Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details we can’t reveal in our review.
Yes, the title of Little Boy has two meanings. It refers not just to the main character, a shrimpy grade-school moppet picked on by his faster-growing peers, but also to the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that this tacky faith-based entertainment was going to incorporate that horrific event into its plot. But sure enough, Little Boy prays and prays in the direction of Japan, and—in a scene I’m still having trouble processing—walks through town the next morning an unwitting hero, as strangers wave a newspaper in his face and celebrate the miracle he caused. It’s truly ghoulish.
Am I being unfair to the movie? Part of what Little Boy is after is a vision of the hate that flowed through American veins during World War II. Surely there were people who hooted and hollered in the street when Truman dropped the bomb, and maybe we’re not supposed to share the exuberance of the characters here. Certainly, the film takes a small moment to complicate that reading, as Little Boy (he has a name, but I’m not going to use it here) has a hideously stylized dream about walking through the ruins of Hiroshima, suggesting he feels some guilt about what he thinks he did. Furthermore, it’s suggested that the kid’s father may actually have a rougher time in the Japanese POW camp because of the bombing; the war may be ending, but the prisoners will suffer before it does. (Be careful what you pray for, etc.)
But for all its attempts at playing coy—having characters posit each demonstration of belief’s power as a potential coincidence, for example—Little Boy exists in a moral universe where miracles can happen and your faith can reap tangible rewards. The film may express some ambivalence about the destruction of Hiroshima, but it still pretty clearly suggests that Little Boy willed it, making this a film that believes in a God that would vaporize countless people to demonstrate the power of belief to one spunky kid. That’s kind of sick, isn’t it?
Ultimately, Little Boy throws out any ambiguity, any traces of doubt, with its absurdly happy ending. Thinking that Dad died in the POW camp, the family holds a funeral service, bawling their eyes out for several minutes, and our hero learns a valuable lesson about theology—namely that, as Tom Wilkinson’s character puts it earlier on, God won’t always save you from tragedy, but he will provide the strength to get you through it. Except, never mind, Dad isn’t actually dead; they confused a different body for his. All of Little Boy’s prayers are answered. He believed hard enough and his dad came home. The end. Gag me.