Bad Boy Bubby (1993): Australia – directed by Rolf de Heer
Not rated by the MPAA – contains bizarre sexual content, nudity, disturbing violent content, and aberrant behavior
One of the most impressive things about Bad Boy Bubby is that it was made in the first place, and with the help of the Australian government. Some of the content is rather graphic, touching on subjects that would be considered taboo in most societies.
The plot is a little unconventional. The titular character is Bubby (Nicholas Hope). He has been raised, alone, by his mother (Claire Benito) in a tiny apartment. He has been told he musn’t go outside because the gasses will kill him, and his mother aides the ruse by donning a gas mask every time she goes out. Bubby, even though he’s about thirty years old, has no concept of the world or relationships. His mother tells him Jesus is watching while she’s out, and if he moves she’ll beat him to death. So he sits still, wets his pants, and waits for her to come back, at which point she beats him for wetting his pants. She also uses him for sexual purposes, but he doesn’t know that this is taboo. For Bubby, things just happen.
But then his father (Ralph Cotterill) returns, hoping to rekindle a relationship with his mother, and Bubby does not know how to react. Pretty soon he finds himself out on the streets, alone, and for the remainder of the film he wanders around Southern Australia. He remains entirely oblivious to what or why things are happening around him; he’s seeing people for the first time, getting yelled at by everyone, and has no idea when someone is talking to him. He touches all the breasts he sees, because that’s what he’s used to. The first couple of women don’t mind, but his groping problem eventually gets him in trouble. He somehow has sex with a variety of women, including a Salvation Army girl who sings for Jesus while engaging with him intimately. He, of course, doesn’t really know what’s happening. Eventually he finds a group of singers who take him in and adopt him, though he never stays in one place for long.
Bad Boy Bubby’s story is not its strongest point, however. Thematically the film is reminiscent of Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, in which a young man wanders into a village and has no idea what life is or how people live it. Bubby has no preconceptions about anything. All he ever does is react and repeat. Someone yells at him to get off the road, and the next person he sees he yells at. A cat won’t stop moving and squirming, so he wraps it in cling wrap. He loves the cat, but can’t figure out why it has stopped moving. It takes him quite some time to learn that things can die, at which point they stop making noise and moving.
The film is rather sad at parts, as Bubby has no regular life and hardly seems capable of learning anything about life. This raises the question of whether we really want him to learn anything. Isn’t he better off being a naïve child with no ideas about how things should be, and a person who merely exists? People, and the world, tend to be cruel to Bubby, but he doesn’t even know that he is being mistreated. Eventually he figures out that some things and actions are bad, and some are not bad, but that’s about the extent of his education.
The film is not perfect, although it is very interesting. The pacing shifts a great deal as it goes on, and a number of the segments feel a little disjointed and out of place (mirroring how Bubby feels emerging into a cold, alien world). I’m not sure the film style was meant to emulate Bubby’ existence, but it is an interesting thought. The ending, too, jumps quite suddenly through time and feels a bit jarring. The rest of the production, including the acting and directing, is quite competent, and Hope and the supporting cast do a fine job.
Bad Boy Bubby is a very meditative film and asks a lot of questions about life, social taboos, death, religion, existence, and what it means to be a person. People looking for an exploitative movie filled with graphic content will be partially satisfied, but there is a reason behind the bizarre behavior. The film is fairly long, with most of the shocking material toward the beginning. The rest of the film occasionally drags, but is never entirely dull or uninteresting. Audiences who can stomach the film’s disturbing content will appreciate a thoughtful and engaging movie that isn’t afraid to explore complex themes.