It’s no secret that the world is a scary and dark place. The seemingly endless wars, pollution, societal decay, famine, disease, poverty…it’s enough to make some people just want to stay indoors. To protect themselves and their loved ones from such horrors.
Although not specifically addressed in Rolf de Heer’s 1993 bizarre experiment in the human condition, Bad Boy Bubby looks at reasons why someone would go to such measures to shield their family members from this world. “Bubby” is a man in his 30s who has had next to no contact with the outside world. He lives with his demented mother who has kept him in a squalid room, we assume since he was born. She treats him like he’s still two years old, yet takes advantage of his fully developed male body. Scenes of sexual, psychological, physical abuse and incest are a daily occurrence for Bubby. Combined with a pathological religious fear and oppression, Bubby’s world is one of the strangest existences possibly even seen in a film. Is the reason Bubby’s mother has kept him away from the world for his whole life due to a twisted sense of maternal love? Perhaps her own inability or desire to be a part of the world has led to a vicarious and deranged “raising” of her son, where he is more of a pet than a person?
One day, Bubby’s father (Pop) returns home, which sets in motion the events for which Bubby can begin his adventure into the outside world for the first time…
When it was released, Bad Boy Bubby received a lot of controversy due to the shocking, blasphemous and altogether fucked up elements shown and spoken in the film. As such, it gained a reputation, especially for people too young to see it in theatres (downloading or streaming movies was an option in the 1990s). For a lot of younger kids in the 90s looking for something edgy or weird, Bad Boy Bubby became a kind of litmus test for that kick.
The film plays as a character study and has been described by Nicholas Hope (Bubby) as a “modern Frankenstein” film. An interview with de Heer sheds light on the different perspectives Bubby sees as he explores the world: “Another innovation on Bad Boy Bubby was the use of different directors of photography to shoot different scenes. Once the character of Bubby reaches ‘outside’ we had a different Director of Photography for every location until the last third of the film – allowing a fresh slant on everything Bubby sees for the first time”. (web.archive.org/)
Bad Boy Bubby can be a mesmerising film to watch, especially to people familiar with the banalities, procedures, absurdity, expectations and “order” of the day to day world. Bubby knows nothing of this but survives through mimicking, going with the flow and general innocence. It doesn’t always work in his favour but it can yield some interesting situations. As a film that questions and challenges power and belief structures, Bad Boy Bubby is dark, funny, bleak, warm, strange and sympathetic. Just like the world it’s set in.