Billy Madison through Freudian eyes

Too Young at Heart

Freudian theories of jokes in relation to the unconscious and the reasons for deriving pleasure from jokes can be examined through all types of media, and in movies in particular.  Comedies play on the ideas of repression and regression and use childish humor to bring laughter into adult and adolescent’s minds alike.  This is especially true of Adam Sandler’s comedic style and the films he is involved with, from production and creative contribution to acting and playing lead roles.  Adam Sandler’s film “Billy Madison” is about Billy, heir to the family business and fortune, a character who spends his days drinking, lounging by the pool, and goofing off with his friends.  Billy’s father, Mr. Madison, finds his son lacking and Billy is forced to prove his worth by successfully passing all grades of school in two weeks, from Kindergarten through twelfth grade.  As Billy works his way through grades, he also goes through stages of development and deals with the turmoil and humor that students of various ages face.  As a study in Freudian theories of jokes and their relation to unconscious processes, Adam Sandler’s “Billy Madison” uses humor and sarcasm as fuel.

The Billy Madison character lives the life of a child who never had to grow up.  He acts in childish ways while still having characteristics and urges that are more adult in nature; thus providing examples of almost every stage in Freudian developmental theory.  The first stage of Freud’s psychosexual stages of development is the oral stage, in which a child is fixated on nursing and the functions of the mouth.  In it, subjects are sometimes characterized by a tendency toward sarcasm.  The character of Billy Madison, played by Adam Sandler, uses sarcastic humor throughout the film. He mocks fellow classmates, teachers, and people in a position of authority.  He also is the butt of the jokes in many scenes.  Freud uses repressed childhood urges and their presence in the unconscious as a design for the formation of jokes.  He states that people form jokes as expository comments or as hostility masked in humor.  Throughout the film, Billy Madison is either the butt of a joke or is making jokes as masked hostility himself.  Billy uses a joke as a form of hostility in the scene in which he mocks a child in one of his classes who is stuttering.  Although most of the children in the class know that Billy is the student who is out of place, he makes friends by mocking other students.

Many of the jokes take the form of innocent jokes, as described by Freud who describes such jokes as non-tendentious and not hurtful or expository in nature.  The scene in which Billy is in the bathtub and staging a fight between shampoo and conditioner is an example of an innocent joke. It is funny for the content alone, not because it is hurtful to someone or exposing something hidden.

Even when Billy turns to the water fixture swan and says, “Stop looking at me, Swan,” there is no inner meaning to the joke; it is just absurd and funny.  Freud’s ideas about the unconscious processes and their involvement in the formation of jokes can be applied to Billy Madison scenes in which every childhood fear and embarrassing moment is exposed and then made fun of, either using Billy Madison’s character as fodder or in his mockery of the other students and the school system.

Madison’s character has a neurosis throughout the film involving a penguin.  It can also be examined through the lens of Freudian thought.  The penguin appears during moments in which Madison is either sun poisoned or drunk, or facing people by whom he is intimidated.   Freud may assume that the penguin is a way for Madison to project through humor.  Madison uses the penguin as an internal defense mechanism of projection for his own misgivings.

This film uses several different forms of humor that can easily be categorized using Freud’s theories.  Also, the character of Billy Madison can be better understood using Freud’s psychosexual stages of development.  Billy Madison must ultimately prove his father and the rest of the community wrong to be viewed as an adult and gain respect; he has to leave behind his place as a child and become a man.  This may be viewed as a form of overcoming the “Oedipus Complex” in Freud’s phallic stage of development.  However this movie is viewed, it would be very difficult to keep from laughing, no matter how the jokes are viewed or through which psychoanalytical lens a person is watching.

Billy Madison. Dir. Tamra Davis. Perf. Adam Sandler. Universal Pictures, 1995. Film.

Freud, Sigmund. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. The Standard Edition.    New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1960. Print.


~ by katie823 on 02/09/2010.

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