Time, Innocence & Illusions in The Promised Neverland

This post contains heavy spoilers for the first episode of the show.  

From the start of the first episode, we can see that something is wrong. We see three little kids facing us from behind of the bars that keeps them caged, wondering what’s in the outside world. “I wonder what this gate is protecting us from,” asks Norman, grabbing the bars with his little hands. It’s in that same place where they get an answer a few years later, igniting the desire to escape inside of them. 

It’s no coincidence that Connie is the one Norman and Emma go after, only to find her corpse. Connie loves their mom; her wish is to become a mom herself, one who never abandons any children (it’s definitely no coincidence that we see the faces of the children that are with her one by one when she says this).

connie drawing of her mother and her

Connie’s hopes, dreams, and fate all perfectly capture the illusion that’s shattered in this episode. These children show nothing but love and trust for the mom, yet she “betrays” them and knowingly leads little Connie to her death. The trust and sense of safety provided by their caretaker dies with Connie, and by the end of the episode, we realize that she’s an enemy.

Time

We hear the ticking of a clock while we look at our sleeping protagonist and get a general view of the place the kids are living in. There’s a clock on Connie’s bunny as well, and when Emma sees it after Connie has been taken, we hear the ticking of a clock again.

On a related note, the importance of strategy is introduced during a game of tag. It’s also no coincidence that a big clock can be seen when Norman goes after Emma, or that Isabella–their “mom”–is mentioned as the one they have never been able to defeat in a game of chess.

emma looks at connies bunny.jpg

The clock is both a countdown to break the illusion of a warm and safe home, and a way to tell us that the time for those kids is running out. Strategy is set-up as their mean to fight back and survive, and it also establishes the strength of the antagonist.

Water

Water is commonly a symbol of life, and it’s also associated with emotions (or certain emotional responses). Overflowing water–like a big wave breaking against rocks–can be easily connected to overflowing (and violent) emotions, for instance.

This episode uses water in a way that matches the quiet unsettledness and fear in the scene where Emma and Norman discover Connie. Little drops of water falling from a broken pipe match the state of the kids: something has been broken, but they’re forced to be quiet and hide themselves to not be caught.

norman and the drop of water.jpg

Like the little drops of water, it’s undeniable there; hard to ignore once you noticed (Emma stares at it for a while before discovering Connie) but relatively easy to miss if you’re focused on something else (Emma and Norman are not discovered by the monsters).

The connection with water is established when Emma and Norman cross the front gate. We see the first drop of water when Emman and Norman walk past the truck. It’s there again just before Norman goes to see Connie’s body, visually crossing over to “the dark.” It’s also there, falling in unsettling detail when Norman finally discovers the corpse. And it’s there again when Isabella discovers the evidence of the children’s presence: Connie’s bunny.

Notably, the corpse it’s put inside of a tube that’s filled with water in front of the horrified children.

Powerlessness & the threatened innocence

children smilinh.jpg

When Emma is playing with the kids, she puts on a “threatening face” and playfully says “I’m going to eat you!” Those innocent children have yet to discover how real of a threat that is, and the framing choices emphasize that innocence: the children are facing us when they smile.

In fact, we constantly get shots of children facing us while they smile innocently. It’s there when Connie smiles after telling the other children that she’ll write to them, and her dreams to become a mother. In a way, it’s also there when everyone is saying what they want to do once they get outside; the camera focuses on the younger kid in the group, who listens attentively before cheerfully joining in.

It’s also worth to notice that Connie is the one Don tells “I’ll always help you! Anywhere, anytime you’re in need!” Don’s words are sincere, but Connie is gone before he has a chance to prove it–he doesn’t even know what happened to her.

don says she'll help connie.jpg

It’s symbolic of the situation the children are in right now: they want to escape from the danger and Emma wants to protect their family. However, love and good intentions alone can’t protect them, and they have yet to fully realize what exactly is threatening their lives, and whether or not they can survive it.

 


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