Friday, January 19, 2007

L'Enfant Sauvage -- The Wild Child

One of the most haunting films I recall from my younger days of foreign and art films was a Truffaut quasi-documentary about a boy discovered running wild near a French village near the beginning of the nineteenth century. A Vincent Canby review describes it well, and the Times has a link to the trailer.

As if to satisfy the increasing curiosity about Natural Man, that is, man uncontaminated by civilization, there began to be found throughout Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries all sorts of "wild children," boys and girls who had apparently been raised in messy but graceful states by wolves and bears, and by just about everything except kangaroos, which aren't often found in Europe in any state.

Between 1544 and 1731, no fewer than ten such wild children were reported. However, it wasn't until 1799, the year seven by le calendrier r├ępublicain (itself the product of a revolution that attempted to make reason a religion), that anyone tried to systematically study and educate one of these creatures whom Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish scientist, had earlier classified as a distinct human species (Homo ferus).

In that year, Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, a doctor at the National Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Paris, was given custody of a boy, between ten and twelve years old, who had been found living wild in the forests of Aveyron in southern France. With immense skill, patience, and love, and with more than a little pride, the doctor set out to prove what he took to be the beliefs of Locke and Condillac, that the total content of the human mind is supplied by experience. The doctor assumed that Victor, as his wild child came to be called, had a mind capable of using experience.

I mention the movie today because of a story from Vietnam which is eerily similar. A young woman who went missing nineteen years ago at the age of eight has been found and returned to her father. The description of her condition reads like another bizarre instance of a "wild child."

A girl who went missing in the jungles of Cambodia in 1988 has miraculously been found 19 years later, identified by her father through a scar on her arm. Now a 27-year-old woman, she speaks no intelligible language, and was found with hair down to her legs.

More at the link. I blog this merely as a curiosity. It makes me want to rent the movie and see it again. I can still remember images of this lonely little boy, after he had been trained and domesticated, sitting at a window at night, peering at the moon.

It's a shame that the USA Today reporter and others commenting on this story are likely too young to remember this wonderful film.

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