The Heat is on!

An investigation into the symbol of heat

Heat in The Black Balloon

Do you ever feel like you are suffocating? As though the heat of the situation will eat you whole? In the text, The Black Balloon, the Mollison family feel that exactly. Facing the issues and difficulties that come with autism and adolescence they soldier on and along the way discover the importance of love, friendship and above all, accepting those who will always be there to support you- your family.

Symbols and motifs are a part of a films language. They create associations in the mind of a viewer. The importance of these symbols is how they make the audience feel, how they trigger memories and prompt us to rethink our assumptions and prejudices; to encourage us to think of things in a fresh light. Heat is one of many symbols in the Black Balloon, created to do this exactly.


As a symbol, heat was is to show the suffocation of the Mollison family and those who are associated with them. As the main protagonist, Thomas is seen to be the character who feels the heat the most. He is shown to be continuously struggling between to battles; being exasperated with his brother and his condition but at the same time, trying to keep faith in the hope that Charlie will one day be normal again. When the realisation hits him though, Thomas is forced to face the harsh reality that his brother is never going to change. Thomas deals with the pressures in his life using frustration, anger, humour and even a greater than usual urge to protect those he loves. At his birthday dinner, pent-up frustrations pour out of him that are both utterly confronting and heart-warming. The Black Balloon, however, helps the reader to understand that everyone deals with heat differently. Some people, such as Maggie, keep a cool head and are always quite calm and relaxed. Others, like Simon, get worked up and frustrated. Unfortunately there are others, like Charlie, who don't cope with any form of stress or tension and blow up instantly at the prospect of facing it. The heat is persistently surrounding the Mollisons, threatening to invade and completely absorb their warm and subtly wacky lifestyle.

Cooling Down

Although the Mollisons feel as though they are drowning in the heat closing in on them, it is noticeable that the heat is sometimes absent. Throughout the text, heat is depicted through the subtle use of objects and events such as fans, sprinklers, hoses, cold beer, rain, the cricket etc. These objects/events are in place to show an attempt to cool the environment down. In the Mollison household, fans are ever present in the background setting. This shows that it was a persistent summer and that the heat was never going away. The fans were temporary relief from the heat but they were not always successful in keeping it out. Just like the weather, Charlie finds himself to be quite heated but is still able to temporarily cool down and chill out. Water is incorporated in delivering this idea to the reader. While floating along the lake, Charlie remains quite calm, reflecting the tranquility of the water and the surrounding environment. Following the birthday blues, a woman is seen watering the garden. There is also a sprinkler shown after Charlie apologizes to Thomas. As a symbol, water allows the heat to subside and helps to display that all of the stress and tension is decreasing as well. The use of water throughout the text helps reveal to the reader that occasionally, there is an absence of heat. Although situations might seem futile, there will always be respite around the corner.

Real People Facing the heat of Autism

Stress is a topic that is all too familiar with the families of an autistic child. They are faced with the physical stress from carpools, preparing meals, bathing, homework, shopping and so on. This is compounded with such psychological stressors such as parent- child or sibling conflicts, not having enough time to complete daily chores and responsibilities and also concerns regarding the child’s well-being. When a family has a child on the autism spectrum, unique stressors are added. When families cannot determine the needs of their child, the rest of the family is left with a feeling of frustration. When the rest of the family is frustrated, the autistic child also begins to feel the heat of the situation and they too freak out. The child’s frustration can lead to aggressive or self- injurious behaviours that threaten their safety and the safety of other family members. The Black Balloon is a huge eye-opener for the reader as it shows what the lives of families faced with autism are like.


The reason I chose the picture of the fan, the sprinkler and Charlie floating on the surface of the lake is because it has direct relevance to water being respite from the heat. It is a symbol that reveals to the reader that there is always sunshine after the rain. I chose the photo of Charlie hitting his head upon the tiles of the house because it is a perfect representation of the way the directors aimed to bring a sense of reality to the film in regards to autism. Finally, I chose the image of Thomas crying on his mother’s shoulder as it shows both his and his mother’s way of dealing with stress and above all, heat.