Retro Review Triple Play: Invisible Rabbits!
Want to know a surefire sign that you’re mentally insane? Seeing rabbits that just aren’t there! It seems like an oddly specific way to diagnose mental illness, but over the history of modern films, it pops up a few more times than you’d expect. And we’re not even talking about the sexually confusing prospect of seeing Jessica Rabbit everywhere you look…that’s an issue for another article. Here we’ll just give you three of our favorite films where seeing a bunny means you’re in a mental hospital, not a petting zoo.
Elwood Dowd (Jimmy Stewart) is an amiable and eccentric bachelor of independent means. He supports his sister Veta (Josephine Hull) and his adult niece Myrtel (Victoria Horne) and is well liked in the community, although regarded as something of a comical oddity. He has several compatriots at Charlie’s Bar, his favorite watering hole, but his closest companion is Harvey, a six foot 3 inch (and a half) tall rabbit that only he can see.
Everyone in town assumes Harvey is just another one of Dowd’s eccentricities, perhaps aided by Elwood’s love of martinis, but generally regard it as harmless fun, as Elwood is so pleasant and kind to everyone around him. Veta, however, is slowly losing her own sanity over Harvey, since she believes nobody will want to marry Myrtel due to Elwood’s famous invisible friend. To rectify this, she tries to have Elwood committed to a sanitarium…but ends up being locked in herself by the over-zealous staff. Elwood finds out and sets about trying to educate the good doctors about the nature of life and sanity.
What’s Up, Doc?
Harvey is a well loved film for many reasons (it is also perennially rumored to be due for a remake, with names like Jim Carrey, Steven Spielberg, and Tom Hanks attached to the various rumors.) Jimmy Stewart is a ray of sunshine; gentle, humble, a slight bit simple, but constantly dropping little nuggets of wisdom which hint that he is quite a bit smarter than he lets on. Both he and Hull were nominated for Oscars in this film, with Josephine Hull winning for best supporting actress. The comedy of errors is consistently entertaining, and the plot manages to keep the question of Harvey’s existence up in the air throughout the film. He may be a figment of Dowd’s imagination, but he ultimately is a real source of comfort, not only for Dowd, but for those who come to believe in him. Where have I heard that line of reasoning before…?
Donnie Darko (2001)
Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a troubled teenager struggling to get a grip on reality. His unconventional style places him at odds with his family, his therapist, and the authority figures at his school. His real troubles begin when Frank appears one night to warn him about the end of the world. Frank is a man in a grotesque rabbit costume who only Donnie can hear or see. Donnie mistrusts Frank, but when Frank saves Donnie’s life by leading him out of his house just as a freak accident destroys his bedroom, he begins to give Frank’s dire warnings credence. This further alienates him from society, except for his budding romance with a transfer student named Gretchen (Jenna Malone.)
Down the Rabbit Hole
Donnie Darko has achieved a cult status due to the strength of its cast (Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Patrick Swayze, and Drew Barrymore, among others, give great performances) and due to the oddity of it’s plot. The film dabbles in metaphysics and morality, and questions the societally defined nature of sanity, all while telling an emotionally intense coming-of-age story. Even stripped of its supernatural elements, the film resonates on many levels, and I’m not just talking about the hilarious middle-school dance contest towards the end of the film. If you haven’t seen it, give it view…just skip the disastrously awful sequel, S. Darko. That film was certifiably nuts.
Mr. Horatio Knibbles (1971)
A precocious but lonely young girl gains an unlikely ally in the form of a very proper British rabbit named Mr. Horatio Knibbles, who you may have guessed can only be seen or heard by the main character. With his no-nonsense, Mary Poppins-like instruction, the young girl blossoms and manages to make friends (and believers) out of her family, school-mates, and community before the end of the film.
Insane, No. Insanity, Yes!
It turns out that Mr. Knibbles is indeed real…unless you believe in mass hallucinations. So this technically isn’t a film about a person struggling with sanity issues. Never the less, it makes the list because Mr. Horatio Knibbles, or more properly whoever designed his costume, is grade-A certifiably insane. Just look at it!
This was aimed at children, and has a lot of adult fans who remember it fondly. I can only assume that growing up in the UK is much more harrowing than I know, since this is definitely not a character I would remember outside of a nightmare!