From comedic Cat in the Hat to dramatic Edward Scissorhands, passing by family friendly The Hedge and classical E.T., the suburban universe has always been present in America’s greatest cinema. Its use by the film industry has evolved throughout time and its many faces and hidden sides were often developed to create a particular atmosphere for every movie.
In the last century, the suburban world has been thriving on our television screens and in movie theaters. Often used to represent a perfect life, it also is used to show the dark sides of the seemingly perfect life with its hidden lies, such as murderers and psychopaths. It can also be funny to see a character try to stay ‘normal’ and not become crazy in the idealistic but maddening society, always in hilarious ways. On the contrary, suburbia can help people realize that they don’t have to all be the same, and that they can be an individual and have an independent mind.
Although suburbia is supposed to represent a perfect life with a happy family in a well-organized neighbourhood, there sometimes is a dark side to it. Movie producers greatly profited from this poorly known side by creating suspense and horror movies involving freaky strange characters you wouldn’t want to live close to. In well-known movies such as Halloween where a young man who killed his sister when he was six years old returns to his childhood city, threatening and killing everyone he meets, it is proven that although the main character was raised in the seemingly perfect suburban life, he became crazy and caused chaos by bringing horror in a supposed quiet and peaceful neighbourhood.
But Hollywood can also make people laugh with the life situation in the suburbs. In the 1981 movie The Neighbours, a father tries to protect his family from the influence of their new neighbours, a joyful easygoing young couple that doesn’t ‘fit’ in the calm atmosphere of the street. But as the movie goes on, not only does the father, interpreted by the very good John Belusci, thinks he is becoming crazy, he eventually wonders if the neighbours wouldn’t be the ‘normal ones’. In this comedy, not only is the question of what has to be done to be accepted by others is reviewed, but the whole idea of the suburban calm life is re-evaluated in a hilarious screenplay.
On the opposite, suburban life can also prove to people they don’t fit in the community of what may seem like clones to some people. In Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, a young man with scissors instead of hands must learn to live in a neighbourhood filled with stereotypes and judgements after living his whole life in an isolated castle. Though many people are nice to him and he seriously makes an effort to be ‘normal’ and accepted by all, he finally decides that life in the castle was easier and leaves everybody, including the girl who loved him. The moral of the movie is that some people may change, but not everybody can, and we all have a talent that makes us unique.
So although many directors choose to utilize the more unknown side of suburban life, others directly expose the more popular idea people have of it. No matter what view of suburban life is shown, people dream and wonder what all their neighbors’ lives are really about behind closed doors and on the other side of the hedge.