Babyteeth and the Subversion of Terminally Ill Tropes

Almost everyone is familiar with the coming of age genre in which a teen is diagnosed with a terminal illness. From the popular adaptation of John Green’s A Fault In Our Stars, to more recent additions such as 5 Feet Apart, this type of film is normally associated with its ability to provoke tears rather than to impart the cinematic experience. Unlike its predecessors however, Babyteeth is simultaneously both moving and cinematic. It is not a movie about death, but rather the pursuit of life.

By avoiding the cliches of its genre, Babyteeth is ultimately able to impact a greater audience. Rather than portray its protagonist as a victim, Milla (Eliza Scanlen) becomes the film’s hero and is able to retain the dignity that her illness threatens. With the film in mind, examine the way that illness is conceived and thought of in today’s society. What shift in thinking has contributed to this change? In your opinion, what is the best way to present terminal illnesses in film?

  • A thing that grinds my gears would be the representation of mental illness, specifically, as something that either provides a limitation or a superpower... because plot. Often depictions are oversimplification of a person's experience or comically inaccurate. A bipolar charming-but-secret-murderer or autistic savant hacker with trouble speaking are some stereotypes. Another issue is when it feels like a checkbox has been crossed out. One egregious example would be in "The Predator" a while back where the main character's son is depicted as a school child that feels compelled to put back a chess set that has been knocked over into its original mid-game position, but then in the next scene is bullied after some kids pull a fire alarm that begins making loud noises. Main character's-kid-with-autism balls their hands and rocks back and forth to deal with the stimulation... of course later in the movie the kid is able to understand the Predator technology and language and is literally called a pinnacle of human evolution to be harvested for his DNA. This is lazy and uninspired writing at the expense of those with the mental condition being misrepresented, courtesy the media industry. – DancingKomodos 1 year ago
  • Yeah a lot of times those kinds of illnesses feel like a cheap way to the audience's heart. I remember feeling this in Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl. I wanted to like the film, but I felt like the "Dying Girl" was a convenient plot device to the protagonist's character. He even straight up lies about the true ending of the film, and later tells us the truth: this was to keep the emotional beats of the film in check. How to do it properly? I'm not sure, that is a good question – JuanGomez 1 year ago

Want to write about Film or other art forms?

Create writer account