Adolescent Development in The Black Balloon

Junior (College 3rd year) ・Healthcare&Medicine ・APA ・16 Sources

The Black Balloon (2008) is a coming-of-age melodrama exploring Mollison family and their struggles in dealing with a late-teen autistic child. The narration is based on comparative point of view, where the normal Thomas is compared with his autistic elder brother Charlie (Ebert, 2009). The family is settling down after moving into a Sydney suburb and finds themselves in a neighborhood that does not have much exposure to children with special needs. Thomas has started a new school where he does not only want to fit in but also experience normal adolescence. However, his mother, Maggie Mollison, is heavily pregnancy and when he is advised to take a rest, Thomas’s father, Simon Mollison, assigns him Charlie’s caregiving roles. The move seems cruel seems harsh as the younger brother is ashamed Charlie’s condition and spends most of his life wishing he was normal. Thomas tries to cope by keeping Charlie a secret (Riviera, 2008). Nevertheless, when her classmate Jackie Masters meets Charlie, Thomas is forced to deal with his ambivalent feelings. She helps him develop and appreciate his brother’s condition. The movie provides a richly textured environment for exploring how human beings learn, mature, and adapt considering both protagonists are in their adolescent years. The concept will be the focus of the analysis, where the discussion will be exploring how the 15 years old Thomas Mollison’ role in the movie exemplifies adolescent development.

Thomas’ Physical Development

Thomas exhibits achievement of various milestones linked to the physical domain during adolescents. While he is still shorter than his elder brother, he has guts to confront him physically.  He engages in various fights and confrontation as the case of the supermarket tantrum and even destroys his play station after his attempts to masturbate during cate-cutting session. The physical strength is also evidenced by his decision to join swimming class even when he cannot hold his head above the water. The strength training is a critical feature of adolescent, where it is part of self-esteem and self-concept (Tammelin, Näyhä, Hills, & Järvelin, 2003). Another physical change in Thomas life is problem-solving skills manifested in his attempts to help his brother; including performing during the concert scene after his partner has a meltdown (Dunlap, 2004, p.22).  Nevertheless, the development becomes a source of negative feeling, as he does not have confidence in his physique (Klomsten, Marsh, & Skaalvik, 2005). The adolescence notion is exemplified when his friends make fun of his yellow speedos.

Thomas’ Cognitive Development

One of cinematic technique that helps the movie in realizing its motive of capturing the way people with autism are perceived is the character profile of Charlie and Thomas. The film highlights the striking difference between the two brothers’ cognitive development, where Thomas intellectual ability is one of the main elements guiding the plot development. Thomas is neuro-typical, where his neurological pathology renders him sensory functioning, social, and cognitive skills normal. While his brother attends a special needs school, he has enrolled in a typical school where he attends a swimming class. The neuro-typical functionalities are also evidenced by his response and interpretation of social cues (Andrews, 2006, p.127). He expresses an understanding for Charlie condition during the conversation with the boys from the neighborhood in the opening sequence. He tells the curious boy that the reason why Charlie does not talk is that he is autistic and not spastic. Charlie also defends Charlie from being attacked when he illegally enters Jackie’s house to use the washroom during the chase scene and when being taunted by his classmates. His neuro-typical powers are also evident during the highly emotive concert scene, where Thomas joins his father in helping his brother calm down.

Thomas intellectual capabilities are also evidenced by self-caring competencies Katherine & Taylor, 2011).  The adolescent development is highlighted by his parents, with his father helping the audience understand his abilities when he tells him he will be taking care of Charlie when the mother is not around. Their mother also exemplifies the level of understanding during the Poo smearing scene. She says, “Your brother will never be able to do the things you can Thomas, He will never get a job or have a family. He will never be able to look after himself. He will live with us for the rest of his life.” She challenges him to do things that can make his brother happy. However, Thomas decision to lock Charlie in his room arises from feelings that his brother is a threat to his personal fable (Capuzzi & Stauffer, 2016, p.321). The egocentrism is part of the personal fable of invincibility in adolescence, which is driving Charlie to seek an expanded space on the social platform (Lerner & Steinberg, 2009, p.219). He wants to experience a different form of life apart from taking care of his brother. His risk-taking behavior synonymous with teenagers is demonstrated when he leads Charlie and Jackie to a fun session in the military camp, where they defy the trespassing notice. As a concrete-thinking adolescent, he understands that all actions have consequences, and this leads him to confront Charlie when he refuses to take his medications.

Thomas manifestation of ability to think abstractly is also magnified by his concerns why Charlie is not normal. The concreteness is evident in his deep frustration towards his brother because of his disorder, including direct expression of deep hatred and contempt during the birthday sequence. He also seeks his father’s opinion about life with an autistic child after the supermarket tantrums. The questioning captures his stage in life, where adolescents are in transition from concrete thinkers who only consider things from their exposures and knowledge to abstract thinkers who have creative power to device new ideas (Rieber & Robinson, 2013, p.465). Despite directing violence towards his brother, he shows he is transitioning to adulthood when begins to accept the nature of Charlie in the final scenes. He also exudes criticality as shown when he uses a bullet shell casing he had collected when walking to school to make a junk ornament he gives to Jackie.

The idea of formal operational thinking is also evident in Thomas’ characterization. The meta-cognition concept is present throughout the movie, where Thomas is always concerned about how other people perceive their family. Combined with emotional and physical development, the concept drives the coming-to-age idea, where Thomas moves from a boy stigmatized by an imaginary audience, to a young adult who appreciates feelings of other people (Taylor & Gozna, 2010).

Thomas’ Psychosocial Development

Another developmental issue surrounding the movie is Thomas’ desire for autonomy as well as identity formation (Kerig, Schulz, & Hauser, 2011). The driving factor is events in his life. For instance, he is part of a number of escapades, where he witnesses many romantic exchanges between his parents, including kissing at the hospital. The exposure drives him to seek autonomy during his adolescent years, where Thomas strives to be emotionally independent by falling for Jackie and exchanging a kiss after the swimming session at the waterhole. The movie employs close-up shots and wide shots highlight equality and understanding, with the climax being Thomas’s opening up that he wishes his brother was normal. Another element that captures Thomas’s psychosocial development is his shifting focus from family responsibility to peer groups (Smetana, Campione-Barr, & Metzger, 2006). He is concerned about how his age group perceives him, an issue that is best typified during the first swimming session, where his peers make fun of his yellow speedos.  Thomas psychological difficulties are also evident, with his brother remaining the main bother (Pressley & McCormick, 2006, p.144).

Increased fights with Charlie also exemplify pubertal maturation. He is struggling with the idea of belonging where he rejects his brother because of his autistic condition.  He sees Charlie as an obstacle in his desire to lead a happy life. He has contributed to his lack of identity both at home and school. He feels Charlie has denied him the chance to be an equally loved child at home, as most of the parental focus is directed to him. He considers himself an outsider, a feeling that is highlighted when he tells her mother that Charlie is her responsibility. His desire to blackout Charlie in his life is evinced by his plans to keep him as a secret and is frustrated when his friends make jokes about his mentally disabled brother. He also tries to hide him from Jackie when they first met, an aspect that is pronounced by the mind fuzz at the army base. When Jackie asks Thomas what he can see when he closes his eyes, he says he is visualizing static-like fuzz, which he connects to his brother’s sensations. The description highlights the flawed understanding of his brother as a dimwit. Rather than appreciating his brother’s mastery of sign language, he says that the skill has affected his language development.

The development is also evidenced by social and emotional competency, where in the end Thomas learns how to manage his manage emotions. His transitional to adulthood is demonstrated by his ability appreciate a person who is different from him. He becomes more aware of hs identity, his feelings, and respecting views of others (Craighead & Nemeroff, 2004). At first, Thomas sees himself as a second-fiddle helper in his brother’s life, where he feels alienated. He becomes an outsider in his family, an aspect that is evident in the scene he is crying in the bathroom. Nevertheless, Jackie provides an emotional relationship that helps him in understanding his place in the family and Charlie’s life. She challenges him to stop wishing Charlie was different and calls him to appreciate him. Jackie’s role helps in highlighting capacity for love during adolescence (McNeely & Blanchard, 2010). The dawn of his new identity is when Jackie forgives him after fighting with Charlie during the birthday dinner. He joins his brother in banging a wooden wood the next morning as well as taking the place of Russel, Charlie’s theatrical partner, in the Animals Afloat school event. The two give an outstanding performance and celebrate the event with a bubble bath. Thomas confession to Charlie reveals a newfound identity, where he appreciates him.


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Capuzzi, D., & Stauffer, M. D. (2016). Human Growth and Development Across the Lifespan: Applications for Counselors. John Wiley & Sons.

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Tammelin, T., Näyhä, S., Hills, A. P., & Järvelin, M. R. (2003). Adolescent participation in sports and adult physical activity. American journal of preventive medicine, 24(1), 22-28.

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