Nobody wants to watch a Harry Potter movie where it's just a bunch of kids quietly going to class every day. You need an attempted wizard assassination every year to keep things interesting. We understand that.
But sometimes you see a movie where the kids wind up in dire circumstances for no reason other than that the grown-ups just don't seem to give a shit. Grown-ups like ...
#6. Cole's Mother - The Sixth Sense
Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) is having a pretty tough time. It seems that he is a little too popular with dead people and their stupid dead-people problems. Cole's mother, Lynn, doesn't realize this, nor would we when we first watched this movie if the trailer hadn't already told us.
Don't even pretend any part of this entry is a spoiler.
After all, nobody can see the dead but Cole, so as far as the world is concerned, the kid is just a constantly tense, antisocial and frightened young boy who occasionally enjoys writing horrible things in crazy scribbles on paper, lying about stealing, screaming at teachers and wearing his dead father's wristwatch and reading glasses sans the lenses.
The first hipster.
So it only makes sense when psychiatrist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) comes lurking around to try to help Cole deal with whatever the hell is making him so creepy.
During the film, Malcolm finds out about Cole's problem with the dead, and helps him slowly learn to deal with it by listening to what they have to say as opposed to freaking out all the time. He even escorts Cole on a bus to a girl's funeral, where he helps the little dead girl put her mother in jail for poisoning her. In the end, Cole finally 'fesses up to his mother and starts to heal psychologically.
Oh, and Bruce Willis is really dead the whole time, which you probably already knew and if you didn't, then ... well, you don't exist. Anyway this twist that everyone loved so dearly masked a pretty important detail in this film: If Bruce Willis was dead, then as far as Cole's mother knows, he never got any help with his psychological issues.
Ah, this kid's got nothing a little Ritalin can't fix.
Lynn could not see Bruce Willis. She did not know this ghost was helping her son through his crippling emotional problems. She watched her kid this whole time screaming at birthday parties, writing weird shit, acting constantly tense and getting hospitalized and she didn't do a single goddamned thing. During Cole's stay at the hospital, she is actually told by a doctor there that the boy needs help. And still she does shit. Seriously, watch the film and mentally remove Bruce Willis, and you see that this kid is left to twist in the wind.
All those times when we see Cole walking down the street, taking the bus to the funeral and being greeted after school by Malcolm, he is actually doing those things with nobody. Nobody actually saw him perform in the school play, nobody came to see him after he got called a freak by his teacher at school, nobody escorted him on the bus to some random neighborhood to some random funeral.
To the rest of the world -- and his mom -- he was just some kid walking around and talking to himself. Lynn needs to thank her lucky stars that Cole's ghost friend happened to be real and happened to be a child psychiatrist, because otherwise, well, we know the alternative ...
Cole, 15 years later.
#5. Russell's Mother - Up
Right away you know someone has to suck pretty damn hard to be on a list like this when you don't even remember them being in the movie. But in this case, that's kind of the point.
The film is the heartwarming tale of old man Carl Fredericksen's international adventure in his balloon house. But along for the ride is Russell, a young Boy Scout who got stuck in the flying house by accident before it took off.
Real Boy Scouts spend more time in minivans than farcical balloon houses.
Russell's mother is seen only in one shot of the film -- at the very end, when (spoiler!) everything has turned out OK, Carl and Russell have become good friends and Carl is presenting the kid with a merit badge. She's briefly seen happily applauding.
Probably because her soul wasn't weighed down by the saddest montage of all time.
What's wrong with that? Let's recap the sequence of events that brought her there:
First, little Russell is going door-to-door at a construction zone, where he meets an old man who is being put in a nursing home because of an assault charge. He gets kidnapped by the old man (accidentally at first, but the old man could have landed and let the kid go home, and he chose not to) and taken to South America for about a week. There he gets chased and nearly ripped apart by a pack of dogs, almost falls to his death more times than one can count, helps hijack a zeppelin and watches a man fall to his death. He then returns home in the stolen zeppelin with the old man and the pack of dogs that had tried to kill him earlier, covered in scratches and bruises.
And this is her reaction:
Yeah. That's her clapping and smiling like a putz instead of crying and calling the police. Did she not notice her son was missing all that time? You can't even argue that this scene happens long after everything got cleared up, because Russell clearly hasn't even cleaned himself up yet.
In fact, Russell's mom doesn't seem concerned about that, either. No one has even attempted to wipe his face! Is something broken? Is he bleeding? Why is there a giant zeppelin outside? Who knows! YAY YOU GOT A BADGE!
And then, in the closing credits montage we find out that Russell is allowed to keep hanging out with the crazy old man who previously kidnapped him, and his huge-ass flying balloon. Hey, why not? The old man has shown himself to be totally trustworthy and completely unwilling to put the child in danger. Way to parent!
#4. Cobb - Inception
We have previously mentioned the way Inception conveniently forgets about the murderous corporation that's after Leo DiCaprio's character (Dom Cobb) and how at the end of the film he basically leads them right to his children's door. But his failures as a parent start long before that.
"Go play on that hill in the vague distance, kids. Daddy has to sit in the dark and think."
To recap, the entire plot of Inception is set into motion by Cobb's motivation to get back home to his children, whom he cannot see because he is wanted for the murder of his wife back in the States. It is his love for them that drives him as he does one last and most difficult job in order for his employer to work his magic and get all the charges dropped so that Cobb can finally get back through U.S. customs and see his kids. No idea why his kids can't just come to him, but we'll just let that go.
What's important is that Cobb pretty much risks his sanity, freedom and life to see these two rug rats -- and when all is said and done, he finally returns home exonerated and free of the guilt he had about his wife, who had committed suicide because of an idea he planted in her head that the real world was, in fact, not real.
To achieve the same effect in your own head, take 30 hits of acid and call us when the ceiling fan stops screaming at you.
In the end, we see Cobb reunite with his children in their home, and the famous ending with the spinning top.
But that brings us to the problem at hand: The ending shot of this film stirred up so many questions for the audience as to whether Cobb was dreaming that people forgot that this was exactly the point -- the shot symbolizes doubt. The doubt that Mal, Cobb's wife, felt that made her accuse her kids of not being real and that eventually drove her to suicide. The same doubt that made Cobb sit with a gun to his head watching a spinning top, hoping to hell that it would stop. The doubt that actually at no point ever gets resolved.
So Michael Caine's ancient ass can handle a flight to the U.S., but Cobb's kids can't stand a few hours in ultra-first class?
Remember, the confrontation with his wife in limbo was about absolving himself of guilt over her death, not fixing the dozens of other issues tormenting him day to day as a result of his work. Our point is, Cobb is still a psychological and emotional wreck.
And now imagine that you're his kid.
First of all, it must be a bit difficult to have a dad who isn't exactly 100 percent on whether the world around him is real. Hell, he wouldn't even be sure whether you were real.
"Hey. Dad. Do you know where the cerea- oh ... never mind ... I can see you're busy ..."
Then you're going to have to deal with people around town telling you that your dad murdered your mom; even though Cobb got the charges dropped through some under-the-table deal, that doesn't stop people from talking. And what about when the kids are old enough to ask Dad what happened to Mom? What is Leo going to say that doesn't sound like the ravings of a madman?
Seriously, why would anyone want to put Cobb near children? Wait a second -- why did Cobb and Mal even think that having children was a good idea? They had the kids after they spent their decades in limbo, right? While she was having all of her weird doubts about reality? And his job required him to keep a small object in his pocket to keep track of whether or not he was in a dream?
"Alright kids! We're either going to McDonald's, or huddling in the closet with a loaded gun. It all depends on whether this top tips over."
What chance did those kids have of not winding up in an institution some day?