Stutter Island: 6 Great Cinematic Stuttering Problems

I saw The King’s Speech yesterday and walked away duly impressed with an awful lot of aspects of the film. One such aspect was Colin Firth’s turn as King George VI. This was my introduction to Firth, as he seems to have a knack for starring in the type of crap I normally wouldn’t watch with your eyes. But his performance here as England’s stuttering king was quite impressive. In fact, it’s one of the best cinematic stuttering problems I’ve ever seen. Here are the six best:

Billy Bibbit, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Bibbit, wonderfully portrayed by a very young Brad Dourif, is such a great indicator in this film. Not only is his stuttering problem sufficiently excruciating to watch in the face of Nurse Ratched, but his character arc is so magnificently tied to the strength of influence of Jack Nicholson’s R.P. McMurphy. Bibbit’s speech impediment helps draw out Nurse Ratched as the vile asylum warden and McMurphy as the prankster whose highjinx help the mental health of the inmates. In short, Billy Bibbit is the catalyst between two of the greatest character foils in movie history.

Ken Pile, A Fish Called Wanda

The consensus is that this is the most accurate portrayal of a stuttering problem ever put to film. This should come as no surprise- Michael Palin’s own father had a serious stuttering issue, and he has created the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children.

King George VI, The King’s Speech
Never has there been more at stake due to a cinematic stuttering problem (or a real stuttering problem, for that matter; The King’s Speech is a biopic). With England on the precipice of war with Nazi Germany, the country needed to fortify its resolve and rally around a strong monarch. A figurehead with a speech impediment would’ve done some damage to national morale. Consider me impressed with Firth after seeing this film.


Private Jupiter Sharts, Glory

First of all, I didn’t recall this character’s name offhand. I had to do a quick IMDB search. Second, that may just be the most unfortunate name in the history of cinema. It’s like the antithesis of Pussy Galore. But I digress.

This character, erm… Sharts, served the same function in Glory that Dourif did in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His character was stuck right in between the brash, young Private Trip (Denzel Washington) and wise Sgt. Major John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman).

Aaron, Primal Fear

A long time ago before Ed Norton was the narrator in Fight Club or a skinhead trying to do right by his kid brother, he was looking for a breakout role. Primal Fear gave him that breakout role as Aaron, the stuttering altar boy accused of murder. Frankly, I haven’t seen this movie in over ten years. What I remember thinking at the time was that it was a really cool movie with a great twist, and “that altar boy actor is going to go places”.

Porky Pig, Space Jam

How on earth could I have a list of stuttering movie characters and exclude the most famous one of all-time? And you’d have to be a fool to not know what’s coming next, seeing as how Porky is #6 on the list.

Honorable Mention: Random third grader in Billy Madison
It was so symbolic of Billy Madison’s character arc when… ah, shit. Never mind.




14 Comments

Filed under Movies

14 responses to “Stutter Island: 6 Great Cinematic Stuttering Problems

  1. Kelly

    K-K-K-Ken was the first character on my mind when I read the title. I loooove that movie.

    • I need to re-watch it. When I was searching for that clip of K-K-K-Ken, I found a ton of great stuff that I’d forgotten from the movie, like Ken knocking off the old lady, and Ken using the attack dogs.

  2. rtm

    I was wondering what you’re gonna do after seeing The King’s Speech as you don’t do reviews. Stutter Island, ha! Props for including that one of Ed Norton in Primal Fear. Man, what a performance he did and at the time I wasn’t very familiar with his work. That ending is killer!

    • I can’t think of anything Ed Norton did before that (without looking it up). But I’m definitely a fan. It’s kind of rare that he does a bad movie. Even the Hulk movie he did was better because he was in it.

      • rtm

        Yeah, I think that might’ve been one of his earlier roles (I haven’t seen American History X as it’s just not my cup of tea). That guy’s so versatile. I love him in The Painted Veil and like you said, Hulk. I like Eric Bana too as that character, but the Ang Lee film was way over the top.

  3. @Da_Rhettster

    I’m old so this reaches back a bit: Mel Tillis in Cannonball Run. He was a country singer and had no stammer/stutter at all when singing but it was almost paralyzing to watch when he spoke.

  4. “Firth […] seems to have a knack for starring in the type of crap I normally wouldn’t watch with your eyes.”
    — You wanna take it outside right now, or later? ;o)

  5. Rocket Science (2007) is another film with a (main) character who stutters. It’s interesting to see the differences in type and severity of stuttering these film characters have. I’d say that King George (or probably more accurately, his film character) has a relatively mild stutter compared to a character like Ken Pile. My own stuttering disorder is as severe as Ken’s, so I’m probably biased in this respect when I agree with the author of this article that his character did the most accurate portrayal of stuttering.

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