an NFSA website

Idiot Box (1996)


Mick (Jeremy Sims) and Kev (Ben Mendelsohn) – bored, unemployed and aimless in the western suburbs of Sydney – decide to rob a bank, more or less for the fun of it. They’ve seen it done in countless movies and cop shows, and Mick thinks they can do it better. They recruit the brother of Mick’s new girlfriend as an accomplice. Meanwhile, police are closing in on a serial bank robber, who’s been dubbed ‘Laughing Boy’ in the media, because of the mask he wears.

Curator’s notes

Idiot Box is about young working class men who have nothing to do and no place in the world. That is writer and director David Caesar’s constant theme in his first three feature films, beginning with Greenkeeping in 1993, and Mullet in 2001, which he made after Idiot Box. All three are comedies of a sort, but Idiot Box combines the comedy with a molotov cocktail of undirected emotions, pointing to a series of destructive outcomes. It’s not just about blokes who are starved of a role in the society, it’s about the damage they inflict on themselves and the society as a result.

The character of Kev is one of Ben Mendelsohn’s most interesting performances. He’s sullen, inarticulate and dangerously explosive in temper. His mother calls him useless, his girlfriend (Susie Porter) calls him a loser – but his friendship with Mick (Jeremy Sims) reveals another side, which is a kind of unchanneled creativity. ‘I’ll show you a trick’ he keeps saying, and it’s usually something stupid and dangerous but entertaining for him and his friend. Kev has become an expert at fighting off boredom, but it’s a losing battle. The bank robbery is just an excuse, a way of trying to increase the sense of oblivion he gets from his anti-social antics.

There’s inevitability about his desire to get some guns, for the robbery. He wants to be the star of his own movie. That’s the other part of Caesar’s theme here – that the combination of bored men who have no means of escape, and years of emotion suppressing television watching, produce a desire for a theatrical form of catharsis. Kev could just have blown his own head off, given his desire for death – but he chooses to go out in a blaze of publicity instead. The film isn’t just about the crisis of masculinity. It makes a claim that media makes that crisis worse – hence the title. The film was very well reviewed when it came out, but failed to attract an audience.