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Remembering "A Series of Unfortunate Events" (2004)

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Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.

A promotional poster.

A promotional poster.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a goth comedy film based on the book series of the same name by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket).

It was produced by Nickelodeon, which I always found pretty interesting given the film's cynical themes. Nickeloeden is a kids' channel that always produced shows with happy endings and unrealistic love scenarios and basic silliness. It was controversial at the time of its release because its programs didn't really offer children a valuable or realistic lesson. It was basically the anti-PBS.

As an 80's kid who grew up looking at PBS when Mr. Rogers was still alive and Sesame Street was still good . . . I loved educational shows. But there is also nothing wrong with nonsense and silliness for the sake of being silly and having fun.

Why can't children have both?

The three Baudelaire children.

The three Baudelaire children.

So given that Nickelodeon was a kids channel about goofiness and weirdness for the hell of it, it seems odd that they would put money behind a story about being grim, pragmatic, and realistic. Because that's exactly what A Series of Unfortunate Events is about.

The three Baudelaire children are in a hopeless situation, and it's realistic because a lot of children in real life wind up with horrible and abusive caretakers. Because they are children, no one listens to them when they speak up, and they are helpless to endure the abuse until they are old enough to escape.

In fact, the story is so realistic, I felt uncomfortable watching it.

Violet and Klaus stand miserably with Count Olaf.

Violet and Klaus stand miserably with Count Olaf.

This film came out when I was seventeen-turning-eighteen years old. I remember my family went to see it in the theater. Watching movies was the only way we spent time together (so it isn't surprising, then, that I would grow up to review hundreds of movies as a side gig).

My aunt had passed away only a few years prior, leaving my three cousins in the hands of our narcissistic grandmother (who persuaded their father to abandon them and took them in for the insurance money). They were abused by her to the point that one of my cousins attempted suicide on multiple occasions.

All three of my cousins hated me and were jealous that my mother was still alive and was so "kind." What they didn't realize was that my mother was also a narcissist and had been abusing me a lot longer than our grandmother had been abusing them. My mother was a covert narcissist, so she hid her dark side well. And I was good at hiding my mental wounds because I had been trained to from a young age or else I would be punished.

So our narcissistic caretakers drag us to this movie, not realizing, of course, what it was about, and by the time we left the theater, we were all very . . . uncomfortable.

As I've said on other articles, all fiction is based in fact, and these dark fairy tale Cinderella-esque stories featuring evil step parents and evil parents are based on very real situations where children are raised by people with narcissistic personality disorder.

Needless to say, my narcissistic mother and grandmother never brought up the movie again or our little adventure to the theater to see it because it might have brought us children completely out of the FOG if we were to see Count Olaf in them.

And in case you're wondering, they only ever brought us anywhere (movies and the like) because they enjoyed manipulating and humiliating us in public. Sometimes the narcs like an audience.

I always tell personal stories on my articles, by the way, mostly to help people understand where my perspective is coming from. But as much as this film was . . . I don't know . . . triggering (starting to hate that Tumblr buzzword) I've always found it very enjoyable regardless.

Here's why.

Jim Carrey was Brilliant as Count Olaf

Jim Carrey as Count Olaf.

Jim Carrey as Count Olaf.

Even though I didn't really read the books (Daniel Handler being a d*ck ruined those plans), I still always felt the casting for this film was perfect.

Jim Carrey was amazing as far as I'm concerned. As someone who grew up watching his career, I wasn't surprised. He's very talented, and not only that, he actually seems to be a good person. Seems like every celebrity is a Satanist or a pedophile, but Jim Carrey got caught up in the dark underworld of Hollywood and somehow still managed to keep his decency. I keep waiting for some horrible headline saying he raped six women, but . . . nothing. And, please God, let it stay that way.

My only gripe with his performance in this film is . . . Carrey wasn't convincingly evil. I don't believe he has a bad bone in his body, so he just doesn't know how to pretend to be bad. When he struck Klaus during his first scene, he didn't come off as vicious or as cold as he could have. It just looked . . . abrupt and silly.

Basically, Jim Carrey doesn't know how to be evil. He didn't scare me at all, though Count Olaf is supposed to be an evil, evil man who murders and manipulates people for his own ends. I think another actor would have brought more darkness to this film. I realize it's a kid's film, but again, the theme is that of darkness. Bad things happen and you don't always get a happy ending.

Otherwise, the Baudelaire children would have wound up being adopted by Justice Strauss (Catherine O'Hara, Beatlejuice), the kind judge with the beautiful eyes. Instead, they wind up with an uncertain fate (likely because more movies were planned but still in keeping with the film's theme).

I think a better actor would have been Johnny Depp. I'm not a fan of Depp as a person, but he is a great actor and is very good at playing dark, evil, broody, unhinged characters. (Films such as The Secret Window and Sweeney Todd come to mind).

That said, I'm still glad they chose Jim Carrey at the end of the day. While he wasn't as evil as he could have been, he still gave a great performance. And honestly? It's hard to imagine anyone else in the role now that it's been done.

The Baudelaire Kids

The Baudelaire children.

The Baudelaire children.

I feel like all of the kids were also perfectly cast. Again, I never read the books, but given the way these characters were obviously written for the film, their actors and actresses were perfect.

Violet Baudelaire, for instance, is supposed to be a clever inventor. In contrast to the film's grim undertones, she is always optimistic and hopeful. To her, there is always a way and she is always willing to look for it. When Klaus is feeling jaded and cynical, she uplifts and comforts him. . . . or she tries to. He usually goes on being cynical.

At the same time, however, Violet is not in denial of reality. She acknowledges it fully but also is determined to control how she reacts to it. When their parents die, Klaus tosses his hands in hopelessness and despair while Violet insists on making the best of things.

Emily Browning as Violet.

Emily Browning as Violet.

Emily Browning portrayed all of this wonderfully. And I might add that I was always a little smitten with how beautiful she was. She's only two years younger than me, so when this came out, it didn't feel weird that I liked her. She would have been sixteen while I was turning eighteen. If you see a picture of her now, she's just as stunning.

Emily Browning in "Ghost Ship."

Emily Browning in "Ghost Ship."

Fun trivia: she was also the little ghost girl in the horror film Ghost Ship, her debut film.

Klaus reading.

Klaus reading.

Though I was in love with Emily Browning (and still kinda am), I identified the most with Klaus because he was a smart bookworm who spent all his time reading. It's sounds weird, but being a book nerd is not something that's portrayed as good in most stories. In fact, most bookworm characters always wind up learning a lesson about putting away their books and living in reality with the cool people, as if reading were for losers.

But Klaus was a bookworm who spent all his time reading and that was okay? My mind was blown. At the time that this film came out, I was a very avid reader. I had read over a hundred books (I'm sure that number has escalated by now) and knew a lot of weird things because of that.

As you can imagine, I read all the time to escape the fact that was being abused by a narcissist. It's funny. Now that I'm free of that person's influence, I don't read nearly as much anymore. I don't need to escape reality because reality is no longer filled with daily abuses.

Klaus is someone who reads purely because he likes to and for no other reason (not that escapism is bad, per se, it's just unhealthy in huge doses) and he isn't shamed for it! In fact, he's played up as being pretty cool for being able to remember what he reads. This was awesome to me because my narc "mother" thought I was reading to look smart and superior (of course, a narcissist would see it this way), so I was always being made to feel bad for reading.

This movie kind of helped me embrace it.

Klaus Baudelaire and Harry Potter compared.

Klaus Baudelaire and Harry Potter compared.

Klaus Baudeliare was played by Liam Aiken, who actually came pretty close to being Harry Potter in the Harry Potter films. Of course, the role was given to that tool Daniel Radcliffe, and Aiken wound up in this film instead.

But you know what? I'm glad Radcliffe got Harry Potter. He kind of got it through nepotism since, according to him, he only got the role because the producer knew his father. Also, Aiken wasn't British and they wanted an all Brit cast (nothing wrong with that. Just stating facts).

I'm glad Radcliffe got the role because, as much I was now dislike him, he was perfect for it. I loved the first Harry Potter film. Seeing Radcliffe on screen was like seeing Harry walk out of the book.

I also loved Aiken as Klaus. He was perfect. Again, even though I didn't read the "Unfortunate" books, I still felt he encompassed the role the film was trying to convey. He also had a good look for a film that was gothic and gray: he was pale, had curly hair and dark eyes, as if he'd stepped out of a Tim Burton film.

It's a shame they didn't make more movies so that Aiken could have his own series like Radcliffe, but could you imagine if they had done that? Kids grow up fast, and the kids in the "Unfortunate" books don't age. Hell, I think Aiken had a growth spurt during the first film, because in one shot, he's taller than Violet!

And also, I don't think Jim Carrey could have done seven films. He always insisted on doing his own stunts, but given all the time it takes to make an entire series of films based on books (just look at the Harry Potter series) Carrey would have just been too old to keep being put through hoops, as it were. It just wouldn't have worked out.

So in the end, I'm glad we got this one film.

One of the Hoffman twins as Sunny.

One of the Hoffman twins as Sunny.

Sunny was also simply hilarious and to me, she was probably one of the best things about this film. She was portrayed by Kara and Shelby Hoffman, who were (obviously) twins. Movies often to do this so that the child isn't overworked and also so that if one baby is having a tantrum, they can have the other one do the scene instead, etc.

I always loved that Sunny loved to bite things, both figuratively with sarcasm and literally. She was born with a mouth full of teeth and often used them to help her siblings get out of Count Olaf's traps.

She's a baby who communicates with shrieks and babbles, so she can get away with casually insulting people. Reading her insults in captions was always fun. Especially the part where she meets Count Olaf and calls him insane.

I wish I could write more about her, but you can't really do an in-depth analysis on a baby. Suffice it to say, she was hilarious and a great part of the story.

The Minor Characters

Cedric the Entertainer as Constable.

Cedric the Entertainer as Constable.

I grew up with Cedric the Entertainer. I loved him on Steve Harvey's show and I also loved his stand up comedy. He was one of the few male comedians who wasn't a misogynistic asshole (coughChrisRockcough) and didn't want to rant constantly about race. Instead, he just focused on observational humor ("Peanut butter, no jam!") and was an all around decent guy. (Unless I'm mistaken, and in that case, don't enlighten me. I'll hold to my delusions.)

I always thought he was so entertaining as the Constable in this:

"Little girl. The big cage door is open. No snake. Dead guy. You know what I'm thinking? I'm thinking, who woke me up at nine in the morning for this?"

Or

Mr. Poe: "Count Olaf! What are you doing here?"

Constable: "Uh, Mr. Poe . . . Count Olaf! What are you doing here, man?"

Haha.

Mr. Poe, the bumbling banker, was played by Timothy Spall, who played Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films.

Mr. Poe and Constable are both well-meaning but entirely incapable of noticing that the Baudelaire children are being abused. This is played up for laughs in the film, but it is, sadly, a very accurate depiction of oblivious adults in real life. You just need to Google it and you will discover many internet threads where adults who faced childhood abuse called the police or reached out for help and were ignored.

Looking back on my own life, I always felt it should have been obvious my "mother" was abusing me. But because she was a charming narcissist and a great manipulator like Count Olaf, no one believed me or even seemed to care. I was just a child so I was dismissed.

As the film itself says, no one ever listens to children.

Catherine O'Hara as Justice Strauss.

Catherine O'Hara as Justice Strauss.

Catherine O'Hara was also great as Justice Strauss, the kind-hearted justice of the peace who is tricked into marrying Violet to Count Olaf during a play.

Strauss lives next door to Olaf in a beautiful house. She has pretty eyes and loves gardening and she is very kind to the children when they first meet her. The children are excited to meet her and believe she is going to adopt them. She immediately bursts their bubble by pointing them next door to Count Olaf's derelict estate.

The children are daily abused and nearly killed while Justice Strauss, a freaking judge, lives next door in oblivious bliss. They could run to her and tell her, but she would grant them no justice. Instead, she would dismiss them, laugh, and go back to gardening.

Strauss exists to show how justice is an idea, that bad things happen and there is no reason. There is no justice in the world. Real life is painful and unfair. But if you want, you can make the best of it. The end.

Which brings me to my next point.

The Ending

The Baudelaire orphans fall asleep.

The Baudelaire orphans fall asleep.

I'm actually not a fan of the ending.

The entire theme of the film is that life is painful and difficult but you can choose to go on living and make the best of it. So even if you don't get that happy ending, there is still hope that you can make one. This is underscored by the fact that the Baudelaire children ride off into the unknown with their entire lives ahead of them, content that they are finally free of Count Olaf, for the time being.

Okay. That's fine. In fact, it was a nice way to end the story. But what I didn't like was the fact that Count Olaf was captured and punished. He was even forced to endure all the hardships he forced on the children!

In a film that constantly harps about no justice and no happy endings, why give the children justice? Their abuser was punished and they rode off into the sunset. That is not in keeping with Lemony Snicket's obvious disdain for happy endings. Like, at all.

It would have been a better ending if Count Olaf simply escaped after stupidly revealing his scheme at the end of the play. Hell, he was wearing a jetpack, for Christ's sakes. Then the children would be free of him (for the time being). The end.

That was my only gripe with the movie, though. I loved it so much that I got it on DVD and watched it in the privacy of my bedroom. It was easier to watch it alone than with my family, obviously. And for those who don't understand how effectively a narcissist can brainwash you, you probably wouldn't understand how I could love a movie that reflected my own abuse back at me.

I think I loved this film because it offered hope in spite of the darkness and despair. The Baudelaire children lost everything to the fire and were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. This is so analogous of how a narcissist can steal everything from you, not just your physical property, but years of your life as well, leaving you with nothing. Nothing.

And indeed, it got to a point where I had to escape my NPD "mother" with nothing but the clothes on my back, leaving everything behind after years and years of abuse . . . This film taught me to have hope. And I did. Because even though I know my "mother" won't ever face justice for the things she did to me, now I'm free of her and living my own life . . . just like the Baudelaire children.

Lemony Snicket

Jude Law as Lemony Snicket.

Jude Law as Lemony Snicket.

Jude Law actually narrates the film as "Lemony Snicket," but the twist ending is that . . . Lemony Snicket is actually Klaus.

At the end of the film, as Lemony Snicket finishes narrating, he is seen with a spyglass not unlike the one that belonged to the Baudelaire children's parents. It is implied by this scene that Lemony Snicket is Klaus, who is simply writing his auto-biography about his adult investigations into the murder of his parents and their friends.

This is just a theory, however, given that some fans don't believe Lemony Snicket and Klaus are the same person. But I believe they are. They have so much in common, after all:

  • Lemony Snicket is a writer, and the vast majority of writers began as a readers, while Klaus is an avid reader.
  • Lemony Snicket knows very personal details about the story of the Baudelaire children. How and why?
  • And finally, Lemony Snicket's personality is very cynical (so he is aptly named). He sneers on happy endings and childish fantasies and would much rather tell the grim truth about the world. He is a great deal like Klaus, who is cynical and given to hopelessness and despair, often having to be comforted by Violet, who reminds him to make the best of their situation.

If the Lemony Snicket in the film isn't Klaus, then he is just some random guy who came across a spyglass from the Baudelaire's secret club and wanted to pick up the fire investigations they were doing . . . But why would he bother investigating some old fires from fifteen years ago without personal motivation?

Just adds up that Lemony Snicket is Klaus to me.

An image from the ending credits.

An image from the ending credits.

So in the end, this film was great. And given all the children's films that lie to children about the world, it was a breath of fresh air.