Bad Boy Bubby has been upgraded and placed on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time. Please read the Bad Boy Bubby Certified Weird Entry and direct any comments about the film to that page. Comments are closed on this review, which is left here for archival purposes.

DIRECTED BY:  Rolf de Heer

FEATURING: Nicholas Hope

PLOT: Raised by his mentally ill mother with no knowledge of the outside world in what is

Still from Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

essentially a fallout shelter, middle-aged Bubby is suddenly released into a modern Australian society he can hardly comprehend, but must learn to fit into somehow.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINEBad Boy Bubby has a unique tone that’s hard to capture, but the first words I’d choose to characterize it are “relentlessly offbeat,” rather than “weird.”  Sadly, the existence of a Bubby—a child raised in captivity by a crazed parent—is not some weird invention, but is actually torn from today’s headlines.  Although the incidents depicted often strain the bounds of plausibility (only briefly breaking them in the later reels), for the most part de Heer chooses to tell his story using a straightforward, realistic narrative style that makes us believe bizarre Bubby is a real person in a real world.

COMMENTSBad Boy Bubby is a film that moves slowly from deep darkness into light.  It’s often shocking and depressing, particularly in that dingy first third, where Bubby’s unnatural relationship with his deranged mom in their claustrophobic basement hovel is made into a suffocating reality in which we are forced to share.  The saving grace is that the movie always treats Bubby with true affection.  Most of Bubby’s misbehavior, such as his tendency to shake a woman’s breast instead of her hand when he first meets her, comes out of childlike innocence.  But even when Bubby’s truly, purposefully being a “bad boy,” we understand what he’s suffered—even though he doesn’t fully—and we remain firmly on his side.  The script, which could have been ruthless to poor Bubby, rewards him (and the viewer) in the end, and the happy ending feels earned rather than tacked on.

Comic possibilities that were buried with Bubby in the dingy basement apartment emerge when Bubby escapes into the relative light of modern Australian society, but the movie never really threatens to become a comedy.  Bubby’s gift for mimicry raises all sorts of opportunities for satirizing the absurdity of modern times (a la Peter Sellers in Being There), but the movie chooses to skirt these opportunities and instead focus on fleshing out Bubby’s character and experiences.  In the middle portion of the film, after Bubby escapes from the underground and before he finds his place in the world, his wanderings are almost maddeningly random.  He accumulates adventures by being picked up by one Good Samaritan—a Salvation Army band girl, an middle aged woman, a struggling rock band, a rich guy who dresses him up and takes him out on the town—and simply handed off to another, usually without much explanation for the transfer.  This second act is the weakest part of the movie, but just as you’re starting to tire of the aimless episodes, bits from those seemingly random experiences begin to recur in Bubby’s life, become integrated into the overall story, and cohere into a satisfying ending.

The movie is essentially a character study of a very bizarre individual, but also invites interpretation as a fable about the process of growing up and discovering purpose in life.  There is also a somewhat muddled religious journey that runs through the movie.  Bubby, the illegitimate offspring of a drunken, disgraceful priest, begins life suffocated by false dogma about a Jesus who will beat him brainless if he misbehaves.  Destitute, he’s exposed to a callous world where no one will truly help him, and his wanderings symbolically lead him to the depths of religious despair (the dogmatic materialist Bubby encounters in a church, who rather absurdly explains the philosophical problem of evil to the uncomprehending man-child and advises him that he must “think God out of existence.”)  Free-associating, Bubby parrots the atheistic dogma at a funeral, but after being lectured on the evils of organized religion by a rock and roller, in the end he seems to find an amorphous free-form spirituality with the help of the not-so-subtly-named Angel.  Or, perhaps he is finally able to find happiness because he’s finally been successful in thinking God out of existence; it’s not clear where the religious imagery is meant to lead us.

In the technical sense, the film is experimental, although the experiments end up invisible to the average viewer.  Partially for practical reasons, de Heer chose to shoot the film with thirty-two different cinematographers, essentially one for every location.  The fact that the variety of visual approaches aren’t disorientingly weird—few shots attract special attention to themselves, and most viewers would never guess their varied origins—suggests either that each director of photography chose to take a fairly conservative approach, or that cinematographers are a lot more interchangeable than previously supposed.  The second experiment involves binaural sound: the film’s soundtrack was recorded and mixed from two microphones Hope wore behind his ears, so that the audience would experience the sonic world exactly as it would be heard from Bubby’s perspective.  Hearing a proper binaural recording is supposed to be extraordinary, as it realistically reproduces a 360 degree soundscape.  While this might work in a theater, the reality is that on home video the effect is largely lost, with the end result being only that a few of the conversations in the film sound frustratingly muffled.  The director does suggest that the theatrical experience can be reproduced by listening to the movie while channeling the sound through a pair of stereo headphones.  A third experiment was actually dropped from the film before it was released: originally, the scenes in the hovel were to have the sides matted to create a narrower, more claustrophobic aspect ratio, and the film was to expand into widescreen when Bubby surfaces into the outside world.  De Heer thought the effect was too intense and made the film “unwatchable” and dropped the idea before releasing the film.


“It’s blatantly obvious that director Rolf De Heer was making the film as weird as he possibly could, but yet it all seems to fit together as a whole.”–Troy Howarth, Eccentic Cinema (DVD)

3 thoughts on “BORDERLINE WEIRD: BAD BOY BUBBY (1993)”

  1. So I’ve watched 2 list candidates in the past week; Oldboy and now this one. Whereas Oldboy is by far the better film, this Boy has the goods to make The List. There are actually some similarities between the two films…the prolonged captivity and the implausibility of what transpires post-release from such state. Bubby is more disturbing in the regard that his captivity actually is more likely and does happen in our messed up world. The ridiculous foray into his musical/performance artist celebrity status is actually amusing and gives the movie extra merit for weirdness. I also found a somewhat out of place monologue on atheism to be quite inspired, which I will partially quote verbatim:

    “You see, no one’s going to help you Bubby, because there isn’t anybody out there to do it. No one. We’re all just complicated arrangements of atoms and subatomic particles. We don’t live, but are atoms do move about in such a way as to give us identity and consciousness. We don’t die, our atoms just rearrange themselves. There is no God. There can be no God. It’s ridiculous to think in terms of a Superior Being. An Inferior Being maybe…because we…we who don’t even exist, we arrange our lives with more order and harmony than God ever arranged the earth. We measure. We plot. We create wonderful music. We are the architects of our own existance. What a lunatic concept to bow down before a God who slaughters millions of innocent children. Who slowly and agonizingly starves them to death. Beats them. Tortures them. Rejects them. What folly to even think that we should not insult such a God…”

    Actually, now that I think about it, it is not out of place in this film at all. Personally, I feel it’s right on the money. Sorry if this offends anybody’s belief system. If it does I’ll lend you another enlightening quote from the film…

    “Christ kid, you’re a weirdo!”

  2. Just watched this one, and honestly I found it uneven at the best of times.

    In the extras with the director and the main actor, both describe the film as an experiment, and I think it’s a fairly accurate assessment of the film that the experiments (binaural sound, multiple cinematographers) ended up being much more prosaic than one would expect. That’s kind of what got me about the movie, is that it seemed dead-set on pushing boundaries, but I never felt that boundary pushing had a lot to say, rather they were there to simply be there.

    I didn’t put together the religion story arc while watching the film. The extended segment with the atheist in the power station struck me as being there to be there once again for boundary pushing, not a connected theme. I agree with the review’s outlook on it, especially once I learned that the director spent ten years or so writing the story. It actually makes me think less of the story, which I watched as a series of vignettes about a hopelessly perverted member of humanity. His story is much less interesting if we have to watch it as a vehicle for social commentary, rather than an extremity of possible human interaction.

    Let me describe the scene that really summed up the movie for me, and not in a particularly good way. Bubby had just been imprisoned. One of the major themes of Bubby’s introduction to the outside world is his exposure to music, which presumably he had never been allowed to hear before. If you’re of the same opinion as me, which is that music is integral to the human condition, his simple joy and outright pleasure on being exposed to music is something to behold. Of course, not all music is immediately accessible, so when he is confronted with some very loud bagpipe players, his confusion is palpable. It was at this very moment that the movie rose above itself for me, and I thought I could be watching something special.

    Immediately after this point, the prison guard grabs Bubby and throws him into a cell with a feces-smearing lunatic who proceeds to anally rape Bubby. Now, Bubby’s response of the acceptance of the perpetual victim is perfectly in keeping with his character, but it struck me as completely gratuitous. Was what was going on in this scene important to the movie, or was it just ornamental shock?

    Maybe that was the point of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it in a 3 out of 5 stars sort of way, but other than a powerhouse performance by the lead actor, I don’t think this movie asserts itself in any sort of important way. It wants to, but I don’t have any faith that the director was moving in something other than a heartwarming geek show.

  3. Just to let you know, the Binaural audio track will only work while wearing a stereo pair of headphones. The binaural audio will not work in a cinema with a surround system either.
    Played through speakers it will create crosstalk and ruin the spatial image. Iv not seen the movie myself or listend to the binaural audio but dont knock binaural before you listen to it on headphones.

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