DM Haight

The City of Lost Children, directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is a surrealist masterpiece in a steampunk world. How can I even describe how strange the mad scientist is, or how incredibly alike his “brothers” he is not. It’s a creepy film from start to finish, but not in the macabre way we have come to view creepy in cinema. No, City of Lost Children is on a level all its own in terms of skin crawling. Every character, with the exception of the children, carries with them not an air, but a thick fog of oddity. But somehow they fit into their imagined, dream-like world perfectly. Marc and Jeunet have created a symphony of steampunk, a world or dreams, and a world of nightmares. Not only is the style suited to the characters, but the characters have managed to adapt to a virtually unknown cinema landscape, and they have thrived.

Daniel Emilfork plays Krank, a mad scientist living on an oil rig in the middle of nowhere. He knows nothing of dreams except for the nightmares he wrenches  from the kids he abducts. He has several “brothers”, each of which is identical to the other, and they all talk to Irving, a living brain in a box, oh, and then there’s the tiny woman, Martha, who rivals the creepiness of Krank. They all form this crazy little family-like group, and they are all looking for the original creator of themselves. But they aren’t the only threat to the children of this steampunk world. There is a cult of strange blind men who have willingly given up their sight to don their own mechanical technologies that help them perceive the world, instead of seeing it. They believe that they hold the key to true enlightenment, but mostly they bumble about screaming “What’s that!”everywhere they go. This cult works for Krank, collecting the children for him in return for the technologies he provides them.

In this world the technologies of Krank are a horror. One, played by Ron Pearlman, has had his brother abducted by the cult. He begins to search for him, but runs into many obstacles. Pearlman does a fantastic job of portraying the struggling former whaler-turned strongman, and his unique look is a perfect match for this surrealist work of steampunk. Unfortunately, the world itself trumps most of the characters. It’s just so well designed. Gritty, disgusting, green, yellowed, vernian, urban, bordering of apocalyptic. The world is completely immersive, completely imagined and executed. There is no other reality, everything is scientific, yet flawed in the worst ways. The city is full of degeneration, rust, filth, and yet it is among the most beautiful cinematic worlds in recent memory. The design carries similar elements as that of Amélie and Delicatessen, primarily in the color scheme, with lost so yellows and greens, olive colors, and rusts. It’s an excellently executed color scheme, one that brings the city to life.

The dream-like world of The City of Lost Children, however, is the most interesting. At times it can be hard to follow, but so can most of our dreams. It’s a world were dreams or nightmares seem to have come true, like a drug trip gone wrong. The villain cannot dream, therefore he is the outcast who must be banished to the outer limits of the world. And with the villain being the man of the tale who cannot dream, his extraction of dreams becomes something terrible, deplorable, which turns him into more than just a creepy old guy who scare kids (and viewers) just by looking at them. The world, the dream state we are dropped into, is more of a dream within a dream. It is so surreal, so “out there” that we can’t just turn away. We have to watch, just like our dreams, until we are shaken awake by the dream’s end, or by a frightening turn of events. City of Lost Children cannot shake us awake, but its universe, its world of cogs, rust, and creepers is something we cannot shake when we leave it. It’s a film so strong in visual style and surrealist narrative that we cannot forget the Krank’s face, even if we want to, or One’s gentle nature. we cannot forget the perfectly rendered CGI fleas running around the city controlling those it bites, or the off-kilter twins terrorizing the lives of the city’s children. It’s a gothic steampunk film in style, but completely surrealist in narrative, making it one of the best science fiction/horror/thrillers/dramas/surrealist/dark comedies out there.

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