I always had an urge to lose myself in the wilderness surrounding my childhood home. I remember running through the aspen grove outside my parent’s front steps, climbing over the stones that marked where our acreage ended, and stumbling down the steep hills in desperate pursuit of the small creek that I had deemed magical.
Sometimes I wish that my sense of wonder and love for the natural and seemingly mystical world around me persisted to this day. Sometimes I wish that my innocence had never faded as the difficult realities of the world set in. I know I am not alone in this sentiment.
Daniel Carbone’s haunting and evocative feature film debut, Hide Your Smiling Faces, explores the dark, transitional period that every child enters when facing life’s sometimes harsh and devastating truths. The film is full of “imagined scents of ripeness and decay” and displays “the great outdoors as a wild kingdom fraught with peril.” Carbone focuses on the relationship between two brothers—Tommy, age nine, and Eric, age fourteen. Their summer together is immediately colored by the death of Tommy’s friend Ian, who fell or jumped from a bridge in town. Ian’s intention, or lack thereof, is never revealed.
As the boys go through their summer, attempting to comprehend the loss of their friend through idle talk of death, the audience is given a beautiful, raw portrayal of the juxtapositions within the brothers’ relationship: they constantly bully each other, but their moments of sibling intimacy and pure childhood innocence are remarkably compassionate and heartbreaking.
Ian’s death is present throughout the film – from the conversations the boys have, to the dismal attitudes of the adults, and the overwhelming, bleak beauty of the cinematography. This is an incredibly accurate representation of the lasting psychological effect that death has on children. According to James A. Graham, Ph.D., at the age of 10 children “begin to understand that death is a universal, irreversible, and nonfunctional state” and commonly face three main stages of grief, which are expressed throughout the arc of Carbone’s film:
1. The child begins to understand what death is, knowing its characteristics, and being able to recognize when it has happened.
2. The child understands that death is a reality and begins to accept the emotions that come along with that realization.
3. The child faces a reorganization of their sense of identity, and his or her relationships with others and the environment.
By the end of the film, Eric and Tommy have seemingly completed these first two stages and have begun to create their sense of identity and the relationship with the environment. Even though they have both suffered the “irredeemable loss that young people must endure” while facing “the great unknowns of growing up,” Carbone still intertwines the boys with the surrounding wildlife throughout the film to show us that their innocence, while dwindling, has not been extinguished.
Posted by Meghan Dulsky