TV shows

Kids going missing and stranger things: What explains TV’s obsession with children in peril?

An empty cradle, a barren playground, a vacant bunk bed. Does that sound familiar?

A disappearance has always been a potent place to begin a story – you start with an absence and fill it in with memory, mystery, conjecture and imagination. But recent years have seen a surge in TV series that place a child at the centre of this theme, resulting in heart-wrenching tales and compelling programming.

The most prominent example of this is Netflix’s wildly popular Stranger Things, which began in 2016 and has now been renewed for a third season. The show began with Winona Ryder’s character, Joyce Byers, going on a quest for her missing son. What ensues is an intriguing supernatural drama as Byers fights monsters to find her son, lost in a dark underworld called the Upside Down. At the end of the first season, another character is lost to the monster. The show has made stars out of its talented young cast, notably, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp and Shannon Purser.

Netflix’s 2017 first German-language original, Dark, also takes the missing child trope, and adds a fair share of mind-bending time travel to the mix.

Play
Stranger Things 2.

The theme has also found great resonance in British television.

The most recent example is the 2018 drama Kiri, which centres on the abduction and then murder of the nine-year-old titular character. Kiri Akindele is a black girl about to be officially adopted by her middle-class white foster family when she goes missing. What ensues is a blame game, the primary target of which is the child’s to-be adoptive mother and social worker Miriam Grayson, played by Sarah Lancashire.

Kiri caps a long list of British television shows that share a similar premise. Broadchurch (2013-’17), starring Olivia Colman and David Tennant, takes the suffering child trope to a devastating level, introducing us to the character at the centre of the story, 11-year-old, Danny Latimer only after he has been found dead. As the titular small town grapples with an unthinkable tragedy, his mother grieves and his father withers away. The ensuing murder investigation turns the lens on the community and its many cracks and flaws.

Play
Broadchurch.

Around the same time, BBC came out with its picturesque but grim drama series, Top of the Lake, about the search of a pregnant 12-year-old who has run away from home. Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) is forced to confront her own bottled-up childhood trauma while looking for the girl, Tui.

In the 2014 British show The Missing, it is the turn of father (James Nesbitt) to embark on a solitary quest for his son Oliver, eight years after the child, then five, went missing during a family holiday in France. The series never overdoes the sentimentality or exploit its emotional possibilities, but remains hauntingly painful. The show completed its second season in 2016 and speculation is rife over the possibility of a third.

Play
The Missing.

That this is not an exhaustive list of shows about missing children indicates the obsession with the idea. But what is it about a child in peril that gets us to switch on the TV or spend countless hours binge-watching the show online, even if its hurts?

Perhaps it is rooted in our primal protective instincts being challenged, as adults are shown losing control of their lives, helpless in the face of a crushing disaster that they never recover from. Could it be that it forces us to confront the vulnerability of our lives and the looming threat of loss and tragedy, one that seems ever greater when it is a childhood that is cut short? In a television landscape (and world) littered with grey areas and unfortunate events, children are traditionally the saving grace, symbol of hopes and optimism for a better future. The idea of a child in danger tests that belief. And if there is uncertainty about the fate of that child, the precarious hope of a happy ending is the best way to keep viewers hooked till the very end.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Movies can make you leap beyond what is possible

Movies have the power to inspire us like nothing else.

Why do we love watching movies? The question might be elementary, but one that generates a range of responses. If you had to visualise the world of movies on a spectrum, it would reflect vivid shades of human emotions like inspiration, thrill, fantasy, adventure, love, motivation and empathy - generating a universal appeal bigger than of any other art form.

“I distinctly remember when I first watched Mission Impossible I. The scene where Tom Cruise suspends himself from a ventilator to steal a hard drive is probably the first time I saw special effects, stunts and suspense combined so brilliantly.”  

— Shristi, 30

Beyond the vibe of a movie theatre and the smell of fresh popcorn, there is a deeply personal relationship one creates with films. And with increased access to movies on television channels like &flix, Zee Entertainment’s brand-new English movie channel, we can experience the magic of movies easily, in the comforts of our home.

The channel’s tagline ‘Leap Forth’ is a nod to the exciting and inspiring role that English cinema plays in our lives. Comparable to the pizazz of the movie premieres, the channel launched its logo and tagline through a big reveal on a billboard with Spider-Man in Mumbai, activated by 10,000 tweets from English movies buffs. Their impressive line-up of movies was also shown as part of the launch, enticing fans with new releases such as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, The Dark Tower, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Life.

“Edgar Wright is my favourite writer and director. I got interested in film-making because of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the dead. I love his unique style of storytelling, especially in his latest movie Baby Driver.”

— Siddhant, 26

Indeed, movies can inspire us to ‘leap forth’ in our lives. They give us an out-of-this-world experience by showing us fantasy worlds full of magic and wonder, while being relatable through stories of love, kindness and courage. These movies help us escape the sameness of our everyday lives; expanding our imagination and inspiring us in different ways. The movie world is a window to a universe that is full of people’s imaginations and dreams. It’s vast, vivid and populated with space creatures, superheroes, dragons, mutants and artificial intelligence – making us root for the impossible. Speaking of which, the American science fiction blockbuster, Ghost in the Shell will be premiering on the 24th of June at 1:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M, only on &flix.

“I relate a lot to Peter Parker. I identified with his shy, dorky nature as well as his loyalty towards his friends. With great power, comes great responsibility is a killer line, one that I would remember for life. Of all the superheroes, I will always root for Spiderman”

— Apoorv, 21

There are a whole lot of movies between the ones that leave a lasting impression and ones that take us through an exhilarating two-hour-long ride. This wide range of movies is available on &flix. The channel’s extensive movie library includes over 450 great titles bringing one hit movie premiere every week. To get a taste of the exciting movies available on &flix, watch the video below:

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of &flix and not by the Scroll editorial team.