The concept of children as smaller versions of adults persisted in history up until the early 20th Century. The purpose of children was to grow up and carry on whatever their parents or guardians needed them for, whether it was a family business or help in the field or the family home and bloodline. “Kids” were smaller versions of adults: they grew up fast if they lived to do so in the first place. Childhood was a grim prospect, and, in many places for a variety of reasons it still is. In the United States, there exists a unique kind of poverty that effectively limits the possibilities for growth during a now common vision of “childhood”. Poverty is a mindset that follows people through their lives, into adulthood, into wealth, relationships of power, and governing offices. For those who grow up and into power, ethics may have come second, because not everyone has it easy but when there’s an opportunity of any kind, you grab it. A kid who grows up without options, might have to take the not-so-ethical road to prosperity.
‘The Dynamiter’ is about a boy named Robbie Hendrick who grows up with the weight of the world strapped to his back. He cares for his grandmother and younger brother- the product of one of his mother’s many affairs. The mother is not present. She left and is not expected to return. Robbie doesn’t want to lose his home or be separated from his brother, so he steals from other students at school to make ends meet. His final year of middle school ends with a party at which a huge fight takes place, with Robbie at the center. With not much to lose, sore from a horrible beating, he steals from a girl who tries to help him. This desperate trick lands Robbie stranded a couple of towns away by the cops who find him hiding out with the money. From this series of events everyone wants to teach him a lesson, but who is there to help him? On the twenty-two mile journey home, suffering in the dead heat of a southern night, he decides to grow up.
In the context of this story, childhood means that Robbie did not have control over his life, and the person who did -the parental unit who was supposed to be responsible- was absent. For Robbie, growing up means taking control of a desperate situation and making it more livable, because no one else is going to: he must live up to the classical notion of the independent or purposeful offspring. He lets go of any hope he might have had, as a child, of his mother coming home and gets a job that works him sunrise to sunset. He took the reigns and confidently moved forward- but will the world allow him the luxury of keeping the only family he really knows intact? That is the crux of the plot: Robbie can’t catch a break, whether he steals or lives by the book. He is disenfranchised well beyond being impoverished.
A main player in his life, mid-story, is his older brother, who was a more traumatized subject of their mother’s abandonment. He was a high school football star, and turned into a cheat- abusing everyone in his path. Robbie respects him, but realizes that he wants control, not a family. After learning about his dark deeds (various abuses towards women in the community), Robbie turns his brother in to the cops. His short-lived freedom spirals out of control, and he lands in a children’s home with his little brother.
With an absent mother, an abusive brother, and a school and law system that lent no helping hand to this fourteen year old boy’s situation, is it any wonder that he ends up in foster care, a runaway, and a petty thief? Of course, it could have been different, but that is what happens. In a country that boasts free education K-12 along with welfare options, how is it that entire subsets of communities slip through the cracks, into darkness? These are big questions, brought on by an original screenplay. I don’t think there are clear cut answers, but one thing is certain: Robbie’s childhood expels the myth of American prosperity from audience members well before the final scene.