Papa can you hear me?
I’ve mentioned a couple of times on this blog what I call “Daddy Issues.” The Hollywood fail safe plot device that seems to turn up everywhere. The more I think about it, the more films I can name which include a broken relationship between a child (usually a boy) and a father, usually with the latter seeking approval from the former. In fact, I’ve started to notice it so often now that it’s beginning to annoy me.
It seems that every film I watch at the moment includes some kind of broken parental relationship. And it’s not just the movies; American TV shows are littered with difficult Dads: Frasier, House, Grey’s Anatomy, Without a Trace, Lost, Scrubs, Heroes…to name but a few!
Interestingly, there are a lot less “Mummy Issues” out there. The two main stereotypes prevail of the Wicked Step-Mum and the Overly Critical Mum but they’re not nearly as worn out as the boy looking for understanding from an uptight/absentee/repressed/emotionally shutdown/dead(!) father. When Mum’s do appear in Daddy Issue films, they are usually absent, and/or the complete opposite, nurturing and accepting while Dad refuses to see the child’s ability.
So, here I present to you as complete a list as I can think of all the Daddy Issue Movies. I’ll probably be continuing to add to it as more dawn on me, or as you helpful lot point out the ones I’ve missed.
Disney are without a doubt the worst offenders. It’s something I touched on when I was writing about Up, but as well as being slightly biased towards boys in recent years, they’ve always focussed on our quintessential poor parent.
***Spoilers everywhere from here on***
From the Disney vault we have a few examples:
- Finding Nemo-Father is overprotective of son, frustrated son finally gains fathers understanding.
- The Lion King-Dead father still manages to disapprove of son and keeps appearing in clouds until son finally takes responsibility for his life.
- Mulan-for once we have the daughter seeking dad’s approval, going to war to restore family honour.
- The Little Mermaid-another girlie one. “Bet you on land they understand, bet they don’t reprimand their daughters.”
- Cool Runnings-subplot of Junior trying to convince his father that being an athlete is just a good a career as a lawyer. While at the same time Derice tries to live up to the memory of his gold medal winning Dad.
- Up-Russell gets a new father figure in Carl because his own Dad doesn’t notice him.
- Mary Poppins-both Banks children struggle with their straight-laced father who barely sees them and remains a formal stranger. Until Poppins arrives…
and here are some other offenders, written down as they come to me so no particular order:
- Cloudy with a chance of meatballs-son desperate for approval from old school father who doesn’t understand him
- Star Trek (09)-yet another dead Dad with an impossible reputation for his son to live up to.
- Rain Man-and another dead one! This time it’s through meeting his long lost brother that the son finally begins to understand his father.
- The Return of the King-“You wish now…that I had died and Boromir had lived” A twist on the plot where one son gets all the love and the other one can’t do anything right. This one not an American movie, proving that it’s not just the Yankees who love a bit of the paternal schmaltz.
- Pirates of the Caribbean-as well as meeting Jack’s estranged father in the third movie, we spend the whole of the original chasing the memory of Will’s long lost Dad, who he finds out was more than just a “merchant sailor”
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-to pad out Tim Burton’s re-imagining of the story, Willy Wonka was given a back story where his candy hating dentist father banned all sugar from the Wonka household and hasn’t spoken to Willy since he left to become a chocolatier.
- Dead Poet’s Society-Neil Perry is suffocated by his overbearing and strict father who has decided his life for him and wont let him have any outlet for his creativity.
- Star Wars-“Luke, I am your Father.” Need I say more?
- X-Men/Wolverine-in the newest installment we find out that Logan’s Dad isn’t his Dad. And then he kills his real Dad. In other news, Stryker keeps his mutant son Jason frozen in ice because he is ashamed of his “disease” (and also because he got his wife to kill herself) while X3 opens with young Angel chopping off his wings because he is desperate for his mutant hating father not to find out. Later has to rescue him when the mutants he is trying to “cure” turn on him. Not to mention Bobby’s whole family in X2: “have you tried not being a mutant?” Phew.
- Ocean’s Eleven-Matt Damon’s character is trying to live up to the criminal reputation of his father.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-major Daddy Issues from the moment Sean Connery set foot on screen.
- Die Hard 4.0-this one does it the sneaky way, telling it from the perspective of the bad Dad, trying to rebuild the relationship with his daughter.
- Armageddon-another deadbeat Dad role for Bruce Willis. As well as his broken relationship with daughter Grace, we have the surrogate son relationship with Ben Affleck’s character AJ, who earns Harry’s respect at the end.
- Billy Elliot-a hit for the Brits. Ballet dancing boy + Coal mining Northern father = a long journey on the road to understanding.
- Spiderman-not technically a Dad, but Uncle Ben’s last words and death have a huge impact on Peter which keep coming back over and over.
- Free Willy-Jesse acts out because of his absent mother and his difficult relationship with his Foster Dad Bryan.
- The 6th Sense-at the start everyone thinks Cole’s visions are a manifestation of the recent break up of his parents and the fact that his Dad has left home. At different times he wears his Dad’s glasses, watch and gloves.
- Shrek 3-Father-in-Law issues. Disapproving King doesn’t like daughter’s choice of husband, tries to have him killed but eventually learns to love him.
- ET-Speilberg says himself that the movie is actually about divorce. ET is the friend that Elliott can go to now that his Dad has gone.
- Happy Feet-Mumble’s weird ways and tap dancing upset his traditional father who wants him to be the same as everyone else. A good example of the nurturing Mum opposing the unsympathetic father.
- A Knight’s Tale-slightly different because the dad is nice in this one, but Will is desperate to live out his Father’s dreams for him and prove that you can “change your stars.”
- Finding Neverland-the recent loss of the boys’ father causes Peter to lose his childhood innocence.
That’s 28 off the top of my head. You see what I’m getting at here?
I don’t know why this theme is so common in American Tv and Cinema. Maybe America is struggling to get over it’s own troubled relationship an estranged and emotionally repressed father (that’s us Britain) …