Film is a visual medium, and often finds tangible ways to convey the inner worlds of a character’s thoughts. One way this is accomplished is with an imaginary friend, creating a tangible representation of the internal dialogue we all often carry out with ourselves. A physical representation of this internal creation is accomplished by casting an actual actor to play that role of imagined companion. Young children may use an imaginary friend to develop social skills, while adults may revive them to cope with a difficult period. These are healthy representations of the concept, which are also often used to convey mental instability. And then there are the films with imaginary friends who may be real, implying a supernatural element to their existence.
Whether a healthy part of childhood, a coping mechanism for struggling adults, or an indication of the supernatural, what is important in these films about imaginary friends is the impact they have on the narrative. Real or not, they have license in the power of influence held over the protagonist. Either by motivating the main character’s action or by directly interacting with the physical world, these “imagined” characters have a tangible impact on the plot.
Which of these imaginary characters feel the most real? Vote up your favorite fabricated friend!
Warning: Some spoilers ahead!
- 110 VOTESPhoto: 20th Century Fox
The Imaginary Friend: When the unnamed Narrator (Edward Norton) of Fight Club suffers from insomnia due to general dissatisfaction with his job and life, it results in the creation of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). For much of the runtime, the Narrator believes Tyler is a living person others can see, unaware he is only a manifestation of his own repressed thoughts and desires. The two become fast friends, despite having opposite personalities, forming an underground fight ring together.
His Impact: Influenced by the lifestyle and belief systems of Tyler Durden, the Narrator drastically alters his own approach to existence. He gives up his modern apartment to move into Tyler's rundown home and begins to give in to base impulses. Not only does he have conversations with Tyler that impact his decisions, but his charismatic imaginary friend also completely takes control of his body when he's asleep (or believes he's asleep). Although the Narrator seems content with the fight club, Tyler is determined to escalate the mayhem.
- 27 VOTES
Frank The Rabbit In 'Donnie Darko'Photo: Newmarket Films
The Imaginary Friend: Woken up by an inhuman voice late one night, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is called outside his home where he discovers Frank, a man dressed in a monstrous rabbit costume. While existing as an imaginary friend that only Donnie can see, Frank also exists in the real world as his sister’s boyfriend, Frank Anderson (James Duval). In the future, Anderson dies on Halloween while wearing the rabbit costume, and his spirit travels back from the future to guide Donnie as Frank the Rabbit.
His Impact: Frank first reveals himself to tell Donnie that the world will end in “28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds.” He then appears throughout the film to give instructions to Donnie, directing him to vandalize the high school and burn down the house of a local motivational speaker (Patrick Swayze) who has a deeply troubling secret. There is evidence that Frank is guiding Donnie to certain events so that he will eventually travel back in time to alter a defining moment in the narrative.
- 36 VOTES
Drop Dead Fred In 'Drop Dead Fred'Photo: New Line Cinema
The Imaginary Friend: As a child, Elizabeth Cronin (Ashley Peldon) has a mischievous imaginary friend named Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall), but he becomes trapped in a jack-in-the-box by her overbearing mother (Marsha Mason). When Elizabeth discovers the toy after being forced to move back in with her mother as an adult (Phoebe Cates), she inadvertently unleashes the imaginary childhood friend back into the world.
His Impact: Despite his best intentions, Fred’s immature presence initially only brings chaos to Elizabeth's life. Eventually, he also proves helpful to her efforts to find independence from her unfaithful husband (Tim Matheson), alerting her about his continuing affair with another woman. Once Fred has achieved this, he moves on to be the imaginary friend of another child.
- 410 VOTESPhoto: Warner Bros.
The Imaginary Friend: Tony is an unseen imaginary friend said to live inside the mouth of 5-year-old Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd), sometimes hiding in his stomach. Tony speaks through Danny, only appearing in the form of his wagging index finger. Although Danny’s parents believe Tony is merely an imaginary playmate, it is implied by his ability to give the child visions that there is a supernatural aspect to Tony.
His Impact: The visions that Danny receives from Tony affect his decision-making throughout the narrative, often warning him of an impending threat. Although it is never explicitly stated, there are indications that Danny’s psychic abilities (referred to as “shining”) may come from Tony.