Did you know that there's a new family-audience feature film that implies God nuked Japan because one plucky American moppet dared to dream? That's no exaggeration. In the summer of 1945, the kid stands on a California dock, points his fingers magician-style out at the Pacific horizon, and screams a series of prayerful "Arggggh!"s in his efforts to perform some war-ending miracle. He's trying to move heaven and earth to get his father home from a P.O.W. camp; the movie, confoundingly, intercuts the dad's capture and torture with the son's being tossed by small-town bullies into a dumpster.
The kid prays and arggghs until the filmmakers, gauche and monstrous, cue up a jubilant "This Little Light of Mine" for the payoff to a gag you will have dreaded since learning the film is called Little Boy and that "Little Boy" is its small-fry hero's nickname. One morning his neighbors are dancing in the street, and the headline in the local paper credits "Little Boy" with de facto ending the war. That God, always eager to smite foreign cities if you just believe!
Examinations of faith on film don't have to be noxious. This spring a welcome restoration of René Clément's 1952 jewel Forbidden Games will be hitting screens. That's an honest film about children's faith and trauma in World War II, one about the ways that ritual can help us persevere through loss. But Little Boy is fitted for an era in which finding the faith that might sustain just isn't uplifting enough -- despite the fact that that's the only thing faith can actually do. Instead, the faith of Pepper Busbee (Jakob Salvati) is just another superpower.