Complex Characters and Cruel Children in Intermission and Broken

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A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Complex Characters and Cruel Children in Intermission and Broken

Nicole Gaspar

Intermission (2003) and Broken (2012), independent films produced in the United Kingdom, feature compellingly complex main characters. Intermission, directed by John Crowley, involves many different characters whose stories all turn out to be interconnected by the end of the movie. Broken, directed by Rufus Norris, is about a young girl nicknamed Skunk and her family's dramatic relationship with their troubled neighbors, the Oswalds and the Buckleys. The major characters in the two films are not just all good or all bad, but are portrayed with depth and moral ambiguity. These films also refreshingly show that not all children in movies have to represent purity. Both films have a heavy focus on the harsh realities of life while still preserving a version of the happy ending that most movie viewers have come to expect.

Several characters in each movie are portrayed as morally ambiguous. In Intermission, we are first shown the main couple, John and Deirdre. When John indicates that he needs a break from their relationship, Deirdre begins dating wealthy bank manager Sam, who leaves his wife of fourteen years to be with Deirdre. When John hears this news, he shows up at Deirdre's house, screaming that she is a whore and a horrible person, even though he was the one who wanted a break. He even kidnaps and attempts to rob Sam while an accomplice holds Deirdre hostage. However, in sharp contrast to this reprehensible behavior, near the end of the movie, John ends up saving Deirdre's life, then approaching her at a bar, telling her he loves her and wants to be with her for the rest of his life. Despite everything John has done, such as endangering her life and seemingly going nowhere, she recognizes the sincerity of his love for her and accepts him back, just as the audience somehow is rooting for.

In Broken, the event that sets the film in motion is Mr. Oswald's beating up mentally challenged Rick Buckley after Oswald's daughter made a false rape allegation against Rick. Mr. Oswald is shown throughout the movie to have a hair-trigger temper, screaming at his three daughters and going so far as to beat up not only Rick but also the teacher of his middle daughter, Susan, over rape allegations Susan has made. However, we are later shown a much softer and more caring version of Mr. Oswald. He cries over Susan's apparent death after a miscarriage, and he summons the police after he discovers Skunk having a diabetic seizure in the Buckleys' home. Mr. Oswald's call saves Skunk's life. In Broken, Mr. Oswald saves a life just as John intervened to save Deirdre's in Intermission. In these two films, it seems to be a given that no one can be categorized as completely good or bad, and that everyone is capable of anything. Even the initially least sympathetic characters emerge as saviors.

Children in movies are often portrayed as intrinsically good and innocent human beings. However, the children in these two movies are not portrayed as innocent at all. In Intermission, a young boy named Philip throws a rock at a passing bus, causing a horrible crash. The bus driver, Mick, ends up losing his job. Philip speeds off on his bike, suggesting he has no motive for causing such a catastrophe aside from for his own entertainment. When Mick spots the boy riding a bike later in the movie, Mick chases Philip down until Mick once again crashes. And the front of his car is teetering on the bank of a canal. No one else is there to witness the event but Philip, and Mick desperately pleads for his help. Philip jumps on the bumper and steadies the car, seemingly saving a grateful and perhaps even forgiving Mick-until Philip maliciously hops off and lets Mick crash into the canal below. Unlike the morally ambiguous adults depicted in the film, there is no saving grace for Philip; he comes into the movie only to cause chaos before escaping.

The children in Broken are quite vulgar by themselves, making crude jokes about sexuality and recklessly exploring sex as they become adolescents. Skunk makes angry comments about her father's intimacy with her nanny, showing she knows much about adult relationships for her age. This awareness is also apparent in ten-year-old Saskia-the youngest Oswald daughter-who bullies Skunk at school and is shown drinking and smoking cigarettes at a party. Two more young girls on scooters in recurring scenes do little to forward the plot, appearing every so often only to hurl bags of poop at passersby, just for fun-and, as with Philip in Intermission, without even a hint of remorse or retribution.

Both of these movies show that life can be tough, and the endings aren't perfect, but the characters work through their problems in spite of them. In Intermission, fired bus driver Mick is bound to a wheelchair after the car accident plunges him into a canal, yet in the aftermath of this personal tragedy, he is shown wildly celebrating with others after winning a race with another wheelchair bound man in a bar. In another twist, previously passive filmmaker Ben picks up a gun and shoots a would-be murderer, saving an injured detective's life. Ben replays the scene over and over, obviously disturbed after being forced into a life or death situation, but the detective covers it up and assures Ben that he did the right thing and everything will be all right-for him, less so for the detective, now bound to a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.

The ending in Broken is also not ideal by any means, but ultimately a measure of happiness is achieved. Rick Buckley's family in particular shows the difficulty of living with severe mental illness and the toll it takes on the parents raising their child. After Rick's mother starts screaming at him, Rick accidently pushes her down the stairs and breaks her neck. He then wounds his father, who has discovered the corpse. Bereft of his caretaking parents, Rick is unable to cope with Skunk's seizure and ends up killing himself after having a mental breakdown.

Skunk has type 1 diabetes, and the movie goes so far as to show her injecting the needles in painful close-ups. Several scenes show how her disease inconveniences her. She has to be home at a certain time to take her insulin, or the results could be fatal, as they nearly are before Mr. Oswald intervenes. At the film's visionary end, when Skunk is in the church facing the afterlife, deciding whether to die or to continue to live and to reunite with her father, it is not at all easy to tell whether Skunk will choose life or death.

To conclude, Intermission and Broken realistically depict adults who are multifaceted and cannot be categorized with black and white thinking. No major character in either film is completely good or completely bad, and the films emphasize the gray area that can be explored when it comes to our morality. In these films the harsh living conditions and problems, such as diabetes and mental illness, faced by the middle class in the United Kingdom are not hidden away but are instead thrust into our faces. Even children deal with these complex and harsh issues from a young age in these films-just as they do in real life.

In the class where I saw these films, a question was directed to me: Could I forgive a partner who treated me as abusively as Deirdre was treated by John? Could I forgive someone like Mr. Oswald-who punches first, asks questions later? The answers to these questions would depend on the exact situation. While mulling over these questions, I realized that the complex characterizations in both Intermission and Broken raised questions I hadn't considered before.