Analysis: “The City of Lost Children”

Someday there will be a helmet one person can wear enabling them to enter into the dreaming mind of another. Until then, The City of Lost Children (1995) offers a foretaste. Released in France nineteen years ago this month, it has escaped meaningful analysis until now. I wonder whether even the filmmakers were entirely cognizant of the meaning of this dark comedic fantasy masterpiece. The DVD commentary reveals very little. Lead actor, Ron Perlman, says, “I never understood any aspect of this film.” For him it was an experience of “enhanced reality.” The case simply says: “A gutsy little girl and a sentimental strongman join hearts and hands to save a small boy’s dreams from a madman’s master plan,” while catchcopy that says: “Some people follow their dreams. Others steal them,” reaches toward the film’s archetypal value.

The beginning of this story that seamlessly blends alluring beauty and alarming ugliness is not revealed in the opening scene; it begins with creation of the world by a psychotic Creator whose schizophrenia is manifested, on one hand, in a Christ figure that becomes cloned to make narcoleptic minions all claiming to be “the original,” and, on the other hand, as a deceptive Luciferic brain-in-a-box directing a monster in human form, a Devil figure named Krank. Hopelessly and recklessly seeking wholeness, Krank callously invades the psyches of dreaming youngsters, traumatizing them and making it unlikely that their lives can ever unfold happily. Their reclamation relies on making reconnection with the One (personified by Perlman’s character “One”) with the help of feminine nurturance personified by Miette.

The real City of Lost Children is multiversal Omniverse. Near the end of the movie, just before the Christ-like original of the clones dies, he says: “The void equals infinity!” In other words, the non-manifest reality that lies beyond the mind and time and space is fully expressed in the manifest reality of endless experiencing within the dimensions of space-time-mind. At least two objects in the story symbolize infinity: the chain pull that rings a bell and Krank’s ring which bears the ouroboros symbol. For me, when the ring falls from Krank’s finger it symbolizes the loss of unbounded infinity in the creation of a moment. In the midst of his dance with Miette he briefly becomes a child who can dream. The film is packed with insights that escaped critics who found it “impossibly convoluted” or otherwise require stories that connect their own dots.

A powerful theme of this surreal pre-steampunk tale involves the concept of “cause and effect,” presented not only through the film’s action in general but also by its use of Rube Goldberg-like contraptions that help stimulate the viewer’s mind to question the extent to which free-will is a reality in waking life any more than in a dream. For those who see Omniverse as a machine designed and set into motion at the beginning of Time, it is paradoxical to argue for the idea of free-will or to believe that anyone can be said to be the cause of anything. And yet the story displays the power of personal intention to rescue the child within, save the day, and transform the world. A reasonable take would be that free-will is delimited but not overcome—not even by the highest of powers in Omniverse—because of permanent connection with the One.

If there is a practical ground-level message for humanity in this film, it is this: Protect the fragile psyches of small children from harsh, cold, rigid, mechanical perceptions of reality until they are old enough to defend their imaginations on their own. Otherwise we end up with a world filled with “Kranks” and half-blind half-wit oppressors who see the world in too few dimensions.

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2 Responses to “Analysis: “The City of Lost Children””

  1. Stark Raven Says:

    How do you interpret the ending of the story after the creator and devil both meet their demise?

  2. PluribusOne™ Says:

    As “One” and the lost children escape the fiery destruction of Krank’s evil isle, note that “Uncle Irvin,” the brain in the fish-tank-like box, has been rescued after having engineered the events leading to this climax. He not only survives but is positioned prominently at the prow of the lead boat, indicating his role as Captain.

    As we shared in the post, Uncle Irvin is the Lucifer figure in this story, the rebellious bringer-of-light. The very last utterance in the film is the child, Denree, belching, which signifies rudeness and disrespect. Like a period at the end of a sentence, the burp is saying that the movie—a fairytale, a kind of Gnostic bedtime story—expresses disdain for Christianity.

    Whereas Christians consider the Archangel Lucifer to have fallen and become Satan—which is not strictly scriptural—Luciferians do not accept that uniquely Christian doctrine but, instead, view Lucifer as the bringer of Enlightenment, the liberator and guiding light.

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