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Campbell, D. (2014). Debt, Shame and Violence in Adolescence: Reactions to the Absent Father in the Film Bullet Boy. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 95(5):1011-1020.

(2014). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 95(5):1011-1020

Film Essay

Debt, Shame and Violence in Adolescence: Reactions to the Absent Father in the Film Bullet Boy

Donald Campbell

A Matter of Life and Death

The film Bullet Boy (2004), directed by Saul Dibb, opens in the dark boot of a car that Curtis, the younger brother of the central character, Ricky, illuminates with his torch. This image is a metaphor for Curtis's journey of self-discovery through the film. Wisdom, Ricky's mate, is driving through lovely countryside to a prison to pick up Ricky upon his release. When Wisdom discovers Curtis in the boot, he tells him: “Go home”. Curtis replies: “I don't know where I am.” Curtis is in the dark, literally and metaphorically, because he is torn between building his sense of himself on the basis of identification with his delinquent brother, or with the values represented by his mother and her male friend Leon.

Bullet Boy is about a group of male adolescents in London, many of them growing up without a father, highly vulnerable narcissistically, with a low estimation of their potentialities in the world outside their immediate friends, poor education and few career prospects. It is easy to see why petty crime and drug dealing, which requires no formal education and offers financial rewards out of proportion to the work involved, have such an appeal to this group.

As Wisdom is bringing Ricky back into his neighborhood, he knocks the wing mirror off Godfrey's car, a symbolic attack on reflection, which is enacted throughout the film. Much shouting, pushing and shoving ensues until Godfrey returns with his pet Staffordshire bull terrier that barks and snarls and frightens off Ricky and Wisdom. As they drive off, it is barely audible, but you can hear Godfrey call Wisdom “a pussy”, slang for female genitals and meant to identify Wisdom as a castrated man, or a woman. Subsequent scenes illuminate Wisdom's narcissistic vulnerability regarding his masculine identity. He clearly does not have sufficient confidence in his masculinity to shrug off: “People taking the piss. Calling me a pussy.” This scene, in which Wisdom is shamed, drives the action through the rest of the film.

Wisdom sets out to restore his narcissistic equilibrium by reversing his experience of fear and shame with his gun. He tells Ricky: “Just going to put it to his [Godfrey's] head and scare him.” But when Wisdom goes out for revenge, he strikes Godfrey a deeper blow and kills his dog.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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