Film Review: The Selfish Giant

The Selfish Giant directed by Clio Barnard is a poetic social-realist film, unsentimental, politically angry in the tradition of Ken Loach’s Kes. Barnard’s aim was ‘to make a film in the realist tradition of fables about children’ like De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cent Coups, andSamira Makhmalbaf’s The Apple. She has created a damning portrait of capitalist society where a ADD-afflicted teen called Arbor (Conner Chapman) and his best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas) engage in ‘scrapping’: collecting scrap metal or the detritus of capitalism with a horse and cart in the post-industrial landscape of Bradford with its cooling towers and electricity pylons.

It is inspired by the Oscar Wilde story The Selfish Giant whose message is that private property is evil; a permanent winter descends caused by his determination to stop children playing in the grounds of his castle. Barnard uses the metaphor for the deleterious effect on communities when society as a whole fails children. Wilde himself wrote in The Soul of Man Under Socialism: ‘With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live.’

Barnard said ‘The selfish giant of my film is a selfish ideology. I liked Glenda Jackson’s speech in the House of Commons after the death of Thatcher when she said that under Thatcher selfishness and greed had become virtues. The film is about what got lost.’ The Selfish Giant is about capitalism and consumerism fuelling greed, selfishness as an ideology, children marginalised and the general lack of concern about society in capitalism.


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