The Royal Tenenbaums + Little Women

Double feature: Here are two films to submit in favor of the “nurture” side of the eternal “nature vs. nurture” debate.

The parents in both “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Little Women” are didacts committed to creating a rich and consistently-messaged environment for their children.  With high standards for their own didacticism, as well as for the beneficiaries of it, both sets of parents have a clear hand in shaping not only the characters of their children, but also those of their immediate neighbors – in both cases, somewhat forlorn lads who long to a be a part of the homes they watch from across the way.

In both films, warm and wise mothers intentionally cultivate a strong idea of home, a place governed by rules that may not (but should) apply to the world at large.  This concept of home is something that the offspring in both films react to in parallel ways – with the competing desires to hunker down and stay forever, strike out and create their own, crawl back to the old one, and flee it in confusion after particularly emotional episodes.

Both films also have something to say about the long-term effects of precocity, the different notions of loving someone “like a brother,” and the relative constancy of sibling allegiances.

And speaking of constancy – each film presents us with a set of children whose characters, proclivities, and appearances remain remarkably stable over time.  “The Royal Tenenbaums” flashes back to miniature versions of its adult protagonists, and “Little Women” progresses by serving up full-sized versions of its juvenile characters.

In this way, on second thought, both films could just as likely provide supporting evidence for the side of “nature.”

For a marathon: To say that “Dogtooth” would make an interesting addition to this double feature’s exploration of parental education is by no means to endorse its flagrant excesses.

For a sweet extended riff on the “running away to the museum” scene in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” check out “Moonrise Kingdom.”

(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “Phil Dowsing Creative” and “suzettesuzette” at Flickr)

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