The premise of “The Bunker Kid”: from Bad to Unbreakable

February 13, 2021
Twenty-eight years later, Bad Boy Bubby is still deeply affecting both Australian and international audiences. Arguably the first of its kind – a film that revolves around a protagonist breaking free from coerced captivity – the story of Bubby has firmly positioned itself as a staple in Australian cult cinema.

The film’s bleak premise, while completely original at the time of its release in 1993, has since appeared in a variety of shapes in films like Dogtooth and Brigsby Bear, and even in the upbeat television series The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. These incidental retellings ultimately prove Bad Boy Bubby’s everlasting poignancy.

Umbrella Entertainment’s re-releasing of the special edition Blu-ray of Bad Boy Bubby further displays the film’s ability to engage even with a new generation.

Speaking to the originality of the film, director Rolf de Heer stated that it “never occurred” to him that he was tapping into something before others: “That said, the film felt ‘whoa!’ – we didn’t know what we had but we knew it was something.”

Unlike The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Brigsby Bear, Bad Boy Bubby doesn’t shy away from graphic content and taboo ideas. Its integration of lightness doesn’t cloud the intensity that lies at the film’s crux. Its gruelling depiction of childhood trauma, however, inevitably renders it hard to watch for some viewers. “It works for many people,” says de Heer. “It doesn’t work at all for some people – and some people hate it.”

Bad Boy Bubby’s first screening painted a bleak future for the film. “Things were looking very gloomy at one point,” says de Heer. “In the first screening, 37 people were there, and they walked out, and all avoided me. They all had their heads down and I thought ‘Oh, God, this is a catastrophe.’”

Despite the bulk of the crowd’s reaction, David Stratton and [influential Cannes scout] Pierre Rissient stayed behind to praise de Heer. This interaction ultimately led the film to be selected for the Venice International Film Festival, which is where de Heer says the film found its audience and “exploded”: “It was one of these dreams,” he says. “in the competition were people like Jean Luc Godard, Robert Altman and Krzysztof Kieslowski. It was mad – this tiny little film!”

Rolf de Heer

When asked if taking out some of the darker moments of the film would tarnish the integrity of the story, de Heer says that doing so would merely create a “different” film: “I was asked to make a remake in America with Johnny Depp. And I knew what would happen. I didn’t object to it happening, but I couldn’t make it happen, and so it didn’t get done. I didn’t want to do it.”

“It’s the intensity that drives the themes home,” says lead actor Nicholas Hope. “By taking away the intensity and making it more palatable, you remove the extremes of what you want to say – you smooth them out.”

Though the actor hasn’t seen The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, he stated that there is room for comedy even for stories with darker undertones: “I think comedy is a very different way of approaching things. It can be extremely poignant. That can certainly work. I think it works in a slower fashion: you take it on, you laugh at it and it comes back later.”

Both de Heer and Hope agree that there is a definite line between creating meaning and being over-the-top or crossing boundaries. “Often, the high-impact film can just be heavy-handed,” says Hope. “I think one of the reasons Bubby ended up being successful in a cult way and managed to live on is because it somehow managed to avoid that heavy-handedness. I have a fairly good idea why: it had elements of comedy within it; it steered clear of saying ‘this is what you must do’ and instead says ‘this is what can happen if you do this’. I think the fact that Rolf designed it to be visually and aurally from the character’s point of view brought a whole audience into an empathic understanding of this character. As an audience, you more or less experience the world as [Bubby] experiences it. That’s different to saying ‘this is bad.’”

When asked how he balances a film’s lightness with its darkness, de Heer simply states that he “goes by instinct”.

You can find the newly-released Blu-ray version of Bad Boy Bubby on Umbrella Entertainment’s official website. Extra features include:

  • Audio commentary with director Rolf de Heer and star Nicholas Hope
  • Christ Kid, You’re a Weirdo – Interview with Rolf de Heer
  • Being Bubby – Interview with Nicholas Hope
  • Popcorn Taxi Q&A with Nicholas Hope
  • 25th anniversary Q&A with Nicholas Hope and Natalie Carr
  • Confessor Caressor – Short film
  • Stills gallery
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Binaural headphone recording

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