Who isn't normal?

charlie is normal, in his own way

Charlie Mollison is an adolescence who is autistic and has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Living in an army family, he has moved around quite a lot and autistic people are known to dislike change. Charlie had use to speak when he was younger but now he communicates with his family through sign-language. He is very active and it can be quite hard to keep up with all the time. Whenever Charlie demands attention he would misbehave and sometimes it can make people a bit uncomfortable. Maggie (Charlie's mother) made a reward system so whenever Charlie was good he would receive a gold star. Charlie's favourite possession would be his monkey hat as he loves dressing up like a monkey and his favourite pastime would have to be playing games on the commodore 64.

A start of a new life

The Mollison family moves to a new place and everyone is trying to make the home famil­­iar for them. Locks are placed onto drawers and cupboards to prevent Charlie from going through them as they are "no go" areas. Charlie takes most of the attention at home as small accidents can escalate quickly. He learns to familiarise himself with the new environment, playing outside, sorting through his belongings and connecting the commodore 64 to the television. As an audience you get introduced to the other teenagers in the area, mocking, throwing things at the bus and mucking around. As Charlie highly dislike change, the littlest things matter, even something as simple as how the laundry is placed on the clothing line. Charlie was interested in meeting new people especially, Jackie as she was a girl and by being force into hiding Charlie protests by misbehaving and putting poo into the carpet of his room, upsetting his mother who was heavily pregnant at that time. Charlie could be classified as a bit egocentric as he does not really pay attention to his surroundings and only do the things he wants to do.

Charlie in his environment

At this stage, Charlie has gotten use to the new home environment and became closer with Jackie (Thomas’ love interest) and Thomas (Charlie’s brother). Together they would regularly walk home from school together and spend days getting to know and develop a bond of sorts. Charlie can still be classified as slightly self-centred as his perspective of the world is still mainly based on his needs and what he wants. An example in the film that depicts this would be when Simon (Charlie’s father), Thomas and Charlie went to the supermarket for grocery shopping and Simon did not have enough money and was obligated to return some food, Charlie starting being upset, throwing a tantrum on the floor of the checkout at the supermarket causing a mammoth scene which attracted people’s attention. An outside example that relates very closely to Charlie’s reaction would be my brother who is also autistic and has similar reactions whenever something he wants is not given to him. Both are similar as they would start protesting and move their arms in a flustering manner then they would both scream and cry, throwing tantrums unless they get want they wanted and this can go on for a long period unless they can be calmed down. As the audience get more familiar with Charlie’s character we could see how the littlest thing could easily throw Charlie off and get him in a distressed mode and he also becomes extremely distressed when the stars were taken off him as they were his rewards for behaving. He also acts as if the monkey hat is his ‘blanket of safety’ and he always includes it in his outfits.

Charlie as a person

After getting to know Charlie on a more personal level, the audience can sort of place themselves in a situation and envisage how difficult life would be with a family member who has autism spectrum disorder. After many obstacles in a short span of time, Charlie comes to the realisation that sometimes it’s not always about him and that people think differently. After a disastrous party, Charlie and Thomas got into a fight, as Thomas had finally released all the pent-up anger he had at Charlie for taking all the attention and making him growing up faster than necessary in order to be responsible and looking after Charlie and his needs. After that catastrophic incident, Charlie recognises that even though he was not at fault directly he still apologised and made up with Thomas as he knows that it was not really his brother’s intention to wound him but in the end, Charlie had changed from an ego-centric autistic kid with ADHD into not necessarily an improved person but someone who has learnt that the world does not revolve around him and that other people matter as well.

Reflection on the Black Balloon and Charlie

Whilst watching “The Black Balloon” I thought of how scarily realistic the film was and how it made me, an audience feel as if I was a part of the Mollison family. Having grown up with my youngest sibling being autistic I can relate with Thomas’ character very much. The feeling of being not noticed by your parents because your brother demands all the attention can be quite hard especially during the adolescence years as that is the time we learn about the world in a bigger picture, having to face our fears and learn that the world is quite a frightening place if you are not fully prepared for the challenges ahead in life. During this time, we realise how the littlest things in life can impact us and how the people you meet and get to know are not always that they say or seem to be. When I had watched the film for the first time in class, I came to realise that I’m quite selfish in my own ways as I used to wish that my brother could stop becoming autistic and behave ‘normally’ but after watching Thomas struggle with having an autistic brother I now realise that at some point in life you would wish for the impossible and then figure out that it’s your life now, you were given a brother with autism because God believes that you are strong enough to get through life and help him become an important person with the community. God has a plan for all of us in life and I believe that I was given the responsibility in life with an autistic brother because he needs me to support him. Charlie’s character in many ways behaves and acts like my brother. They were both ego-centric in their own ways always believing that they should get whatever they desire and in reality it does not always work that way and when you can’t afford or give them what they want they will throw tantrums which can be quite confronting and scary to deal with and it is pretty hard to calm them down once they start acting up. I chose the image of the Mollison family because it displays they love they have for each other the dynamic between them all. I also chose the image with a smiling Charlie, signing and looking out the back window of the bus going to school because my brother had used to go to a school specialising in Autistic children and he would get on the bus and get driven to school on a daily schedule as it becomes less frightening and easier for the children to cope with as the routines does not change. I had also chosen to put the image of Charlie and Thomas after their performance on the night of the school production “Animals Afloat” because it displays the happiness and acceptance they have for each other. It shows that Thomas has come to terms that Charlie is Charlie, whether or not he is autistic does not change the fact that Charlie is normal in his own unique way because Charlie is just a normal teenager who just happens to have autism and ADHD.

The Black Balloon - Trailer