Brigsby Bear is about a young man named James Pope. James is a fanatic of a show called Brigsby Bear Adventures. James’ world changes one day when the police find him and take him away from his family. He discovers that what he thought were his parents were his kidnappers, and the police reunite him with his real parents. James was isolated for twenty-five years from the real world, living in an underground bunker with access to one show: Brigsby Bear Adventures. He finds out that Brigsby Bear Adventures was actually created by his fake father in order to keep him distracted from the real world. James proves to have a hard time adjusting to his new life, as all he cares about is a show that he was the only audience member of. When James makes friends and introduces them to Brigsby Bear Adventures, they share his love for the show and decide to shoot a film to conclude the Brigsby Bear story.
Brigsby Bear is an indie, comedy-drama with the undertone of a classic, teenage coming-of-age film. Except, James is now twenty-five, but never truly got to be a regular teenager. The comedic tone of the film revolves around the character of James and his obsession with Brigsby Bear. He is a child in a socially awkward adult’s body. He only really talks about Brigsby Bear, and is seen exclusively wearing Brigsby Bear t-shirts. But, his peers find him hilarious. James lends some of his Brigsby Bear Adventures tapes to his friend, Spencer, who uploads them to youtube. The show immediately goes viral and we see different people across the country laughing along with it’s ridiculousness. James’ friends think Brigsby is hilarious, but think James is even funnier for taking it so seriously. James and his friends eventually start filming the Brigsby Bear movie. His friends love Brigsby, and we see them taking turns taking selfies with Brigsby’s head. This film takes something negative and makes it positive. Even though Brigsby was used as a tool to keep James away from the real world, he ultimately helps James enter that world, bringing him closer to his family and his friends in a coming-of-age story.
In the beginning of this film, James has a very limited view of the world, due to the fact he lived in an underground bunker for twenty-five years with no internet or television. The only media he had was Brigsby Bear Adventures. Brigsby is one of the only representations of animals that James witnessed besides a stuffed fox and fake fireflies set up outside of his house. There is a scene at the beginning of the film, before James’ world gets turned around, when him and Ted are sitting in their above-ground dome, looking outside. His father says, “They sure came out tonight, huh?,”
referencing the fake fireflies that he, himself, placed there. Ted even makes up different names for the fireflies, calling them ‘grazer bugs’. He tells James about the ‘grazer bugs’ saying, “They’re out there every night, surviving, just like us. The difference is, we have dreams and imaginations to help us escape.” James’ father assumes that fireflies do not have dreams or imagination, and tries to convince James of this. His father is in control of each of the animals that James has access to. He does not know what ‘real’ animals look like, and probably even believes that Brigsby is what a ‘real’ bear looks like. There is a scene that reveals James’ limited understanding of what animals really look like. In this scene, James is gifted the head of Brigsby Bear after it has been taken away as evidence. Detective Vogel brings James items from the Brigsby Bear set so he can film his movie. James puts on the head for the first time and imitates Brigsby’s movements. These are not the movements of a normal bear, but of the character created by his Ted.
When his sister walks in the room and screams “Oh my god,” James quickly takes off Brigsby’s head and says, “Oh, sorry, it’s James. Not a real bear.” James believes that his sister is frightened because he looks like a real bear. He has grown up not seeing real animals and has only seen animals represented through the costume of Brigsby Bear and fake stuffed foxes and fireflies set up by his father outside of their house. He does not make the connection that Brigsby looks nothing like a real bear, and that his sister was simply surprised when she saw him wearing Brigsby’s head. At first, Brigsby distances James from his family and friends as they do not understand why he is still obsessed with the show created by his kidnapper. But with the help of Spencer, and James’ newly discovered passion for film making, peoples minds start to change.
James becomes obsessed with the idea of creating a Brigsby Bear film that he quickly writes the script and draws a story board. He invites Spencer over who shares his passion for the Brigsby Bear Adventures and reads him the story board. After explaining the film, James says, “… and then maybe at some point he gets his bear parents out of space jail cause if you think about what they did, it wasn’t even that bad.” James is reflecting his own emotions on to Brigsby Bear. He places himself in the character of Brigsby to express his feelings about his fake parents. Without his old parents, Brigsby is the only thing he has from his old life. While he latches on to Brigsby Bear, he projects his own feelings onto him. I think part of the reason James is accepting of what his fake parents did is due to the fact that they brought him Brigsby Bear. Through the character of Brigsby, James is able to articulate his own emotions and discover his passion of film making. Hiding behind the character of Brigsby actually allows James to be himself, and eventually helps him bond with his sister and his friends. We can see James start to bond with his friends and his sister while he is filming his Brigsby Bear movie. While filming, Brigsby loses and eye and Aubrey, James’ sister, helps him find it. When she finds the eye, James says, “Perfect, now he can see,” to which Aubrey replies, “Exactly, now he can transport inter-dimensionally.” Aubrey uses Brigsby’s diction to connect with James. Brigsby losing an eye causes James and Aubrey to work together and appreciate each other more. Before this scene, Aubrey and James never really got along, but with the help of Brigsby Bear, Aubrey and James are able to understand each other better.
Although Brigsby brings James closer to his friends and his sister, his real parents have a hard time accepting James’ passion for Brigsby. They can not let go of the fact that Brigsby Bear was created by James’ fake parents to manipulate and control him. James’ family brings him to therapy to try to talk him out of his love for Brigsby. The therapist says, “We are not here to talk about Brigsby, James. This is about you.” Except, what she does not realize is that James is Brigsby. Brigsby is a way for James to manifest his own feelings. He is the reason why James is so distant from his parents, because they only want James, not Brigsby Bear. Whether they like it or not, Brigsby shaped the person James is, and he may never be able to let him go. When they try to convince him that there are other shows out there for him to watch, James says, “Brigsby is the greatest hero and when everything is against him he never gives up. Even if it is hopeless. He’s my whole life.” James’ dad then yells at him in frustration, calling his fake parents ‘monsters’. James replies, “You don’t know anything about Brigsby at all, and you never will.” James is using Brigsby Bear to tell his parents that they will never understand him. James and his parents can not connect until they learn to embrace Brigsby Bear, and in turn, embrace James for who he is. James’ parents see Brigsby Bear as standing in between their relationship with James. James’ old parents are road blocks for James getting to know his real father. But, James does not see his old parents in Brigsby, he sees himself. Although his sister and his friends see that as well, his parents have yet to too.
The final scene of the film shows James walking into the theatre after his movie has premiered. The crowd stands up and turns to James, applauding in his direction. The first people James notices are his parents with tears in their eyes, beaming smiles on their faces, and their hands clapping. James looks at the stage and imagines Brigsby standing there, nodding at him. James realizes that the people are clapping at him, not Brigsby. James has finally become his own person, and as he nods at Brigsby Bear, he realizes that he does not need him anymore, he can finally just be himself. As James’ friends run up to hug him, Brigsby Bear teleports away. Brigsby has been filling a void for James, but now that void is filled with the love from his friends, his sister, and his parents. They are all, at once, finally proud and embrace James as the man he has become.
The character of Brigsby Bear represents something that was once negative that is able to be turned into something positive. Brigsby was used as a tool of manipulation by James fake parents to keep him isolated in their made-up world. Brigsby then comes to represent a wall built up between James and his real parents, as he represents James’ kidnapping and the twenty-five years his parents spent looking for him. Brigsby is turned into something positive as the story is shared and James is able to make new friends and bond with his sister over the fun and lightheartedness of Brigsby’s spirit. James is able to manifest his feelings into the character of Brigsby, making it easier to express himself and overcome the shock of his new reality. When his family finally embraces Brigsby, realizing how important he is to James, the wall is torn down and they are able to embrace James for who he is and what he loves. Finally, Brigsby represents James letting go of his past and accepting his new life. James is finally able to leave his unfortunate childhood behind and become an adult, discovering through Brigsby Bear, his passion of film making.
I think the most important message of this film is that you can take something used against you and turn it into something you love. James’ parents resented Brigsby Bear because, to them, it represented James’ abducted and isolated life apart from them. But, James is not ready to let go of the story of Brigsby Bear, and joined with his newly discovered love of film making, he is able to take something that was used to manipulate him to liberate himself. You do not have to bury things away in order to forget them, you can face them head on and learn to change their meaning. Even when his parents and therapist tried to push Brigsby away, James knew it was necessary to face him head on. James’ cherished child-hood icon may have been a tool of manipulation by his kidnappers, but the love and passion that James and his friends developed for Brigsby transformed him into a positive influence in James’ life, allowing him to finally move on and embrace his new life without Brigsby.