“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them… I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them… I would never talk to that person about boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars. I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
At the start of his book The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery describes the limits of communication between child and adult – the resigned ‘inner-child’ within a man whose speech consists of what other adults wish to hear; recalling a child that has assimilated itself to such an extent, that its own childhood is denied, must remain a secret figment of the imagination.
Saint-Exupery’s ‘child’ appears to be a strongly-bound blood relation to the children in Peter Greenaway’s feature films – a place where minors are very much alone, physically as much as mentally.
These pieces will concentrate upon a very special breed of children who inhabit the various tales created by Greenaway – namely the only child. Greenaway’s child has no siblings, no friends its own age, a child always the product of unorthodox or dubious parentage, a child prematurely existing in miniature worlds where only the adult resides; a child forced to compromise – toys put aside in exchange for issues of sex, death, greed and decay. Issues that are taboo to discuss among children. It is these very issues in Greenaway’s films that make this child less of a voluntary participant to these ideas and more of an acute observer.
During each successive film, the child will grow in age, may alter its sex: “… almost without my realising it – a child has been growing older and more difficult to ignore”. This was a pre-The Baby Of Macon statement made by Greenaway; perhaps by the time The Baby Of Macon had been completed, we – as an audience, have observed the complete downfall of a child. Its ‘innocence’ has been corrupted by adults in each ensuing film – each situation becoming more horrific until The Baby Of Macon, where innocence itself is finally severed and neatly buried.
The approach taken here consists of personal observations from six feature films by Peter Greenaway, and has been applied together with various examples of child psychology, Shakespearean imagery and of influences on Greenaway.