Published Sep 23, 2012The 1897 Henry James novel, What Maisie Knew, tells an intricate tale of divorce and child custody as seen through the eyes of a little girl. It's a narrative that is sadly pertinent today, so much so that directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have successful constructed a modern day adaption of the book, leaving the core theme intact, but updating the scenario for present day culture.
What Maisie Knew focuses on six-year-old Maisie's (Onata Aprile) experience witnessing the toxicity of her parents' relationship as it rapidly disintegrates. Her mother, Susanne (Julianne Moore), an aged American rock star, and Beale (Steve Coogan), a British art dealer, are each incredibly self-involved, interested more so in their careers and free-spirited lifestyles than their young daughter.
True to the original novel, McGehee and Siegel use the camera to give us Maisie's point of view of her dysfunctional parents in the midst of their torrid divorce. They often play with this perspective, mirroring the camerawork with Maisie's eyes during a nasty parental argument, fixating on toys or other objects as if to capture the notion of a small child looking for a distraction from chaos.
Furthering the mayhem for young Maisie, her parents both remarry younger playthings — Susanne, dopey hipster Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) and Beale, her nanny, Margo (Joanna Vanderham) — accentuating the immaturity and lack of stability in Maisie's life. The antics of the adults become just as confusing for the viewers as for her, reminding us that life-changing adult issues are irrelevant to someone Maisie's age.
The story reaches its pinnacle when her parents cast off their new partners, leading Margo and Lincoln to find each other. As both were always reliable and concerned for Maisie's well being, it's inevitable that she end up with them, eagerly accepting the love that is presented to her.
It is incredible that a century-old story can still have such legitimacy, yet with the rise in divorce and children being raised by surrogate caretakers, it provides concrete proof that people truly should not procreate unless they are fully invested and capable of following through. (Red Crown)