Nothing quite says childhood like a person dressed up as a bear. Rainbow has it, Bear in the Big Blue House has it and, following on from tradition, Brigsby Bear also has a human in a bear costume. However, (arguably) unlike the TV shows of yore, Brigsby Bear has a much more sinister tone to it. Yet, from the clothes to the terribly bad special effects, this movie screams kid’s TV show.
Brigsby Bear follows James, a man who was kidnapped as a child and kept in an airtight bunker. His captors, played by Mark Hamill and Jane Adams, made him his very own TV show to watch, entitled Brigsby Bear, for him to while away the hours whilst trapped. After he is found many years later, James falls into a spiral of not knowing what happened to Brigsby, eventually deciding to direct the conclusion himself.
This movie is an ode to all things nostalgic. From the costumes; to the videotapes; to the brown and yellow striped polo shirts: this movie reeks of another time. James (Kyle Mooney) plays the out-of-touch recluse extremely well, slipping into an awkward and introverted character from the get-go. It’s not often that a movie about a kidnapped child can be taken so candidly and humbly – it is more of a side plot, next to the overarching plot of Brigsby Bear.
With his curly, unkempt hair and his wide-frame glasses, James is every bit nerd as he is damaged. He is quiet and weird, but his enthusiasm for film-making makes him open up, showing a side to a survivor that we wouldn’t normally see. Even though Mooney handles the drama well and is ridiculously raw in his strangeness, his unruly happiness, much like his hair, is a focal point: the source of that happiness is Brigsby.
Despite playing the bad guys, Hamill and Adams make a surprising mark on the movie despite their glorified cameos. Adams appears for about 10 seconds, spending about nine of them looking in disappointment at their stolen son. Hamill, however, really loves the boy. You can tell from his actions and the tone of his voice, the hand movements he uses when he talks to James – all of them exude some disturbing kind of love. An illegal kind of love, but love all the same.
Then come James’ real parents. Greg and Louise are exactly how you’d imagine them to be: doting, relieved parents who are surprised their kid didn’t turn out exactly as they imagined him to have. They expected James to see them as his hero – instead, he sees them as strangers. It’s this parallel between James’ thought process and that of a fully-functioning adult that demonstrates the divide in this movie: James is a child.
Brigsby Bear, a cartoon made for him by his ‘old dad’ is a distraction from the bleakness and mundanity of his life. It worked for him when he was locked in the bunker, and it works for him now that he has to deal with the consequences of what happened to him. There is a touching part of the movie where James visits Ted in prison. Instead of asking him why he did what he did, he instead asks Ted to help with the voices for his Brigsby movie. This stark difference between the viewer’s desire to understand the man behind this heinous plot, and the childlike blissful ignorance in which James’ is living, shows how helpful and damaging Brigsby actually is.
Throughout the movie, Brigsby is a coping mechanism: he distracts James from the real world. When Spencer, James’ friend, uploads the videos onto the internet, it becomes a coping mechanism for thousands of more people too. When filming the movie, Brigsby becomes a distraction for James’ sister and her teenage friends from the crazy, pubescent, drug-filled world they inhabit. Brigsby is there for everyone.
Then, at the movie premiere, he evaporates into thin air. This climax is a symbol of James finally coming to terms with his trauma and with the realities of his life: he no longer needs Brigsby. Like Mary Poppins in a bear costume, Brigsby isn’t needed anymore. The scene at the end of all of James’ family and friends applauding him is symbolic of James finally receiving the support he was craving; the support he had otherwise received from a bear.
Not only is this movie metaphorically beautiful – it is also physically stunning. Shots of wide open desert and forest, with the stark contrast of the suburban lifestyle, James is thrown into, provides a divide between his real and his fantasy life. No part of this movie is out of place – it all has a meaning.
Brigsby Bear is one of the weirdest, well-thought-out and beautiful movies I have seen in a long time. Not only is it an interesting story, but it’s also a powerful allegory for dealing with trauma. From start to finish, not a single moment disappointed.