Sexual identity can be elusive to an 11-year-old boy on the cusp of puberty, especially if he is the darling only child in a single parent home with a beautiful mom as head of the household. For loner Mickey House, straddling puberty and childhood is a mind blowing experience as each day presents a new hurdle to overcome especially with hormones that are skewing into a swampy overload of desire and yuckiness. Baby Bump, directed and written by Kuba Czekaj, is an astonishing visitation back to a period of time in our lives that we have mostly forgotten because of the sheer strangeness, wonder and horror of facing who our body dictates we are, while our childhood mind investigates the most incredible of fantasies about what is happening to us as we grow up.
The director’s style is heavily imagistic. He fuses and flashes cartoons, clip art, brisk montages, surprising intercuts and wacky jump around edits to amalgamate fantasy and reality telling the story of months in the life of Mickey House, who negotiates bullies, the school security guards, and the twin hotties who cavort like princesses mirroring the latest in fad and fashion. Meanwhile, Mickey is an intriguing outcast who wears a hoodie slicker and rides his bike as if there is no tomorrow obeying his commanding cartoon superego Jerboa Mouse on the one hand and defying Jerboa Mouse the next. His fantasies of being his mother’s only beloved little boy clash in reality with his aloofness and recalcitrance. He is both repulsed and drawn to her, seeing himself in her, yet eschewing the female identity that is within him because as a male he experiences wet dreams and must deal with sticky ejaculations. Who is he anyway? Is he her? Is he his own person and is this what growing up is all about? Get Mickey House out of here!
The dream-vision states are adroitly created by the director. For example Mickey grows huge bunny ears which wackily remind one of Fallopian tubes and which “periodically” hemorrhage blood. In a fantasy state, his mother smothers him with love, tickles and cuddles him as they sleep in bed where he wears pink checkered, sissy PJs. The black and white cartoon clip of Jerboa Mouse scurries and commands him in English (the Polish film is subtitled in English) and he must obey. Each fantasy is absolutely mind bending and he experiences it with reticence allowing the visions to float but giving no outward signs of the trauma.
Czekaj spools the images long enough for us to catch the poetry, then he does a cut-away to the reality. After a jarring surreal scene with his racy mom, Mickey appears normal in his usual slicker gear having breakfast as his mother sits across from him benignly eating. The juxtapositions are brilliant. We understand the zooming, idiosyncratic nature of imagination as it collides with mundane reality. Anything is possible in Mickey’s fired up fantasy life and he has no apparent power to control his responses, but must take it all in. We intuit that these are a combination of fearful impulses, dread, sexual imaginings, identity questionings and wild terrors which can assault at any time of the day, especially when he is at home with his mother. And this is a part of Mickey’s lonely maturation, mind, soul, body.
The effect is hysterical. We empathize completely with the crazy psychotic world he palpably experiences and attempts to jettison or quietly extemporize as a part of his moment to moment existence. In all of this surrealism and heightened reality of mind and body growth spurts, we understand that he is stretching to become his own person and give birth to his own identity apart from his mother and those of the stereotypical kids at school who are all of a type and beckon him to be like them in their plastic “awesomeness.”
There is a through-line of story, albeit in a twisting jumble of presentation, broken up and flashed at us as a part of the surrealism/realism of his life. In these crucial segments we note how Mickey’s attempts to define himself by problem solving issues at school and making some money in the process. After Mickey negotiates with rocked-out thuggish kids on their turf, we later understand that he is dealing in urine samples so that the druggies can elude detection. Meanwhile they pay him for the privilege of supplying his pristine urine. It is a rite of passage-handling difficulties on one’s own without confiding in anyone. We applaud Mickey for his cleverness and ability to “get over” on two sets of bullies: the authoritarian security guards and the mindless druggies who browbeat and demean. Of course eventually he and they are found out in a humorous sequence of comeuppance.
The actors are convincing in both the real and unreal sequences. They engage and surprise, well shepherded by Kuba Czekaj. Both Kacper Olszewski and Agnieszka Podsiadlik are particularly astonishing. The music and sound are appropriately cacophonous and atonal and meld with the edits and overall stylized nature of this feature.
Baby Bump is valiant in its mindfulness of the unreality of growing up as youngsters are forced to negotiate self-definition in a culture and society that is fraught with images of inauthentic stereotypes of people trying to be what they are not. In this we are grateful that Kuba Czekaj and his creative team explode all the confusion of cultural illusions. They create Mickey’s imaginary worlds and reveal how one wise individual may confront the best and worst of an insane culture that has the appearance of reality but is no more sane than our worst nightmares. How individuals come to face who they are in this morass of competing noisy images to achieve self-identification against the backdrop of cultural and social nuttiness is the stuff of this daring and innovative film. It is a zany, visual delight. Dali and Luis Buñuel would be proud.