little bit. They start to experiment by sending thoughts to the others from a distance trying to discern each other’s abilities. Ben cannot read the thoughts of Anna directly but he can read them indirectly by reading Aisha’s thoughts. Ida also finds that she is devoid of any of these abilities.
On looking at the respective homes of the children, Ben is more neglected by his single mother (Lise Tonne) than the other three children. She mostly ignores him, boiling hot dogs for dinner and talking on the phone. Aisha’s doting mother (Kadra Yusuf) is also suffering from heartbreak and depression, often experiencing uncontrollable crying spells, because of the recent separation from her spouse. When Ida whispers “shark” into Anna’s ear, Aisha draws the image of a shark in the windowpane of her apartment building and Anna draws the same image in her magical drawing board. Ben also draws the same image in a small sandpile in his living room. At night, Ben makes Aisha walk from her bedroom to her living room through mind control and when she comes to her senses, she feels unnerved.
BEN’S VIOLENT STREAK
The quartet continues to experiment by communicating their thoughts at greater distances. When Ida whispers “Ben is a piece of shit” in Anna’s ear, Aisha listens to the thought at a distance, calls out the words, and laughs hysterically. Ben flies into a rage and starts hurling stones at Aisha which knocks her down. Ida misses the stone by an inch while Anna goes to confront him. Ben and Anna start a mental fight of sorts, shattering a nearby tree branch, trying to overpower each other. A splinter hurts Anna in the leg and Ben tries to touch the injury. Aisha drives him away telling him that he is hurting her even though she is not crying outwardly. When Aisha implores and encourages Anna to speak and express what she has to say, Anna starts speaking verbally surprising Ida. When the sisters reach back home, their mother accuses Ida of the injury of Anna. Ida tries to make Anna talk in her mother’s presence, but she is unable to talk.
The children find that their abilities are getting stronger than before. Anna is able to move objects on her own. And we see Ben becoming a silent tyrant exhibiting aggressive and disruptive behavior in his home when he starts hurling things at his mother and knocks down a pot of boiling water on her legs. Aisha has a vision of her own mother bleeding from her head, even though it is actually Ben’s mother who lays unconscious, bleeding from her head. Ben’s mother begs him to call for help, but he disregards her and lets her die.
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THE HEALING PRESENCE OF AISHA
Anna continues to exhibit her abilities at home when she spins plate tops or moves the direction of the flow of water in the sink. When Anna and Aisha are playing in the playground, Anna’s mother finally hears Anna talking. When she reaches back home, Anna responds to her parents with the help of Aisha’s words which are transferred to her mind. It is the healing presence of Aisha and thought transference that made Anna express her thoughts verbally.
Ben starts using his abilities to get revenge on those who have done him wrong. He is able to take over the mind of his adult neighbour and he puppeteers his body to bludgeon the block’s resident bullying kid, killing the boy. Ben, on meeting Ida, tells her that he can mentally control and manipulate others. Ida asks him to do it with her, so he complies. He concentrates hard on controlling her mind and he makes her drop the branch she was holding and made her walk towards him.
Ben is also able to break the branch Ida was holding quite easily. The duo then goes to the playground, where Ben breaks the leg of a kid from the distance through his powers. Anna senses the wrongdoings of Ben and becomes anxious and restless. Aisha appears at the scene to stop Ben from causing more harm, but he starts to suffocate her with his mind. Ida pushes him to stop him from hurting Aisha. Soon after, Anna also arrives on the scene and Ben, getting scared, runs away.
HOW DID AISHA DIE?
Anna’s mother comes to fetch her since she ran outside without supervision. Aisha communicates to Ida through Anna by telling her that Ben will try to endanger them by sending other people after them. So Aisha asks their help to stop Ben’s evildoings. Ida asks their mother permission to go outside, but their mother is insistent on staying inside. At night, Ben gets inside the head of Aisha’s mother and manifests her fears to make her attack her own daughter.
With a knife, Aisha is killed by her own mother. Later, when Aisha’s mother comes to her senses, she sees the bloody body of Aisha and panics. Anna becomes apprehensive and uneasy when she realises that Aisha is going to be attacked. She hysterically tries to break away from her parents’ hold to reach Aisha, but Ben has already done the deed.
THE INNOCNETS (2021) MOVIE ENDING EXPLAINED: THE TRIUMPH OF GOOD OVER EVIL
Anna is sad and withdrawn after the demise of Aisha. Without the help of Aisha, she is not expressing her thoughts or feelings. Ida is frightened and alarmed that something unfortunate might happen to her own family. When she sees Aisha’s memorial, she asks her father whether he or her mother would do something similar to Ida and Anna. Even though her father reassures her, she is agitated that Ben might attempt to harm them as well. Ida impulsively decides to go and meet Ben with a plan brewing in her mind. She lures Ben to a bridge from where she pushes him off, but he survives the fall. Ben gets into the mental faculties of Ida and traps her in her worst fears. While she is confined in her nightmarish realm, he gets her to go on a busy road. But, at the last moment, the pain in her hand distracts her, allowing her to jump away from the car that only grazes her, leading to a broken leg. When her mother interrogates her, she restrains from sharing what is going on.
When Ida comes back from the hospital, she witnesses Ben roaming the area near the apartment complex. She becomes panicky when she realises that Ben might avenge her for pushing him off the bridge. When Ida’s mother grabs a knife in the kitchen, being afraid of being killed by the mind control of Ben, Ida locks herself in a closet. When she steps outside, Anna is missing. Anna has gone to fight Ben in order to stop him from wreaking destruction on their lives. Ida breaks the casting on her leg and limps to her side. Anna and Ben enter into a final mental confrontation where they wrestle with destroying their opponents. In this battle of good and evil, Anna triumphs as she ultimately subdues and defeats Ben, killing him with her mental faculties. Anna then returns to her apartment and turns back into her former self, wiping the slate clean. An emotionally spent Ida cries in her mother’s arms realising what her sister has done to protect her and her family.
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THE INNOCENTS (2021) MOVIE THEMES EXPLAINED:
SUBVERSION OF CHILDHOOD INNOCENCE
The Innocents challenges the deeply-set assumptions about children and childhood that often associate juvenescence with innocence, powerlessness, and fundamental “goodness”. Eskil Vogt gives us a glimpse of the parallel world of children which is a revelatory mixture of both innocence and cruelty where the moral concepts of adults are absurd and inconsequential. The film exploits the notion that children are not devoid of evil intentions and questions whether everyone can have an inherent evil in them.
It also deconstructs the notion that children are defenseless by granting them unnatural powers that render them less than innocent, good, or obedient. The character of Ben with his experimentally cruel streak takes pleasure in torturing and killing a cat while Ida, fed up enough with the extra attention required by her sister, plays cruel pranks on her and inspects how her unfeeling sister would react when she hurts her. Anna and Aisha are defensive forces that try to bring order out of chaos without causing harm to anyone. The Innocents portrays an interesting medley of childhood innocence and ignorance with sinister savagery and coldblooded brutality as also part of their experience.
LACK OF EMPATHY AND MORAL CONSCIENCE
Vogt’s The Innocents evokes a universal sense of childhood from the child’s perspective. However, it interrogates the existence of moral conscience or moral reasoning in children in general or children endowed with supernatural powers and how they misuse and exploit the powers for their own gratification and self-indulgence. The children in the film possess diverse abilities like moving objects, seeing visions of events, shattering objects, sending messages to others, controlling the bodies of people, manifesting fears of people.
With such great power in their capacities, some choose to forget the moral demands upon them. Childhood morality or the knowledge to distinguish right and wrong is skewed at times while some show empathy and a well-developed moral compass that would resemble them as adults. Anna and Aisha are protectors who possess good moral values of life while Ida and Anna showcase a broken moral development that needs urgent attention.
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PSYCHODYNAMIC PERSPECTIVE ON PERSONALITY
The film, which utilizes the perennial theme of children developing paranormal abilities, also strives to conceptualize Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality development. According to Freud’s theory, certain aspects of your personality are more primal and might pressure you to act upon your most basic urges. Other parts of your personality work to counteract these urges and strive to make you conform to the demands of reality. The instinctive and primitive behaviors are encapsulated through the character of Ben who functions as the ‘id’ of our personality which can be both disruptive and socially unacceptable.
Aisha and Anna, with their combined effort function as the ‘superego’ or conscience of our personality that holds the internalized moral standards and ideals that provide guidelines for making judgments. The character of Ida functions as the ego of our personality who tries to moderate between the demands of the id and the superego. At the end of the film, Ida emerges as a well-adjusted personality who develops an ego ideal with an understanding of suppressing the unwanted socially unacceptable urges and behaviors.