Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Little Miss Sunshine - Or, "They're Stealing the Sun."

The indie movie Little Miss Sunshine has many resonances, only a few of which I’m going to briefly address here.  The story concerns the Hoover family, and their attempt to get little Olive to Redondo Beach, California in time for the ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ beauty pageant – in which Olive is desperate to take part.

The family faces many trials and tribulations on their way to the pageant. The father is a bitter ‘motivational speaker’ without many clients, the grandfather is a drug-taking but loveable grouch, and the mom is the underappreciated strength of the family holding everything together.  Along the way they are accompanied by Uncle Frank, a Proust scholar who recently attempted to commit suicide, and the willfully mute Nietzsche-reading son whose only dream is to fly jets (or get closer to the realm of spirit). 

Each family member is trying to escape a world that they know is a prison, each in their own way.

There are many darker interpretations one could draw from this film, but in many ways the character of Olive is the kindest face of the sun itself; she is good-natured, humorous and loving – a source of life and joy for her family.  Here’s a Wikipedia quote on the mythological significance of Olives:   

The leafy branches of the olive tree - the olive leaf as a symbol of abundance, glory and peace - were used to crown the victors of friendly games and bloody wars. As emblems of benediction and purification, they were also ritually offered to deities and powerful figures; some were even found in Tutankhamen's tomb.

Olive oil has long been considered sacred; it was used to anoint kings and athletes in ancient Greece. It was burnt in the sacred lamps of temples as well as being the "eternal flame" of the original Olympic Games. Victors in these games were crowned with its leaves. Today, it is still used in many religious ceremonies.

The olive tree and olive oil are mentioned seven times in the Quran, and the olive is praised as a precious fruit. In Chapter 24 Al-Nur: "Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The metaphor of His Light is that of a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, the glass like a brilliant star, lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west, its oil all but giving off light even if no fire touches it. Light upon Light. Allah guides to His Light whoever He wills and Allah makes metaphors for mankind and Allah has knowledge of all things." (Quran, 24:35)
So, the character of Olive in Little Miss Sunshine is resonant with anointment, eternal flames and brilliant stars lit from blessed trees.

When the family get to the children’s beauty pageant they find that these other little stars are disturbingly sexualized, child mannequins made to perform in the pageants by their bizarre parents.  All the children have fake hair and eyelashes, spray-on tans and are paraded around in swimwear.
In other words, these little stars have been co-opted, stolen and turned into commodities.
The family rails against this revelation by joining Olive onstage in an impromptu rendition of ‘Super-Freak’ that highlights the disturbing undercurrents of the pageant for all to see.   The judges are ‘disgusted’ with the family’s antics (but are completely fine with their own sexualisation of children).  Olive and her family escape the pageant and happily pile back into their yellow van to head home.
The judges and families of the Little Miss Sunshine pageant are like sinister Archons of the children’s supposed destinies, not-so-surreptitiously pimping them for their own bizarre reasons.
They are attempting to steal the sun, replacing it with a vacant, pseudo-pornographic imposter.  Luckily little Olive escapes this fate, as she and her family realize that the pageant is nothing more than a dark illusion.     

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