Bonus Milhouse Pain

Bonus Milhouse Pain

Milhouse getting bonked by an opening door is almost predictable given the lead in time and lack of meaningful eventfulness in this moment, but it’s made sublime by the staggering force of the blow, Milhouse’s trademark grunt-wail of pain, a delightfully cartoony coconut bonk sound, the delayed sound of him slumping to the floor, and the fact that Bart and Homer don’t even react to it.

The three smear frames alone are gems of comic artistry and the kinds of things I’d like wall hangs of. The first, a mere single frame, shows the front door warping in the centre, emphasising the speed at which Homer drives a door into Milhouse’s entirely undeserving forebrain. Milhouse’s face is already obscured, not because the sight of it would cause us to empathise with him, but because making him anonymous in his own punishing sight gag adds even further suffering. The donkey tail floating above reminds us that the tiny joys he reaches for must always be close because it is only through hope that we can truly suffer.

The second image clocks in at a mighty two whole frames but is another marvel worth discussing.

There are a lot of paintings of Icarus as the myth has a fantastic visual quality to it and old-timey painters loved the idea of a ripped teen boy wearing nothing but wings. The staggering majority, if not effectively all, of the paintings depict the drama of the plummet with a centrally framed Icarus, twisted in terror as he grasps wildly for anything to save him.

Then there’s Pieter Bruegel’s (probably the younger) Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

The thing about a once flying boy now plummeting toward the water is that it’s a pretty big deal. Even in 2021, with our modern understandings of aerodynamics and wingsuits, such a sight would captivate onlookers and no doubt be the focus of social media for a day. Ovid’s original poem has the angler, shepherd, and ploughman all gazing at Icarus and believing him a god, as who else could fly? Don’t feel bad if you weren’t even able to find Icarus in Bruegel’s painting, as he reinterprets the event to make an obviously amazing sight into an easily missed moment of human tragedy.

W.H. Auden’s later poem inspired by the painting, Musée des Beaux Arts, uses it to explore human indifference to suffering and there is similar inspiration in this frame. The foreground children and Bart’s gaze draw the eye to where Milhouse once stood, though now Homer’s dynamic and amazingly eye-catching smear frame is where viewers wind up. But Homer is slightly off-centre, not having truly replaced Milhouse’s position to line up with where the children were focusing us. All that’s left of Milhouse is a tiny, anonymous hand and the tail of a blindfold. Easily missed things like a flailing leg or some stray feathers in the sea.

The coconut bonk sound is cartoony, but the grunt of pain and sound of a ten-year-old child slumping to the floor are realistic. The composition of this frame insists we think about where Milhouse was, while pulling our eye and attention toward other focal content. Each of these elements works in concert with the other to remind us of Milhouse while simultaneously distracting us from him, giving viewers the ability to feel the life of Milhouse Van Houten in one twenty-fourth of a second. Vitally important for only the instance of your suffering, but immediately forgotten so you don’t even get that as an identity. Milhouse, as Auden said of Icarus, is not an important failure.

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