Elissa Down, Director of the movie The Black Balloon, shows the viewer about the representations of family, teens, disability and suburban Australia and how they all fit into each other and are not single representations, but are under one big heading. From the start of the movie we are introduced to the Mollison’s, a family of four but with one on the way, within the first minute of meeting this family we see that they are not a normal working-class Australian family.
The Mollison’s have an autistic son called Charlie, who is not your average teenage boy. Not only does Charlie suffer from autism but also has many behavioral problems as he has ADHD. The day to day lives of the Mollison family are centered on the well-being of Charlie, as he is very unpredictable and emotionally unstable; these characteristics create a feeling of embarrassment and disappointment for the remaining members of Charlie’s family.
Although the Mollison’s are quite dysfunctional at times and are nearly torn apart by nosy neighbours, they still hold the values of relationships and unity as the conflicts throughout the film make the family stronger overall. Throughout the movie, we see that it is represented as a coming of age story. The plot shows us that coming of age is the transition from adolescence to adulthood for the central character Thomas (played by Rhys Wakefield). As a normal teenage boy Thomas goes to school, is interested in the latest music and even has his eye on some members of the opposite sex.
We see that he has to live alongside his brother Charlie, which who he doesn’t like to be seen with or have any affiliation with. This affects his relationship with his parents as most of their attention is focused on Charlie and a lot of this responsibility is left to Thomas which makes him resent his brother and wish he were normal, although Jackie helps Thomas realise that Charlie is never going to be normal and that ultimately, he has to accept his disability.
We see Thomas represented as a typical teenager who is quite selfish at times and is shown as isolated from the rest of his family as they all have their own quirks except for him, who is seen as dull and “normal”. This difference between characters is shown through the use of camera angles in scenes involving Charlie and Thomas; the camera looks down onto Charlie from Thomas’s perspective. This shows that Charlie is powerless and is seen as quite childish even though he is a lot bigger than Thomas.
Throughout the movie we see that Thomas is faced with many problems with relationships whether it is with his parents, brother or even his girlfriend Jackie, through these problems Thomas is always seen as fighting a never-ending battle. Suburban Australia in the film is a major aspect of the plot as, stereotypical attitudes and values are expressed through the use of cinematography in capturing the 1991 setting and the life of everyday working-class Australians.
For example, Thomas’s new school is centered on surf life saving and swimming, but to Thomas’s disadvantage he can’t swim. This is seen as not normal to the Australian viewer as swimming and the beach is part of the Australian lifestyle. Thomas learning how to swim is seen as another aspect of the central theme of coming of age, as he is seen as an outsider because he can’t swim but as he learns how to swim he meets his soon to be girlfriend, Jackie.
Jackie teaches him to swim and towards the end of the movie when he swims properly a massive weight has been lifted off his shoulders, as he feels not as isolated. Stereotypical Australia’s are shown through colloquial language and are seen as larican’s as they do not like difference and do not know how to cope with something out of the ordinary. An example of this naive and sticky-beak attitudes of Australian’s is shown through the neighbour looking through the fence trying not to be seen and calling child services without consulting the Mollison’s at all about the matter.
Throughout the film we see scenes involving all characters in a variety of disputes, physical fights and even moving depressive scenes, through these scenes we see the shocking realism and realistic dilemmas that can arise with mentally ill children and we ask ourselves what it would be like to live with an autistic family member. The use of camera angles between characters in heated moments throughout the film shows us the importance of family and relationships and how at times things can get tough but in the long run it is better to stay and fight together than to fight alone.
An example of this is after a fight with Charlie, and as Thomas is sitting outside Jackie’s house the Camera blurs the background and is a close up shot as it focuses on the couple, which emphasizes the importance of the conversation at hand. Another scene that captures the similarities between disabled and able bodied people is the scene where Charlie and Thomas are sharing a bath, this is one of the most light-hearted and warming scenes and it adds a sense of Thomas’s inner autism.
The scene competently captures Thomas’s acceptance that normalcy is not the key to a happy life and that Charlie is not merely a “spastic” but is a human being that should be treated how he wants to be treated. The representations of family, teens, disability and suburban Australia that are constructed in The Black Balloon are conveyed in a variety of ways including, camera angles, dialogue, music and costuming. Down provides the viewer with an overall insight into the day-to-day lives of the Mollison family and how they struggle with their various problems.
The overall tug of war between trying to be a normal teenager, fitting in at school and trying to hide unconventional behaviors to your soon to be girlfriend is enough to send any teenager into a spiral of depression and anxiety but although Thomas is seen as quite emotional towards the end of the movie, we see that he becomes overall a stronger-willed person as he learns to live with his brothers autism and embrace his family this is seen through the last seen of Thomas and Charlie in the bath together as is Charlie rubbing foam over Thomas’s face and is laughing. This leaves the viewer with a light-hearted but at times serious insight to the world of autism.