A Manhattan-based journalist wrote me earlier today and suggested that Little Children‘s Jackie Earle Haley, who plays a profoundly creepy child molester/flasher, and Phyllis Somerville , who plays his caring, strong-willed mom, could both qualify as Best Supporting Actor nominees in their respective categories. “Both are terrific,” he enthused, “but I think Somerville’s portrait of a mother’s unconditional love is absolutely heart-breaking…just great work.”
Sommerville is wonderful, I agreed, but Haley’s sexual deviant is extremely icky. “Haley’s a fine actor and it’s good he’s back,” I responded, “but that character he plays…forget it.” The East Coast guy replied by saying “Icky is not bad, and in this case, icky is heartbreaking.”
And I said, “Because of this character, this movie is going to run into trouble with general audiences. Hearts are not going to be broken — some people are just going to be repulsed. There’s a scene in a car that happens between Haley and a nice lonely woman he’s met on a blind date, and after this scene any notion of compassion for Haley’s guy is out the window.”
My friend said, “The final beat in the arc of this character happens because of his shame at what he is. If that isn’t heartbreaking, I don’t know what is. Thanks for your compassion.” And I said, “Given what he is — a total sexual cockroach — and his behavior beforehand, what happens at the end, harsh as this may sound, isn’t that terrible a consequence. When it comes to child molesters, there’s a serious temptation to say ‘throw them into the wood chipper.'”
They don’t deserve sympathy? he asked. And I answered, “Do Catholic-priest molestors of choir boys deserve our sympathy? Do compulsive sexual abusers of any kind deserve it? I really don’t feel that way. There’s no real expectation in treatment circles that any of these guys have a chance of being cured. I’m with the right-wingers on this issue. They’re bad news. Shed no tears.”