Here is an essay I wrote for college in which I had to discuss madness in a particular film or work of art and I chose ‘Bad Boy Bubby’. I don’t believe that madness is the main theme of the film, but I think it is there!
So much of literature, art and film has set out to dramatise the relationship between sanity and madness. Discuss a work of Art with reference to psychological inquiry into psychosis.
Conall Ó Duibhir
The relationship between madness and sanity is at the fore of ‘Bad Boy Bubby’. Directed by Rolf de Heer in 1993, it shocked and stunned it’s first audience in Venice where it was first shown. They were presented with a story about insanity and deprivation set to the backdrop of a fictionalised Australian society.
The film begins with the character of ‘Bubby’ who lives in a squalor of a basement with his mother. From the opening sequence we quickly realise that neither Bubby nor his mother are ‘normal’ people, as Bobby, a grown man, watches his half naked mother wash herself in their kitchen. As she hands him a sordid meal in their sordid kitchen it begins to become clear that Bubby who looks about thirty has the maturity of a two year old. From what we know he has been kept in that tiny squaller of a basement he calls home his whole life. His mother has kept him from the world, and kept the world from him. He fears the thought of leaving his house as a result of an elaborate charade his mother plays.
The first sign of what we might consider to be significantly ‘mad’ occurs when Bubby gets down on his hands and knees and begins to act like the pet cat. However on closer inspection this isn’t so surprising as apart from his mother, the cat is the only other creature he has ever seen at this point in his life. Soon afterwards he smothers the cat with cling film under the illusion of his mother that cats don’t breath.
Bubby’s mother is no less madder than her son. When she engages in sexual intercourse with him saying “who’s a good boy?”, it’s clear that Bubby if hypnotised under the spell of his mother.
Up to this point in the film Bubby is none the wiser of the world that lies outside the basement, which he has been lead to believe is poisonous. Therefore he is acting on intuition. His life is guided by everything he has been led to believe. He is none the wiser that incest is taboo or that killing a cat is barbaric. Therefore, he isn’t particularly mad in that he is surviving to the best of his ability, which is a relatively sane way to be. His mother on the other hand, who is exposed to the world outside has no excuse for her behaviour and could certainly be considered mad. Of course the mother has her reasons too. Although they are not discussed in the film, she too must be trying to survive as best she can. Whether she believes she is protecting her son or simply has him as a sex slave.
When Bubby’s father visits out of the blue the crack begin to show in the mad behaviour of the mother and son. The mother quickly stops any action that would suggest a sexual relationship between her and Bubby, but shows no remorse that her actions before were in anyway out of line. Bubby on the other hand, who lacks his mother’s social and world skills fails to behave respectably in front of his father. The father only sees Bubby for the mad person he is, ignorant to the fact that his madness is only as a result of his mothers mistreating.
In the end Bubby’s mother and father suffer the same fate as their cat and are both smothered to death in their sleep. As a viewer it is very clear why Bubby would kill his oppressors, but considering that Bubby has never left his home and believes the outside world is poisonous, Bubby’s actions could be construed as mad. In a moment of rage and disapointment Bubby destroys the only stability in his life, albeit peculiar to an outsider. At this point Bubby embarks into the unknown. With no expectation of what to expect other than the horror stories his mother told him, Bubby’s action is both brave and mad under his circumstances.
When Bubby enters the ‘real’ world, he is confronted by what appears to him as madness. In a new world nothing is familiar and he has no concept of how he ought to act. One moment he is having sex a woman from a choir and the next he is being arrested for sexually harassing another woman. It seems it’s the inconsistency of the new world that Bubby struggles with most.
When Bubby is put in a cell in a police station we are reminded of his original life of captivity. A parade of blaring bagpipes symbolises that Bubby is no longer content with living in confinement and that he has embraced his new life albeit that he doesn’t fit in. I think Bubby’s capacity to learn shows great sanity and humanity on his part.
The madness the society Bubby faces is discussed when a man tries to convince Bubby that God doesn’t exist. He says “It’s ridiculous to think of there being a superior being. An inferior being, maybe, because we, we who don’t even exist, arrange are lives in more order and harmony than God ever arranged the earth”. This subject is quite paradoxical in the sense that there is a level of insanity in believing in something that does not exist, if we are to suggest that God doesn’t exist. However it is also very sane in that it can offers the person in question a sense of protection. By the same principle there is a sanity in putting great faith into something when you don’t believe it exists, be it a God or something else.
Bubby performs on stage by chance, with a rock band he had befriended. When he futily stumbles on stage and begins ad-libing obnoxious phrases he’s picked up from his encounters, the crowd instantly become drawn to his performance and he acquires a huge reputation over a number of performances. The performances are ‘mad’ to put it lightly, yet everyone is drawn to it. We can make accounts for Bubby’s ‘mad’ actions considering how he was brought up, but for the crowd to listen to him and be drawn to the insanity on stage it says something about them. Thy openly embrace the madness. Perhaps we are all a little sane and insane and we all need a bit of madness.
On a similar note the people at the performances drink beer and act mad themselves. But there is a method to there madness in that they are probably relieving stress among other things. In this case ‘madness’ is quite paradoxical in that the people are acting that way to protect their sanity. Bubby is unaware of so much of the world’s troubles and plights. In his gradual exposure to them he is loosing his innocence and welcoming grief. Is he mad for doing this? Is he insane for making an effort to fit in and be sane? The same question could be said about ourselves. Is it insane that we make such an effort not to appear mad? Perhaps it it is mad to even pose such a question.
On a level of animal instinct what is sane for a human is to strive to be as satisfied as possible in life. When Bubby goes in search of a better life for himself, I believe this is sane. Despite his many mad characteristics, Bubby is not mad, nor is the crazy world that greats him in the film. He is simply a man in a world that is fighting for it’s sanity.