Ray Ashley, Morris Engel, and Ruth Orkin's Little Fugitive is simple, yet profound exploration of innocence, responsibility, and youthful exuberance, detailing the exploits of a young boy in Joey, a New Yorker who finds himself all alone in the crowded confines of Coney Island, having to fend for himself after his brother's practical joke goes too far. What equates to nothing more than a juvenile prank in the eyes of Lenny and his friends, a way of riding themselves of the responsibilities of caring after Lenny's kid brother Joey by faking death, quickly descends into a waking nightmare for Joey himself, who slowly sees his innocence stripped away instantly by the presumed death of his older brother, whom he believes was shot and killed. Joey is a character who is now all alone in the vast cityscapes of New York City, forced to fend for himself as he makes his way to Coney Island. Through an observational eye, Little Fugitive is an allegorical tale about want vs. need, detailing the transition which exists in life between the freedom of youth and the responsibilities of adulthood, detailing firsthand through the experiences of young Joey, who at least for a day, is forced to shed himself of his youthful innocence and work to sustain himself with no help whatsoever. Joey's experiences alone not only shatter his innocence but also that of his brother Lenny, who desperately tries to track down his kid brother, as both these boys learn a valuable lesson about responsibility and the great distinction which exists between want vs. need in the absence of their mother, who is forced to leave town due to a family emergency. The visual aesthetic of Little Fugitive is impressionistic, exuding the internal nature of this young boy, often oscillating between the youthful exuberance and endless curiosities of a child who finds astonishment in the omnipresent experiences of everyday life, and that of a waking nightmare, where the world around this young character feels overbearing, chaotic, and sometimes even malevolent to this young boy whose got so much to learn about the world around him. Featuring stark black and white cinematography, and sound design which features heavy use of strings, Little Fugitive is often an immersive experience, a observational and inquisitive study of youthful innocence which serves as a biting parable for adolescence and eventually adulthood. As we watch Joey navigate the unknown boardwalks and sandy dunes of Coney Island, we experience a child who slowly begins to adapt, learning to make money via recycling old glass bottles, using this money to do things he enjoys like riding the horses at the beach. The youthful lack of responsibility is supplanted by Joey learning and somewhat embracing his newfound sense of independence, but it is only an illusion, which slowly withers away as Joey struggles to sustain himself, with a creeping sense of loneliness, fear, and uncertainty creeping in, as Joey's innocence about everyday life becomes shattered under the weight of personal responsibility. A film full of social realism which surely influenced many film movements which followed it, such as cinema verite or the French New Wave, Little Fugitive is a film which magnificently encapsulates the great distinction between childhood and adulthood through its pensive, observational eye, being an immersive experience that defines both in vivid detail.
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