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YMMV / The Strange Thing About the Johnsons

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  • Alternative Character Interpretation
    • How did the abuse begin? Did Sidney molest his son, which caused him to become insanely obsessed with him? Is the son a liar who is trying to guilt-trip his father for further abuse? Or is it both?
    • On the subject of Isaiah, did he truly see his dad as his best friend considering his reaction to his father's death, or did he just see him as his personal sex toy with his despair is that he lost a plaything?
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    • It is worth noticing that every line in Isaiah's Hannibal Lecture is a staple of victim blaming, being used in several other films and real psychological papers and police reports.
  • Angst Aversion: Many people who haven't watched this movie but are well aware of its unsettling subject matter refuse to watch it for that very reason.
  • Audience-Alienating Premise: The film presents itself as a story about an upper middle-class African-American family when it is really about a role reversal of the son sexually abusing the father. Needless to say, it proved highly controversial when it first premiered online. Not helping was the fact that its director is a white person. This was quite intentional on the filmmakers' end; according to Aster, the film came about during a discussion of extremely taboo topics with AFI colleagues, and its goal was to portray an unimaginably grim scenario as realistically as possible.
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  • Catharsis Factor: Averted. Isaiah was a cruel fiend, but being murdered by Joan is still an incredibly traumatic moment for the latter. Also, Joan burns Sidney's memoir, preventing her husband from having any posthumous justice.
  • Complete Monster: Isaiah is the abusive son of Sidney and Joan Johnson who develops an unhealthy obsession towards the former. Beginning with assaulting his father at a prom, Isaiah subjects his father to 14 years of sexual abuse, threatening bodily harm on him if he contemplated exposing it to the public. Even marriage fails to deter Isaiah, as he expresses little interest in his wife, and he deliberately breaks a glass under the guise of helping to clean up, solely to be alone with his father. After viciously raping Sidney out of anger at him locking the bathroom door, Isaiah tries to guilt trip him into staying in the relationship while additionally blaming him for the abuse. When Joan inquires him about this, Isaiah tries to push his mother into the fireplace.
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  • Crosses the Line Twice: The dissonance nature of its bright environment and the twisted premise involving incest comes off like a Black Comedy than angsty family drama.
  • It Was His Sled: Isaiah has been raping his father for 14 years. If anyone asks what the "strange thing" in the title is, they'll hear about the incest rape.
  • Memetic Molester: Isaiah, with his line "time for din-din".
  • Memetic Mutation: The film has gained infamy on various social media outlets, mainly through people warning others not to see it (stoking Bile Fascination in the process) or fooling people into watching it by recommending it as a fun and wholesome family movie.
  • Moment of Awesome: Deconstructed with Joan confronting Isaiah about his actions towards his father, slaps him twice, and finally killing him. Sure, Joan has killed her son in defense, but her husband is still dead and she seems more heartbroken by everything that has occurred, not helped that she burns Sidney's manuscript, with the truth never coming out.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Everything Isaiah does to his father, but especially the bathroom scene.
    • Joan burning Sidney's Cocoon Man manuscript, all just to protect her family's reputation and avoid blame for ignoring the incestuous rapes.
  • Narm:
    • Isaiah saying "time for din-din" brings unintentional laughter from audiences.
    • As Double Toasted pointed out, during the infamous "bathroom scene," it's hard to ignore the somewhat goofy face Sidney makes when he's screaming.
    • After Sidney is hit and killed by a truck, Isaiah walks over to his body in devastation...but also in a way that sort of looks like he really has to pee.
  • The Scrappy: Good luck finding anyone who likes Joan for being completely uncaring to her husband's predicament and never acknowledging that her not taking action has contributed to her husband's death. Burning his abuse memoir gives this extra points. Even after she goes through the loss of her husband and when Isaiah tries to attack her, there is still no sympathy.
  • Squick: Isaiah's actions towards his father, full-send.
  • True Art Is Angsty: The short's twisted premise along with the sympathetic depiction of sexual abuse victim brought many people's attention, and brought the young director Ari Aster in a spotlight.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: Joan has lost her husband and son (though the latter in self-defense), but viewers felt that she has lost all sympathy for callously ignoring her husband's problem for the past 14 years; one time even turning the TV volume up to block out her husband's blood-curdling screams. This actually makes her just as guilty as Isaiah for Sidney's death, because if she had taken action the first moment where she witnessed Isaiah attacking him and reprimanded him sooner (or called 911 to solve the issue), then her husband wouldn't have been so psychologically damaged to the point of suicide.
  • Vindicated by History: When the short came out, it garnered a polarizing reception due to its disturbing premise and the fact that it was directed by a white filmmaker who is sensationalizing an African-American family. But after Aster's feature debut Hereditary was released to great success, more people began looking at the short in a positive light, often crediting it for boosting his film career. It even received praise from an African-American incest survivor for handling the subject matter very well.
  • The Woobie: Sidney Johnson is a successful poet and the husband and father of Joan and Isaiah respectively. When Isaiah develops an incestuous obsession for him, Sidney is subjected to 14 years of sexual abuse at his hands all while his wife ignores said abuse. Whilst writing a memoir as a recollection on the abuse, Isaiah threatens him with much worse after discovering it. After getting viciously raped by his son in the bathtub, Sidney mentally breaks down and escapes the house only to then get run over by a van.