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Welcome to The Black Balloon textbook!

This is the opportunity for our class to collaborate together and share our understanding of the film. Feel free to add your own ideas to the content by hitting the 'edit' button :)


When Thomas and his family move to a new home in the early 1990s and he has to start at a new school, all he wants is to fit in.

When his pregnant mother needs to rest, he is put in charge of his autistic older brother Charlie. Thomas, with the help of his new girlfriend Jackie faces his biggest challenge yet. Charlie’s unusual antics take Thomas on an emotional journey that cause his pent-up frustrations about his brother to pour out, which in turn allows him to reconnect with Charlie in ways he never thought possible.


Important Events

Event Brief summary Explanation of why it is an important event

The Mollison's
moving into
the neighbourhood

Thomas not being
able to swim

Jackie wearing the
monkey ears

Charlie's tantrum at
the supermarket

The physical fight
between Thomas
and Charlie

Charlie signing at the
car window and
Thomas joining
Charlie outside the
next morning

Thomas joining
Charlie on stage and
the bathtub scene


Thomas Mollison

Thomas is a 16 year old Australian boy who has moved around a lot in his lifetime because his father is in the army. This along with having an 18 year old autistic brother (Charlie) prevents him from feeling comfortable making new friends and allowing people into his life. Throughout the movie we see Thomas struggle to come to terms with Charlie's behaviour and bottle up his frustration. Thomas can no longer control his anger when Charlie embarrasses him in front of his girlfriend at his birthday dinner. Thomas' violent reaction to Charlie's behaviour is the catalyst he needs to realise that the only thing that is preventing him from having a relationship with his brother is himself.

Charlie Mollison

Charlie is an 18 year old autistic boy who cannot speak. He is totally dependent on his parents and requires a lot of attention. Charlie's autism dictates the daily running of the house (eg. locks on all the doors). Charlie does not understand what is inappropriate behaviour in public and embarrasses his brother frequently.

Maggie Mollison

Maggie is Charlie and Thomas' mother. She is the glue that keeps the family together as she is organised and is not resentful that she has to spend the majority of her time looking after a child who would have left home if he was 'normal'. Maggie struggles to share her time equally between Thomas and Charlie and this is made worse when she gives birth to her third child.

Simon Mollison

Simon is Charlie and Thomas' father. He shows elements of being different when we see him treat his stuffed bear 'REX' like he is a member of the family. Simon struggles to cope with the boys on his own, which we see when Maggie is stuck in hospital before the birth of their daughter.

Jackie Masters

Jackie, Thomas' girlfriend, helps Thomas to see that it is his fault that he can't accept Charlie and his autistic behaviour. Jackie repeatedly shows Thomas that she accepts Charlie (wearing Monkey ears, not caring about the tampon incident) but can't control her shock when Charlie is caught masturbating at the dinner table. Jackie helps Thomas to overcome his hatred of Charlie.


Society's attitude towards autism

Elissa Downs uses this film to highlight the ways in which autistic people and their families are treated.

Camera Shots

1. "why's your brother a spastic?

2. "freak"

3. "retard"

[What does this show? What has Elissa
Downs used this technique?]

1. Close-up shots of neighbours faces when the Mollison's are moving in

[What does this show? Why has Elissa Downs used this technique?]

2. Long shots of neighbours peering through
their windows at the family moving in

[What does this show? Why has Elissa Downs used this technique?]

3 .Close-up shots of shoppers faces at the
supermarket when Charlie has a tantrum.

[What does this show? Why has Elissa Downs used this technique?]

1. The fence that the neighbours look at the  family through

[What does this show? Why has Elissa Downs used this technique?]

2. The one black balloon and the group of
    the red balloons

[What does this show? Why has Elissa Downs used this technique?]

Effect of autism on families

header 1 header 2 header 3
row 1, cell 1 row 1, cell 2 row 1, cell 3
row 2, cell 1 row 2, cell 2 row 2, cell 3