Innocents Lost: Is Hollywood Mourning Something? Familial-loss films are a fall phenomenon: Two movies about the loss of small children — Gone Baby Gone and Reservation Road — are opening Friday. Other recent and upcoming dramas focus on the loss of adult children. It makes you wonder what exactly the nation's mourning.

Innocents Lost: Is Hollywood Mourning Something?

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Two movies opened today about families losing children, "Gone Baby Gone" and "Reservation Road." The theme of familial loss is a common one at movie theaters this fall.

And that got our critic, Bob Mondello, thinking.

BOB MONDELLO: In "Gone Baby Gone," a child goes missing. In "Reservation Road," a child is killed. In "Into the Wild," a college kid disappears shortly after graduation. And in "In the Valley of Elah," a young serviceman disappears after he returns from Iraq. In all these pictures, parents are left wondering, what happened? Begging for the return of their children.


AMY RYAN: (As Helene McCready) I just - what thought about. I swear to God, I won't use no drugs no more. Cross my heart.

NORRIS: (As Character) It's all right. We're going to find her, Helene.

RYAN: (As Helene McCready) You have to - promise?

MONDELLO: That's a demonstrably unfit mother in "Gone Baby Gone," sobbing for her kidnapped 4-year-old. But she could stand in for all the rest, also for other guardians in movies this fall who worry about a baby who's kidnapped from a hospital in "Eastern Promises," and a young man who commits suicide in "Wristcutters: A Love Story," anguished parental figures desperate to make sense of their loss and, like the father in "Reservation Road," to get someone in authority to take responsibility.


JOAQUIN PHOENIX: (As Ethan Learner) My son's innocent life was snuffed out. And no one since had noticed where they (unintelligible).

MONDELLO: This is not, let's note, the usual stuff of Cineplex entertainment, where screenwriters place children in jeopardy simply to give heroes a chance to prove they're heroic. None of these fall films is about heroism. Each is about loss, and with a striking consistency, also about holding someone accountable for that loss, not just for the death or a disappearance, but for the damage done to the family that's been left behind.

In "In the Valley of Elah," finding a killer occupies the police after a young soldier's death. But in terms of the story, police work takes a backseat to parental recrimination.


TOMMY LEE JONES: (As Hank Deerfield): Will you take my word for something?

SUSAN SARANDON: (As Joan Deerfield) For once, I seem to remember maybe once saying no and you saying it'd be good for his character. Who won that argument, Hank?

LEE JONES: (As Hank Deerfield) Mike was the one who wanted to join. I sure as hell didn't encourage it.

SARANDON: (As Joan Deerfield) Living in this house, he never could've felt like a man if he hadn't had gone. All the boys, Hank, you could've left me one.

MONDELLO: Grief over a child's death also tears a marriage apart in "Reservation Road," leaves parents shattered in "Into the Wild," diminishes a whole community in "Gone Baby Gone."

Now, it's hard to imagine that anyone in Hollywood expects to make a fortune on this particular message: Our children are dying. Now, would you like a jumbo popcorn with that? People have to have a reason to buy tickets. So this message must resonate at present or it wouldn't be surfacing in so many places. It's tempting, though probably unfair, to see all of these stories of familial loss as echoes of a nation's loss during an unpopular war.

America's children dying, their parents powerless to protect them - that is a subtext in some of these films. But extrapolating it to all of them doesn't really make sense. What's more likely is that these films reflect broader worries about the world's complexity, about dangers outside the home, and even sometimes inside it. Children may just be a stand-in. I suspect its innocence itself that we feel is under siege - our innocence.

I'm Bob Mondello.

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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