Light spoilers for Kid with a Bike and One Night In October, episode 4.2 of Fringe
One of my favorite movies at AFI Fest Presented by Audi last week was Kid with a Bike, from the Dardenne Brothers. I loved the movie on its own, with no qualifying or explanation necessary to know how much, but there was some information revealed in the Q&A that brought the story a little bit more into this world, and the world of one of my favorite television shows, Fringe. Buzzuh, huh, what now?
Let's back up. Kid with a Bike is about an 11-year-old boy who gets dropped off an at orphanage by his father, who tells him he will be back in one month. After this month passes, the boy does everything he can to get in touch, but his father is gone, moved out of their apartment and has left no indication to where he might have gone. When the boy sneaks out of the orphanage to see if his dad really abandoned him, but perhaps even more importantly, to see if his dad left the boy's beloved bike behind for him in the apartment, he encounters a woman who ends up taking the boy in on the weekends, committing herself to showing this boy the love and affection he needs to lead a good life. The boy fights back, getting involved in bad situations, seeking acceptance in places where he'll never get it, and we are left to wonder when he will realize the love he so craves is right there waiting for him in the form of Samantha.
During the Q&A the Dardenne brothers, making their first ever appearance in Los Angeles, talked a bit about what drew them to tell this story.
Movies give another chance to these characters. One can say that they give these characters another chance because for instance, this story was born out of a story that we heard in Japan told to us by a judge for Juvenile Delinquents about a boy who was now a man who had committed murder. When he was a child, his father took him to an orphanage and told him that he would come back and get him and he never came back and the boy waited and waited and waited year after year after year…and fiction allows us to say "Is this child going to be able to escape the destiny which is prepared for him? Is he going to be able to have another destiny?" And that's what we're trying to tell with Samantha.
Essentially, the brothers created an alternate universe for this boy that they heard about in Japan. They created a world where a force intervened to steer him on a different path. Hearing this immediately brought me to tears. It's not like this Japanese man truly had his life changed, it's not like anyone went back in time and gave him a caretaker, but there was something so elegant about this source of inspiration and noble about the intention of the storytelling, I was moved.
It reminded me of the second episode of this season of Fringe. No, really. In One Night In October, we watch a man in the alt-verse, John McClennan, using a device of a fringe-scientific nature to steal happy memories from people and inject them into himself, in order to get a brief high, the difference being this method makes him feel what it is to remember true happiness, not create a false sense of it through substances. Basically, he is a serial killer with the pattern of seeking out happy people.
The Alt-Fringe team discovers that in our universe, John McClennan Prime is a renowned expert on serial killers and request bringing him on to investigate and help them find where Alt-McClennan might be hiding out. We wonder why in one universe, this man who clearly has homicidal tendencies, chooses to study serial killers, while in another, he is a slave to those impulses and becomes one himself. It is revealed in a confrontation between both McClennans that they share one very particular moment in their past - when their father discovered their collection of dead animals. Alt-McClennan was severely punished and beaten for his actions. McClennan Prime ran away, fell down, got hurt, and was rescued by a woman named Marjorie, who ended up caring for the boy in spite of what he had done, telling him "Even when it’s the darkest, you can step into the light." Jealous that McClennan Prime got to have the happy life, Alt-McClennan steals his memories, which leads the team to believe that the assimilated McClennan, without those memories, would become identical to his other worldly twin and morph into a serial killer himself. But the impact of this woman on his life is too great. While McClennan Prime's memories may be gone, the irreversible impact Marjorie had on his soul remains. The power of love isn't evident merely in memories. When we have amnesia, we don't forget basic language, or the accent we grew up speaking with - the things that are ingrained in us use a different part of the brain, and being truly loved is an essential aspect to our entire being, not one of a list of memories that can fade.
Ultimately, both Kid with a Bike and One Night In October are about the transformative nature of love, seen through two universes, the one where a boy from a bad place is forced to succumb to his fate, and one where an angel steps in and alters the course of his life for the better. Both are extremely effective in telling the same sort of story, but in completely different ways. One, a classically Dardennian drama, the other hardcore science fiction, proving the worth of their respective genres and mediums by showing two very different ways to come to the same conclusion.
Perhaps fans of a movie like Kid with a Bike and fans of a show like Fringe have more in common than we think, and if fans of either are reading this right now, I encourage you to make a point of catching the one you aren't familiar with and seeing for yourself.