” ‘Honor your father and mother’… nowhere does it say, ‘Honor your children so that they will be able to honor others as well as themselves’ ”
– Alice Miller, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware
Peter Greenaway has illustrated the child in the singular – perhaps isolating it so that his ideas of childhood do not become diluted, and are therefore more of an example by simplifying its exposure.
Greenaway’s child has illustrated a parental crime – the crime of denying the child its own childhood, the child a mere porter to lug the baggage of its parents’ convictions. These adults are too blind, too selfish to realise their child’s talent for intuition – often caused by the act of parentification, where the anti-nurturing aspects of the parent have produced a child that empathises to such an extent, that it experiences the untimely load of responsibility.
These children experience the worst of institutional regime, which are exemplified by the various locations in each film – the emotionless, regimented upbringing of Augustus at Compton Ansty, the games in Drowning By Numbers that have neatly entangled Smut into their web of regulations, the church in The Baby Of Macon where the child has become an appetising Last Supper.
The child has developed physically from The Draughtsman’s Contract where it was six, through to The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover where its navel is finally severed at the age of fourteen – cutting the cord, a final release into the adult world. Perhaps The Baby Of Macon can be seen as a New Testament with its ‘second coming’ of a baby. The physical growth of the child has returned to the beginning, yet its cognitive development is abnormally mature – a reincarnation of the children from the previous films? Seeing the child’s extraordinary wisdom, this is not within the realms of impossibility; and he is a child who appears to have suffered most of life’s atrocities. Conversely, the mutilation of the child’s complete being might suggest the end of the era of Peter Greenaway’s ‘only child’.
On a final, somewhat sombre note, these children are a reminder of Peter Greenaway’s view that “the good rarely get rewarded and the bad rarely get punished and the innocent are always abused”.