1980s

'Big' Is Actually An Existential Nightmare 

Melissa Sartore
4.4k views 12 items

Penny Marshall's Big is a fun, sweet family movie about a boy who makes a wish that unexpectedly comes true - or not. When you take a second glance at everything that goes down, a more disturbing picture emerges. Josh Baskin (Tom Hanks) is a 12-year-old boy who turns into an adult overnight, moves to New York City, establishes a successful career, and even sleeps with a woman - but at what cost? His mother is heartbroken, his best friend is abandoned, and his new girlfriend has no clue about the implications of what she's just done.

Big may be a classic, but when you step back from its warm and comforting glow, you may not see quite the movie you remember from 1988. Instead, you may observe another reminder that the world is full of creepy, selfish people who keep devastating secrets. Or better yet, you could view it as a warning to be careful what you wish for. After all, Josh got his wish - and, as a result, he'll be putting the fractured pieces of his psyche back together for years to come.

The Love Story Involves A Disturbing, If Unintended, Age Difference
The Love Story Involves ... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 'Big' Is Actually An Existential Nightmare
Photo:  20th Century Fox

Susan Lawrence falls for Josh Baskin, the new MacMillan marvel with an endearing childlike spirit. Little does she know how true that spirit really is, however. When Susan suggests a sleepover, Josh exclaims, "I get to be on top," and he's merely talking about bunk beds. But inexorably, the innocence fades, the relationship becomes physical, and they sleep together. It's tastefully PG, of course - but the look on his face is telling.

When Josh tries to tell Susan about what had happened to him and who he really is, she of course doesn't believe him - at first. Eventually something clicks, and she follows Josh to Sea Point Park, where Zoltar is back in action. Josh doesn't want to let Susan go, even suggesting she make a wish and go back to childhood with him, an offer she politely declines.

She drives him home and, as she drops him off, kisses him goodbye - on the forehead. By that point, the true implications of her "relationship" had become all too clear. If nothing else, there will be a lot to talk about in her next therapy session.

Imagine Susan's next dating experience. She may never be able to trust men again, much less her own judgment. She's gone from guys like Paul - the petty, selfish corporate executive willing to trounce anyone and anything that gets in his way - to a literal man-child. Learning a lot from a relationship is generally a good thing but, in this case, the realizations may be a bit more disturbing to face.

Josh Learns All The Worst Lessons About Being A Man
Josh Learns All The Wors... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 'Big' Is Actually An Existential Nightmare
Photo:  20th Century Fox

When Josh gets hired at MacMillan Toys, he's initially assigned to a cubicle next to a guy named Scotty Brennen. Their first conversations together highlight some disturbing work culture. After Josh completes the menial tasks in front of him, Scotty cautions him to slow down because he's making everyone else look bad. The lesson? Slacking off is part of the job.

It's the kind of advice that could resonate with anyone - especially a 12-year-old boy. Josh may have a strong work ethic when he arrives at MacMillan, but then again he's never had adult colleagues before. He's learning the rules for the first time. Scotty's words of wisdom only get worse:

Scotty Brennen: See that girl over there in the red? Say "hi" to her and she's yours. She'll have her legs around you so tight you'll be begging for mercy.

Josh: Well, I'll stay away from her, then.

Granted, Josh's coworker has no way of knowing he's talking to an impressionable young man, but that's no excuse. Josh has had exposure to the worst kind of adult male. He may not yet understand the meaning of his cubicle neighbor's innuendo, but the seeds of toxic masculinity are already being planted, whether he knows it or not.

Zoltar Is Terrifying And The Amusement Park Offers Nothing But Humiliation
Zoltar Is Terrifying And... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 'Big' Is Actually An Existential Nightmare
Photo:  20th Century Fox

At the beginning of the movie, young Josh heads to the amusement park with his family. The main attraction is Super Loops, a scary roller coaster that Josh's parents reluctantly allow their son to ride solo. The result of this newfound independence is a string of humiliations that would make anyone want to leave adolescence behind forever. First, he sees Cynthia Benson in line, but she's indifferent to Josh's presence; she only has eyes for her beau, Derek.

Josh tries to play it cool, but his anguish has only just begun. He insists he's been on Super Loops before, but when he gets to the front of the line, he's informed - all too publicly - that he's not tall enough to ride. He skulks away as everyone - his mom and dad, as well as Cynthia and Derek - watches.

When we next see Josh, he's walking along the boardwalk and stumbles upon Zoltar. Feeling wishful (and envious), he inserts a coin and - after knocking the machine around to get it to cooperate - prepares to make his famous wish: "I wish I were big." He shoots the coin into Zoltar's creepy mouth, receives a card telling him his wish is granted, then notices the machine is unplugged. Zoltar's mouth continues to open and close, tauntingly, as a confused Josh walks away.

Overall, there's not much there to make you want to hit up the local amusement park. Between Josh's hovering family and the embarrassment he endures in front of the cool kids, it's the kind of night he'd like to forget.

No One Seems To Care About Billy And His Burgeoning Delinquency
No One Seems To Care Abo... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 'Big' Is Actually An Existential Nightmare
Photo:  20th Century Fox

Josh's best friend, Billy, doesn't seem to have anything in the way of adult supervision, much less parents who keep track of his comings and goings. When Josh first goes "missing," Billy sneaks out a bunch of his dad's clothes for him. Billy helps his suddenly enlarged friend find a job and place to live. He spends virtually all of his free time with the presumptively adult Josh, playing with toys in his fancy private office. On occasion, the two go to the ballpark for a matinee game.

When Josh interviews for his job, Billy is mistaken for his son, so the latter's presence at MacMillan isn't too shocking for the staff there. Or is it? Billy spends hours on end at Josh's workplace. This should throw up some red flags for onlookers. Whether anyone from MacMillan has gotten in touch with truancy officers or Child Protective Services is an open question, but it wouldn't be a bad idea, if only for liability purposes.

Billy also helps track down Zoltar, all while living the life of a kid himself. There's the clear sense he is living vicariously through his friend. However, once he feels like Josh has literally outgrown him, he feels pushed aside. What's going on in Billy's life that's so tragic he needs this escape? Once Josh's attention shifts away from Billy, where does that leave him? 

We're left wondering what the repercussions for Billy might be, either at home or school - if not both - once Josh's temporary adult fantasy inevitably ends.