The annals of world cinema contain their share of anti-clericalism, atheism, and blasphemy. Yet the Australian film Bad Boy Bubby, directed by Rolf de Heerand released in 1993, may be unique in its utterance of the phrase “Fuck you God!” It is a simple exhortation, but perhaps the most direct verbal attack on the deity I have ever seen in cinema. The moment occurs midway through the film’s 68th minute, and forms the shocking climax to a two-minute monologue. A church organist (played by Norman Kaye and referred to in the film’s credits as The Scientist) encounters the title character Bubby (Nicholas Hope), a developmentally challenged, unsocialised young man, in a house of worship undergoing renovation. Eager to dispel the young man’s discovery of faith, the Scientist leads Bubby away from the church to a factory where he proceeds with his monologue. The content of this speech veers from claims of God’s absence to exhortations that He be castigated. As a controlled burst of atheism the Scientist’s speech actually rambles, yet in the utterance of this climactic phrase the film kicks into rhetorical high gear.
This moment has not received much recognition, yet this is perhaps – depending on how seriously one takes the word “fuck” over “damn” – the greatest cinematic affront to taking the name of God in vain. This, to my mind, places the blasphemous words of Bad Boy Bubby in similar stead to Luis Buñuel’s mocking of devotional art through his parody of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper in Viridiana (1961), or Christ (Willem Dafoe) consummating his sexual passion for Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey) in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), a film its own writer Paul Schrader admits to be blasphemous (1). What these three films share in these moments of provocation is an explicit attack on church doctrine and a challenge to a very precise aspect of Christian religion as a cultural and theistic institution.
This scene is likewise resonant in its adoption of a style distinct from the rest of the film. It is sterile and pristine, more clearly aestheticist. Much of the rest of the film fosters a fascination with the abject. As an unabashed Art Film, Bad Boy Bubby has more than its share of shocking imagery designed to run contrary to mainstream standards. Bubby asphyxiates a cat, commits incest with his mother, and bemusedly enjoys the sexual attentions of a couple of nude female characters. These scenes, however, are grungily staged, dimly lit and roughly choreographed. In the film’s most cosmic moment, the Scientist’s speech, the film adopts a more fluid style of camera movement, and switches its aesthetic. This was doubtless due to the numerous cinematographers utilised by de Heer in the production, a consequence of which is the often divergent visual styles of the film. In an impressive crane shot, the camera slowly pulls out from the two characters, further and further, to reveal a massive industrial complex. De Heer’s choice of such a setting is fitting for the text, the Scientist emphasising the preeminent responsibility of humans in the creation of the world around us. An entirely industrial environment, representative of the collective economic and scientific resources of a society, is a fitting backdrop to such sentiments. De Heer’s sound design is likewise admirably well judged for the scene, the drone of godless machines constantly threatening to drown out the words of this philosopher organist. De Heer creates a vista of the world created by man, yet one from which man has almost disappeared, from both sight and sound.
This blasphemous scene in Bad Boy Bubby, I would argue, is significant as a bolt from the blue, a few minutes of screen time so challenging as to effectively exist outside of the film. It is a bold statement for atheists, a cosmic and unappreciated moment in the cinema of Australia.