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The Black Balloon: Character Analysis of Jackie Essay

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Updated: Jan 16th, 2020

The Black balloon movie (2007) is indeed an award winning film that features how autism has affected one military family. Throughout the movie, the family struggles to control both the physical and psychological trauma associated with autism.

In addition, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is also affecting Charlie who is the victim of circumstances in this movie. The entire Mollison’s family has a deep desire of finding a lasting solution to the twin disorders affecting Charlie.

At some point, there is a sense of embarrassment in Charlie’s brother, Thomas (The Black balloon, 2007). He feels a lot uneasy with the suffering his brother is going through bearing in mind that his autistic brother often engages people in physical confrontations.

Another factor that seems to worsen Charlie’s situation is his adolescent age. He is relatively active and hardly settles down.

In spite of the incessant troubles brought about by the autistic Charlie, another source of hope and encouragement from Jackie works so well for Thomas. It is imperative to note that both Jackie and Thomas are classmates in the same school.

Although they have not been very close before, Charlie’s case seems to unite them due to many reasons (The Black balloon, 2007). For instance, Jackie’s family has been experiencing a lot of family problems since her parents are separated.

Jackie lives with her father although their relationship is not cordial. This is evident from the fact that they hardly talk with each other. To make the natter worse, her mother is living far away and as such, they have not been in touch for considerably long period of time (The Black balloon, 2007).

When Jackie meets Charlie the first time, she is not bothered at all with his unique and uncouth behaviour. Thomas is definitely surprised by Jackie’s gesture. She welcomes Charlie and makes him feel comfortable in their presence.

For the first time, Thomas feels encouraged. Jackie attempts to demonstrate to Thomas that Charlie’s case is relatively normal and that there is nothing to fear about it.

As a matter fact, Jackie tries to drive a very important message to Thomas that it would still be possible to adopt better coping strategies in handling Charlie. Thomas is vividly surprised by Jackie when she proposes that they all go out with Charlie.

As a matter of fact, Jackie’s entry into Thomas’ life is the beginning of a major turning point for the latter especially in regards to the autistic and ADD disorders affecting his brother Charlie (The Black balloon, 2007).

At some point in the movie, Jackie tells Thomas not to be worried over his classmates who were often making fun of him due to the condition of his Charlie. Jackie appears so sympathetic to Thomas to an extent that the latter feels relived altogether.

Thomas has been depicted in the movie as a calm character that is not very much outgoing compared to his classmates. He has been captured in the movie as a new student who has just been enrolled in a new school and unable to learn how to swim.

It is highly likely that Thomas is psychologically disturbed with the damaging condition of his brother and that is why he is not free to associate with other students for fear of being ‘laughed at’.

However, shortly after Jackie and Thomas became friends, other classmates started respecting him largely due to the fact that Jackie was an adorable and admired character in class.

Hence, anybody associating with her would be respected as well (Seltzer et al 2004, p.270). Thomas was also able to learn swimming within a very short time especially with the assistance from his friend Jackie.

Throughout their friendship, Jackie appears to be very mature as she offers very logical advice to Thomas in regards to his brother’s condition. Jackie advises Thomas to be less worried with the situation because he cannot change the reality.

As time passes by, their friendship grows stronger than the prevailing realties in both families. It is interesting to note that they eventually enjoy the company of each other and ‘forget’ about biter situations that have been ailing them for a long period of time.

During the preliminary stages of their friendship, it is definite that both of them find the much needed solace that they have yearned for a long time. Eventually, Jackie obtains a sense of belonging in this new family bearing in mind that her own family broke away (The Black balloon, 2007).

They play together and share many jokes and childhood experiences in spite of their tender adolescent ages. Indeed, their childish behaviours when playing together in the family backyard are helpful in diverting Thomas’ attention away from his autistic brother.

It is also worthy to mention that Thomas was finally able to perceive Charlie in a completely different and positive way. He viewed his brother’s condition as any other ordinary occurrence in life.

On the same note, Jackie felt loved and fully accommodated in this new family as can be seen when they share close moments and dinner together (The Black balloon, 2007).

This essay takes a critical look at the development effects of autism among individuals. In addition, the paper will discuss the relevance of the movie The Black Balloon with cross reference to the character of Jackie who appears sympathetic to the affected family.

In order to create a deeper understanding of autism, various growth and developmental theories will be explored in the essay.

Background of autism

For a long period of time, the aetiology and development of autism had myriads of perceptions. For instance, there are communities who believed that autism was a form of curse or an enchantment cast to an individual by some evil forces (Altiere & Von Kluge 2009, p. 1450).

From a medical point of view, autism is a development disorder that affects behavioural patterns of the affected person.

In most cases, the condition is usually pervasive in the sense that it significantly retards the normal brain development. Although the condition is well known across the world, its actual biological cause is still unknown due to clashing theories on its aetiology.

Children who have been diagnosed with autism are more likely to develop repetitive motor behavior such as vocalizations, hand-flapping tapping and body-rocking (Australian Bureau of statistics, 2009). From the movie, Charlie portrays repeated vocalizations as well as tapping motor behavior.

Autism affects both genders although its prevalence is higher among men than women with a ratio of 3 to 4 respectively (Australian Bureau of statistics, 2009).

Although the prevalence rate is still low as per the global scale, autism defies geographical and social boundaries and therefore spread across the whole world. Statistics obtained from the 2003 survey indicates that the prevalence rate of autism has been rising each year (Baker, Seltzer & Greenberg 2011, p. 605).

Over the recent years, the numbers of children who are diagnosed with autistic related cases seem to be rising steadily. Nonetheless, researchers tend to differ whether it is due to advances made in the use of diagnostic equipments or higher prevalence rate of the disorder (Louds et al 2007, p. 406).

Autism significantly hampers every aspect of an individual’s psychological development. For instance, behavioral patterns are grossly affected. In addition, social interactions as well as language development are equally inhibited.

The above indicates that despite advancement in age of a victim, the affected person may not easily attain self efficacy through the various developmental stages in life. As such, an individual has to remain under the care of close members of the family as well as friends.

Needless to say, each stage along the developmental phase of a child suffering from autism attracts its own share of challenges to the affected family.

On the same note, The Black Balloon (2007) movie clearly depicts that the presence of such a child within a family set up implies that normal functioning of any give family with an autistic patient can never be the same. This can be explained by the fact that all domains of a family life are negatively affected.

In most instances, emotional and financial demands that a family has to carry while meeting the needs of such disorders can bring constant marital and siblings’ conflicts because such families have no time to create healthy bonds.

There are other cases when autistic patients undergo serious psychological disturbance such as violence. In the case of Charlie, he sometimes turns out to be unruly and therefore has to be restrained.

Charlie also suffers from speech and language problems since he cannot articulate his feelings fully using well constructed sentences (Sparks 2000, p.310). It has also been established that some autistic patients are relatively hard to control due their stubborn nature as it is the case with Charlie.

Theories developed in the movie

According to the arguments presented by Erik Erikson, it is highly likely for an individual to encounter a major psychological disturbance. The reason why such a scenario is possible is because there are eight unique stages of a development that an individual has to go through while alive.

Although most of these conditions are easily diagnosed, there are some which are quite latent and only manifested during the later development stages. It is against this backdrop that Erikson proposes coping strategies especially among individuals and families affected by an autistic patient (Barkway, 2009).

Jackie portrays a coping spirit towards Thomas whose family has been derailed by an autistic patient. Although she is still in adolescence stage, she exhibits high levels of understanding and maturity compared to those who are within her age group.

It is also worth to mention that at her age, there are a lot of physical and psychological developments that she is experiencing. It is definite that both the emotional and social functions of adolescents are largely altered during the teenage years.

In order to remain in the most noble and expected path of development, Erikson observes that there is need to comprehend and derive meaning out of the various developmental changes since these changes may yield the actual disorders.

His theory mainly focuses on development during adolescence since this is the period when rapid changes are recorded in an individual’s physical and psychological set up (Seltzer et al 2001, p.270).

Although adolescents are mainly known to value group identity, it is evident that Jackie’s case is quite different. She decided to form a strong friendship with Thomas even though the rest of the class had sidelined him due to his slow pace in swimming lessons.

Erikson posits that the best stage of development when an individual can build a specific identity is during adolescence. From a careful review of The Black Balloon movie, it is definite that Jackie sought to build a certain line of identity with Thomas in order to find some solution to challenges facing her family.

Although her friendship with Thomas could not provide any tangible solution to her broken family, Jackie found a new form of identity in this family since they accepted her as a family member.

Another coping strategy that Erikson elucidates is the presence of healthy relationships or supportive individuals during psychologically difficult moments (Smith & O’Relly 2008, p.76). It is undoubtable that the psychological development of an adolescent child can be largely rectified with the help of an adult.

From the movie, Jackie can be seen to spend more time with her newly found family as she recounts her experience. The military family listened to her ordeals and opted to amend her life by accepting her as one of their own. By so doing, this family assisted in indentifying the new identity of Jackie.

Moreover, the character of Jackie has been positively developed throughout the movie as a positively-minded adolescent. She is capable of making the right decisions even as she interacts with various types of people ranging from her classmates to older persons.

In spite of the psychologically perturbing scenario in her family, Jackie does not lose hope and self-esteem. She remains steadfast and quite composed.

For example, Jackie is not bothered at all when she is associated with the autistic Charlie. She walks with them publicly and even shares dinner with the family. In other words, Jackie knows her identity very well.

The theoretical perspective of loss

Whenever physical, emotional or psychological resources of a person are minimised, the situation can be referred to as a loss (Ginette & Debra 2008, 57). As such, any form of loss can be grossly detrimental towards the wellbeing of an individual. In the movie The Black Balloon, there are myriads of loses depicted in the film.

One of the most conspicuous of these loses is the one experienced by Jackie. Her family has literally broken down since her mother is nowhere in sight while her father is no longer communicating with her. This is a family loss that affected her health as well since she failed to take balanced meals.

The fact that Jackie sought solace in Mollison’s family indicates that the situation was stressing her out. If the ordeal would persist for long, she could have ended up into depression.

The latter condition is a direct psychological loss to an individual. However, most psychological experts in the medical field propose that individuals who are under stress or depression ought to share out their experiences with others.

Factors that determine social health

There are myriads of social determinants of health in society. These are factors that affect a given population and end up interfering with both physical and mental health. One of common social determinants of health is stress. Jackie is definitely stressed due to her shattered family.

Her conversation with Mollison’s family reveals that she is psychologically disturbed with the absence of her mother and poor communication with her father. It is imperative to mention that family breakdown is a social concern. However, the impacts of any form of family breakdown are devastating.

Although the company of Thomas brought happiness into the life of Jackie, it is vital to note that Thomas was a source of worry for Jackie to some extent. This can be explained from the fact that Thomas was often bothered by the kind of humiliation brought about by Charlie.

In fact, his classmates had already labelled him differently. Such experiences made Thomas to remain a sad boy most of the times. The condition of Thomas itself also stressed Jackie and that is why she decided to be in the company of Charlie just to ensure that Thomas was fine.

Psychological stress is indeed detrimental to an individual’s health. As a matter of fact, diseases such as CVD, HIV and clinical depression can all be worsened in the presence of stress (Capps 2009, p.512).

Resilience ability

Individuals who are capable of tolerating difficult situations are said to be resilient (Orsmond, Krauss & Seltzer 2004, p. 250).

Garmezy notes that the ability to develop resilience during difficult moments is largely dependent on strong relationships, emotional support from seniors, high level of confidence, self-esteem as well as being emotionally mature.

All the aforementioned factors are integral towards building resilience (Cohen, Brown & Smailes 2001, 990).

It is no do doubt that Jackie demonstrated a very high level of resilience in spite of her tender adolescent age. For example, Jackie managed to maintain a strong relationship with her fellow classmates. Everybody in class respected her personal wit.

This also explains why Thomas was admired by fellow students when he became a friend to Jackie. Secondly, Jackie overcame the effects of a broken family since her parents had separated.

In spite of the stressful conditions she was going through, Jackie developed a sense of calm and belonging when she eventually found comfort in Mollison’s family. She did not just sit down and lament about her situation.

Jackie’s confidence and self-esteem are also evident when she intervened in Charlie’s case by assuring Thomas that all was well and that there was nothing for him to worry about. As already mentioned in the paper, coping and resilience are closely related since none can do without the other.


The best way I would assist Jackie is by open discussion. I would start by sharing my intriguing life experiences with her so that she can be able to see that we are in the same platform.

Secondly, I would encourage her to share with me her experience by assuring that the information shared will not be released to the third party.

I would also make sure that I make her feel comfortable as we talk by avoiding direct questions. After obtaining relevant information that can assist in diagnosis, I would then refer her to full treatment (Greenberg, Seltzer & Hong 2001, p. 235).


In recap, it is vital to reiterate that The Black Balloon movie takes the audience through the life of an autistic family member called Charlie and the subsequent difficulties facing members of this family.

One of the major themes brought out in the movie is the aspect of sympathy and moral support as depicted in the character of Jackie. Finally, resilience and various coping strategies have also been portrayed as vital elements in the film.


Altiere, M & Von Kluge, S 2009, ‘Searching for acceptance: Challenges encountered while raising a child with autism’. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, Vol. 34 no. 2, pp. 142-152.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABC) 2009, . Web.

Baker J, Seltzer M & Greenberg S 2011, ‘Longitudinal effects of adaptability on behavior problems and maternal depression in families of adolescents with autism’, Journal of Family Psychology, vol. 25, no. 4, pp. 601-609.

Barkway, P 2009, Psychology for Health Professionals, Sydney: Elsevier Australia.

Capps, D 2009, “Norman Vincent Peale, Smiley Blanton and the Hidden Energies of the Mind”, Journal of Religion and Health, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 507-527.

Cohen P, Brown J & Smailes E 2001, “Child abuse and neglect and the development of mental disorders in the general population”, Development and psychopathology, vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 981-999.

Ginette, GF & Debra, AE 2008, “Development of an educational/support group for pregnant women in prison”, Journal of Forensic Nursing, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 55-60.

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Louds J, Greenberg S, Seltzer M & Shattuck P, 2007 ‘Transition and change in adolescents and young adults with autism; longitudinal effects on maternal well-being’, American journal on mental retardation, vol. 112, no. 6, pp. 401-417.

Orsmond, G, Krauss, M & Seltzer, M, 2004 ‘Peer relationships and social and recreational activities among adolescents and adults with autism’ Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorder, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 245-256.

Seltzer M, Krauss W, Orsmond I & Vestal K 2001,’Families of adolescents and adults with autism: Uncharted Territory’ International review of research in mental retardation, vol.23, pp. 267-293.

Smith, S & O’Relly, R 2008, ‘Australian autism handbook: the essential resource guide to autism spectrum disorder. Jane Curry Publishing, Edgecliff: N.S.W.

Sparks, JA 2000, “The deconstruction of magic: Rereading, rethinking Erickson”, Family process, vol. 39, no. 3, pp. 307-311.

The Black Balloon 2007, Digital Video Disc, ICON Home Entertainment, Newtown, Australia.

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