The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet

In Films by Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Jean-Pierre Jeunet makes films for dreamers. The whimsical worlds he creates are a million miles away from 21st Century politics and the dark recesses of the human heart.

In Europe the Director who brought to life Delicatessen, City Of Lost Children and Micmacs is a genuine phenomena. In a business dominated by billion dollar blockbusters, Jeunet’s beguiling films have captured hearts and won gongs in equal measure. In fact, if some film critics are to be believed, his most famous feature – Amélie – single-handedly saved French cinema.

However he’s not a director without detractors. Some find his images of eternal Frenchness reductive and uninspired, his characters stereotypical, his storylines too simple and self-conscious. Others find beauty in his tight, picture postcard shots, melancholy in his damaged heroes, and poetry in his simple tales. His latest offering, The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet looks set to keep the critics divided.

T.S. -Tecumseh Sparrow – Spivet lives on a remote ranch in Montana with his parents, his sister Gracie and his fraternal twin brother Layton. As the inventor of a perpetual motion machine, T.S. has been awarded the prestigious Baird Prize by the Smithsonian Institute. Leaving a note for his family, he hops a freight train and sets out across the US to collect his prize. What no one knows is that the lucky winner is a ten-year-old child with a very dark secret.

The film is based on the book, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen and never has a movie seemed more in tune with its source material than Jeunet’s skilful and witty adaptation. It’s also perhaps one of the best 3D films of the year.

In Larsen’s book, the margins of the page are decorated with maps and sketches to enhance the narrative. Jeunet uses 3D to produce a similar effect. City maps, portraits and notes float through the theatre to give us an insight into T.S.’s unique worldview.

New-comer Kyle Catlett, who plays T.S., is clearly both young and prodigious, managing to imbue his character with just the right mix of charm and self-assurance to avoid making him insufferable. Judy Davis is superb as the manipulative and self-serving Director of the Smithsonian, who sees T.S. as her route to fame and fortune. The rest of the family are only roughly completed sketches. Helena Bonham Carter, who plays T.S.’s mother Dr. Clair, seems to be merely replaying one of her off-the-peg distracted personas. Dad (Callum Keith Rennie) is little more than Marlborough Man lite. But then, Jeunet’s characters are never fully fleshed out creations. They’re will-o’-the-wisps viewed through the eyes of children or the child-like.

The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a beautiful film that resonates with themes of love, loss and longing. It looks pretty neat too.