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Film / The City of Lost Children

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"Who has stolen the child's dream?
The mad genius Krank in his evil scheme.
To what vicious depths will he not descend?
Will the tale turn to tragedy...
or have a happy end?"

The City of Lost Children is a 1995 French science-fiction film directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who also directed the similarly dark and surreal Delicatessen.

The film follows a circus strongman, One (played by Ron Perlman), and a streetwise orphan, Miette, in their attempts to save One's adopted little brother from Krank (Daniel Emilfork), a mad scientist who steals dreams.

It opened at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adorable Evil Minions: The six cloned brothers.
  • Anti-Villain: Krank suffers everything his victims do in his failed experiments, is totally incapable of understanding why even his kindest acts only frighten the children, is shown to be deeply affected by Uncle Irvin's insults, and is the way he is because something went wrong in his creation. Even at his worst, his condition is so pitiable, it's heartbreaking.
  • Artificial Human: Krank and his compatriots.
  • The Atoner: Marcello. After he leaves Miette to drown in the docks, he becomes overwhelmed with guilt. When she resurfaces, alive, he is overjoyed, and does everything he can to help her and One for the rest of the story.
  • Badass and Child Duo: A circus strongman and a streetwise urchin teaming up.
  • Bad Santa: When he invades the children's dreams, Krank often (unintentionally) appears this way.
  • Big Brother Instinct: One has this, first for Denrée and then for Miette. He identifies Denrée as his brother, but there's no genetic link between them. He found the kid in a garbage can.
  • Big Eater: Denrée. Played for cuteness. He has an insatiable appetite, he spends pretty much all of his screen time eating or burping, and then eating some more.
  • The Big Guy: One, who is a circus strongman.
  • Big "NO!": One combines this with Skyward Scream when seeing tied-up Miette falling from the plank into the water to her certain death.
  • The Blind Leading the Blind: The blind leader of the Cyclops preaches to the others that they will eventually regain their sight by following his orders. We also see a chain of Cyclops holding onto each other's shoulders, lead by a one-eyed member.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Martha has blood coming from her mouth after getting impaled through the abdomen with a harpoon.
  • Brain in a Jar:
    • Uncle Irvin's talkative Deadpan Snarker brain is stored in a jar in Krank's lab. And he has migraines.
    • We also see severed heads (presumably from failed clones) in jars.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: One becomes brainwashed by the Octopus and almost kills Miette.
  • Cannot Dream: Krank's dire dilemma that sets off the plot.
  • City with No Name: We never learn the name of the port town where the film is set.
  • Conjoined Twins: The Octopus are joined at the hip and share a single central leg with a double-wide shoe. They behave almost like a single organism.
  • Crapsack World: The city is depicted as ugly and polluted and bearing an extremely grim atmosphere, the police force is incompetent enough so that children are constantly kidnapped by Krank's associates, the Cyclops organization practically terrorizes the entire city and no one seems to have guts to stop them and citizens are occasionally mugged by the kids under the control of the Octopus.
  • Creepy Circus Music: Marcello's music box, which additionally hypnotizes drugged victims into violence.
  • Creepy Twins: The Octopus speaks in unison and share each other's biological processes.
  • Death Trap: To execute One and Miette, the Cyclops bind them each on a plank over the ocean, counterbalanced by a basket of dead fish. When the seagulls eat enough of the fish to no longer support the weight of the captive, they fall into the ocean to drown.
  • Diesel Punk: It's a science fiction story where society seems to have an technology level roughly comparable to The '40s. However, there are also cybernetic implants, cloning, and other advanced technology.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Inverted; an elaborate series of chained events ends up saving One and Miette from the Octopus.
  • Dream Intro: The opening nightmare scene turns out to be part of an experiment done on a test subject in Krank's lab.
  • Dream Stealer: What Krank has become.
  • Dumb Muscle: One is not very bright and speaks in Hulk Speak, yet he's also a circus strongman. Miette says that he's got the mind of a child.
  • Emotionless Girl: Miette starts off as this.
  • Expendable Clone: Inverted: all the clones survive, while the Inventor dies.
  • The Fagin: The Octopus's side job.
  • Faux Fluency: Ron Perlman was the only American in the film and memorized all his lines phonetically, since he did not speak French. He did an excellent job from all accounts.
  • Fearless Fool: Denrée is explicitly said to be fearless, because he's too gluttonous to care about anything else other than food.
  • Gasshole: Denrée burps quite a few times in the movie, probably because of his constant gorging.
  • Gentle Giant: One is Dumb Muscle who cares for children.
  • Glass-Shattering Sound:
    • When Krank screams out in the opening scene, we see glass in his lab breaking.
    • When One screams abuse at himself and punches a wall, a woman in a window complains that he's shattered her crystal with the noise and will crack her chandelier if he continues.
  • Gratuitous English: Ironically not spoken by the American Ron Perlman. When one of the orphans manages to catch One with a life preserver, he exclaims, "Great!"
  • Gratuitous Laboratory Flasks: Krank's lab has loads of goodies, including severed heads (presumably from failed clones) in jars.
  • Harpoon Gun: The Diver saves Miette by shooting Martha with one.
  • Hesitant Sacrifice: At least, blowing up the lab in a suicide attack was the Diver's original plan. Seeing his notes drift into the sea makes him change his mind, and he frantically calls out to his clones and Uncle Irvin, who are busy following One and the kids back to the city. Then a seagull lands on the plunger for his dynamite...
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • The Octopus uses Marcello's mind-controlling fleas to capture One and Miette, then - after trying to have Marcello executed for failing to bring One back - uses them in an attempt to outright murder One and Miette. Unfortunately for them, Marcello regains control and uses the same fleas to drive the Octopus into a crazed fit of sibling rivalry that ends with the two of them plunging off the dock to their deaths.
    • Krank uses his machines to harvest the dreams of children, subjecting the children to nightmares in the process. For good measure, he also uses Uncle Irvin to help manage these experiments despite his prickly relationship with the disembodied brain. In the finale, Miette is guided on how to use the machinery by Uncle Irvin, who's been undermining Krank all along. Consequently, Krank finds himself on the receiving end of a nightmare in which he's regressed to childhood and used in his own experiments, resulting in him being so overwhelmed with horror that he dies of what appears to be a stroke.
    • In the finale, The Diver attempts to blow up Krank's lair with dynamite in a crazed attempt to erase his mistakes, clearly not giving a damn about anyone left on the rig. At the last minute, he has a change of heart... only to end up getting blown to pieces when a seagull lands on the plunger.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: One and Miette. Also Krank and Martha (Mademoiselle Bismuth).
  • Hulk Speak: One speaks in simplified grammar and refers to himself in the third person. This helps Ron Perlman speak his lines convincingly even though he's reciting them phonetically. It's not clear whether he speaks another language more fluently, given that he's Dumb Muscle.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Martha is killed when the Diver impales her on a harpoon in probably the goriest scene of the movie. Rather nastily played more realistically in that she doesn't instantly die but is incapacitated by pain and left bleeding from the mouth from internal damage for some time before dying.
  • Inappropriate Hunger: Denrée is defined by his appetite, resulting in him prioritizing dinner over escaping from Krank's lair even when he manages to sneak away from captivity, resulting in him eating Krank's dinner on the dumbwaiter up to his quarters - and being given priority in the experiments as a result. Later, One catches him stuffing his face in the kitchens when the lair is about to blow up and exasperatedly drags him away.
  • Industrial Ghetto: The titular city, the industry in question being a huge port.
  • Instrument of Murder: The music box.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: One and Miette.
  • Iris Out: The movie ends with this visual effect.
  • Jabba Table Manners: Denrée. Makes sense, considering how much of a Big Eater he is, he's just trying to stuff as much food in his mouth as fast as possible. He eats with his hands, munches with his mouth hanging open, and he stuffs so much food in his gob that his cheeks look like they're about to burst!
  • Karmic Death: The Octopus tries to brainwash One into killing Miette with Marcello's mind control fleas and when that fails, attempts to burn them alive. Marcello kills the Octopus by making the twins fight with his fleas and fall into the same oil slick they were trying to use to kill One and Miette then igniting it.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Octopus attempts to burn One and Miette alive. Marcello then proceeds to kill the Octopus the exact same way.
  • Little People Are Surreal: Martha adds on to the overall bizarre cast of characters
  • Mad Scientist: Krank and his creator, the Diver.
  • Manchild: One is an adult, but Miette says that he has the mind of a child. When a prostitute tries to seduce him, he seems only dimly aware of the concept of romance.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Uncle Irvin turns out to be this.
  • Meaningful Name: Krank is German for sick, Denrée is French for foodstuff.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: One relates how he was once a whale harpooner until he heard whales sing. He was thereafter unable to land another shot.
  • Nightmare Weaver: Miette gives Krank one nasty nightmare in the form of him de-aging into a little boy and being put through his own experiments, like how he had several children go through. It's so bad he seemingly dies of a stroke shortly after waking up from it.
  • Older Than They Look: Krank's dreaming incapability is causing him to age rapidly.
  • Ouroboros: Also a case of Symbol Motif Clothing. Towards the end, there is a close-up of Krank's ring that shows a serpent eating its own tail, which represents life, death, self-destruction and immortality.
  • Pest Controller: Marcello has trained flea assassins that inject a target with a tiny amount of a drug that makes the victim violent and easy to manipulate with his music.
  • Physical Attribute Swap: In the dream world, after Miette fooled Krank into allowing her to become the source of the dream, the two swap ages as Miette becomes the old genius while Krank becomes a child. The former than forces the latter into his own experiments who knows how many times in the form of a nightmare.
  • Precocious Crush: Miette's fellow orphans tease her that she's fallen in love with One, an adult. She doesn't trouble to deny it and insists that she's at least as mature as he is. When One rubs her feet and talks about getting a wife one day, Miette pointedly asks what kind of wife he'd want. One never seems to notice her crush and thinks of her only as his "little sister."
  • Psychotic Love Triangle: The professor created Martha to be a wife. By the time Krank turns against him, she is loyal to his other creation (making this a case of an attempted Murder the Hypotenuse) which may have contributed to their eventual betrayal. Once their maker is gone, they are together, making this possibly the strangest Love Triangle to appear on film.
  • Rapid Aging: What ends up happening to Krank and Miette in the dreamworld. This is happening to Krank at a slower pace due to his inability to dream.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When Krank is still trying to figure out why he can’t dream, Uncle Irvin suggests analyzing his tears. After the clones fail to make Krank cry with laughter, Uncle Irvin gives one of these to him (and offhandedly Martha, the clones, and himself) in the form of a fairytale to try to make him cry with despair. It actually works.
    Uncle Irvin: Once upon a time, there was an inventor so gifted, that he could create life. Truly remarkable man. Since he had no wife or children, he decided to make them in his laboratory. He started with his wife, and fashioned her into the most beautiful princess in the world. Alas, a wicked genetic fairy cast a spell on the inventor, so much so that the princess was only knee-high to a grasshopper. He then cloned six children in his own image. Faithful, hardworking, they were so alike no one could tell them apart. But fate tricked him again, giving them all sleeping sickness. Craving someone to talk to, he grew in a fish tank a poor migraine-ridden brain. And then, at last, he created his masterpiece; more intelligent than the most intelligent man on Earth. But, alas, the inventor made a serious mistake. While his creation was intelligent, he, too, had a defect. He never, ever had a dream. You can’t imagine how quickly he grew old because he was so unhappy.
    (Krank begins to cry, and Martha collects his tears with an eye dropper)
    Uncle Irvin: Then the poor masterpiece became so crazed, that he believed a single teardrop could save him. And, after committing many cruel deeds, he died a horrible death, never knowing what it is to dream.
  • Serpent of Immortality: Krank has an Ouroboros ring representing life, death, self-destruction and immortality.
  • Single-Minded Twins: The Octopus speak in unison and share each other's senses. When one takes a drag off a cigarette, the other exhales the smoke,
  • Skyward Scream: One does this when he thinks Miette has drowned.
  • Sleepy Head: The six clones were created with a narcoleptic-like "sleeping sickness" that causes to doze off randomly
  • Suicide Attack: The Diver blows up the lab with a suicide bombing at the end.
  • Tears of Remorse: Marcello when confronted by Miette who he left to die under order of the Octopus.
  • Third-Person Person: One talks like this, conveying that he is Dumb Muscle.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The inventor who created Krank and Martha was attacked by his own creations and thrown overboard.
  • Twin Telepathy: The Octopus, to the point of being practically a Hive Mind.
  • The Voiceless: Denrée never talks, the only things that leave his mouth are extremely loud belches.
  • Walk the Plank: The mooks arrange a Death Trap where One and Miette are bound up and placed on a plank.
  • Water Is Air: The Diver lives permanently at the bottom of the sea near the harbor, collecting flotsam and jetsam.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Miette, who considers One to be her little brother.


Video Example(s):


Miette vs Krank

In the finale, Miette ropes Krank into a confrontation in their dreams and turns the tables on him, resulting in the two of them exchanging ages until Miette has become the old genius and Krank has become a helpless child... allowing him to be funnelled into the same dream-stealing experiments he subjected so many other children to.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / PhysicalAttributeSwap

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