Papa can you hear me?

Posted on February 10, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , |

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:

  1. Finding Nemo-Father is overprotective of son, frustrated son finally gains fathers understanding.
  2. The Lion King-Dead father still manages to disapprove of son and keeps appearing in clouds until son finally takes responsibility for his life.
  3. Mulan-for once we have the daughter seeking dad’s approval, going to war to restore family honour.
  4. The Little Mermaid-another girlie one. “Bet you on land they understand, bet they don’t reprimand their daughters.”
  5. 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.
  6. Up-Russell gets a new father figure in Carl because his own Dad doesn’t notice him.
  7. 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:

  1. Cloudy with a chance of meatballs-son desperate for approval from old school father who doesn’t understand him
  2. Star Trek (09)-yet another dead Dad with an impossible reputation for his son to live up to.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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”
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Star Wars-“Luke, I am your Father.” Need I say more?
  9. 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.
  10. Ocean’s Eleven-Matt Damon’s character is trying to live up to the criminal reputation of his father.
  11. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-major Daddy Issues from the moment Sean Connery set foot on screen.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Billy Elliot-a hit for the Brits. Ballet dancing boy + Coal mining Northern father = a long journey on the road to understanding.
  15. 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.
  16. Free Willy-Jesse acts out because of his absent mother and his difficult relationship with his Foster Dad Bryan.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.”
  22. 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) …

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17 Responses to “Papa can you hear me?”

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What a thoughtful post, Katie, I agree that both Disney and Pixar are like you said ‘worst offenders’ in daddy issues. I believe Meredith wrote something about Pixar’s theme being all about boys? Not sure about the allegory of America & Britain though, but I’m not a philosopher & trying to analyze that would give me a headache 🙂 Interestingly, I just reviewed The Boys Are Back which is about fatherhood and how he strives to build better relationships with his sons after his wife’s sudden death. This is probably one of the ‘good’ fatherhood movies out there though.

I think this boils down to two things. Firstly, the conservative view of stable society is patriarchal and so stories in such societies tend to verge towards the disruption and re-establishment of that particular status-quo – which usually boils down to problems with pops. Then there is the Freudian gubbins about everyone wanting to be then needing to destroy daddy so they can replace him.

Ruth: thanks, do you have a link to Meredith’s post?
The America/Britain thing isn’t necessarily to be taken seriously, just an observation 😉
Don’t get me wrong, I really love a lot of the movies on that list, they jsut all happen to use a very similar device.

CinemaScream: very inetersting point, I think you have something there. Not so sure about the Oedipus bit but definitely the Patriachy. It’s the standard problem with authority I guess.

Thanks for the comments guys!

Shoot, now I’m having a complete brain freeze as to who actually wrote that post. I just remember reading about it and I thought ‘hmmm, I never thought of that before but yeah, Pixar is all about the boys!’ In any case, I found this one that clearly proves that theory:

Also “The Sounds of Music”, “What women want”, “Save the last dance”…

Wes Andreson has pretty much built his career on it…


yeah, good post Katie. a lot of movies have dad issues. but then a lot of movies have superheroes.
OH OH – speaking of which, i was watching Teen Wolf the other night for the first time in ages and J Fox’s dad says to him: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’
Sorry Sam Raimi… you are a hack.

oh, and cinemascream.. speak to me in a language i can understand, Misssster Scientist!

finally picked up Cruising on DVD yesterday – some daddy issues in that one

Thanks for the suggestions people all very true

Ross: Yeah but superheroes don’t tend to turn up in movies that aren’t specifically about superheroes. If you get my point.
Wasn’t that line in the Spiderman comics? I always thought it was. In which case Teen Wolf robbed it.

I dont have time to read through comics to check facts – Im a blogger, dammit!

LOL (I actually did) 😛

Now now children, play nicely, no squabbling.

I have never read a Spiderman comic but a quick search on the internet (if its on the internet it must be true!!!!!) revelled that it was used in the first Spiderman story, Amazing Fantasy #15 from 1962. The actual quote in the comic was “with great power there must also come great responsibility” it is however suggested that it was an expression that was in popular usage prior to that and its origin is attributed to the bible: Luke 12:48: “from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked”

Thanks for clearing that one up Andy (still makes me right :P)

True but more significantly Ross is wrong!

It’s not just movies… many of the games (that have storylines and are actually good) that have been released over the years have some degree of ‘daddy issues’ ascribed to them. To name a couple from the last couple of years: Fallout 3 (dad leaves the Vault where you thought you were born and you’re forced to go out into the Wasteland to find him and find out why he left), BioShock (I can’t tell you why this has something to do with Daddy issues because that’d ruin the entire game 😛 but to top it off they’ve got the disturbing relationship and bond between Big Daddies and Little Sisters), BioShock 2 (You are a Big Daddy, inexplicably revived 10 years after the events of the original BioShock and you have to find your Little Sister who – I think – has grown up), All of Tombraider (though she’s got more mother issues really…).

I realise I’m probably boring you – but I agree, movies, games.. all media needs to deviate from the stereotypical storyline of ‘dysfunctional father-offspring relationship’, but at the same time perhaps it reflects that people can never make their choices independent of the background that they originate from? Family issues and the structure of your family inevitably and invariably form the person that you are?

Who knows.

I think this is used so much to generate drama. Nobody wants to watch a movie about characters that aren’t flawed. True this particular device is used a lot. However, I had one of those Dad’s so, for me, it doesn’t really bother.

Oh, and the “power/ responsibility” is from Spidey comics. It’s pretty much his Mantra.

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