I am absolutely stunned by this movie. It made me nervous at first to have Terry Gilliam give an apologetic for the movie just before it began. But after watching it for ten minutes I understood. The film is exposing this young girl to everything that parents want to protect their children from-- and some things we would want to protect anyone from-- and then observing her reactions. It is a wonderful, terrible feeling, watching this movie. On the one hand, you want to save this girl-- much like in Pan's Labyrinth-- but on the other, you are amazed at her resilience, her wonder, her determination not to be afraid at all cost.
And Jodelle Ferland is spot on. She plays the precocious child (of which I fathered at least one) with exactness. Nothing can phase her, for everything is new, and wondrous and whatever she doesn't care for, she will just reinvent. Jodelle was utterly believable, and I think that few could really pull this off.
In a way, this movie did what A.I.: Artificial Intelligence attempted and was unable to do. Both AI and Tideland are attempting to put children in very adult situations, to see them from their point of view. Curiously, although I love AI for what it is, that Spielberg film was too fantastic, but this Gilliam film was completely realistic. I believed that everything I saw was possible, no matter how outlandish it seemed. I know people just like Dickens and Noah (two excellent performances by Brenden Fletcher and Jeff Bridges), I know people who could be Dell. Put them in the right situation-- and my daughter (God forbid) in the lead-- and this story would play out.
One of the things it makes me think about is children living in an adult world. Although I protect my children a bit, I've always been a believer in safely exposing them to the adult world sooner rather than later. Part of that is just self defense, because as workers with the homeless and mentally ill, we have drunks, addicts, schizophrenics, bi-polar, etc. over to our house all the time. And these people sometimes become friends with my children (under observation) and then turn around and disappear, or change personalities, or die. While most people wouldn't consider this a great environment to raise one's kids, I think that overall, it's been good. Children really are resilient, as this movie shows. Rather than be damaged for life, they learn to be strong, to deal with people unlike themselves and to be who they are despite what their friends are like.
When Jeliza-Rose gets older, she will shake her head at the experiences she had when she was younger. She might even be ashamed at her ignorance. But because it gave her opportunities to experience what most people never would, she could take that and respond differently to life than others. With more strength, quite possibly.
One last thing to say. The ending was perfect. It was both a natural outcome of the story, and a complete finish. Just perfect.