When imagination goes to far

From Mr Robot and Inside Out to Fight Club and Donnie Darko, when adults create fictional companions, the results can range from the disastrous to the transcendent, writes Keith Uhlich.

The big twist in the first season of the paranoia-tinged techno-noir programme Mr Robot - that the title character (Christian Slater) is actually hacker anti-hero Elliot Alderson's schizophrenia-induced hallucination of his dead father - is apparent from their first interaction in the pilot episode.

In many ways, the series is Fight Club redux, with Mr Robot as the Tyler Durden-like firebrand to Alderson's complacent cog in society's machine.

Over the course of the first season, the former devilishly pushes the latter toward a seemingly righteous act of cyber-terrorism, much as Brad Pitt's Durden emboldened Ed Norton's nameless character's skyscraper-razing end game in David Fincher's satire of pre-millennium male entitlement.

When Elliot learns the full truth about Mr Robot in the season's penultimate instalment, an instrumental version of one of Fight Club's most memorable songs, The Pixies' Where Is My Mind?, comes on, making the connection overt.

It's clearly not the twist that's important but the drama of watching Elliot realise what is evident to everyone else: his confidant - his friend - isn't real.

"It would seem to me," the cartoonist Bill Watterson told The Comics Journal, "…that when you make up a friend for yourself, you would have somebody to agree with you, not to argue with you."

He was speaking specifically about the stuffed tiger who he paired with a rambunctious six-year-old boy in his poignant and philosophical comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.

Watterson's words, though, get at an essential truth about the imaginary friend: they're often there to reinforce your perspective. In children, this is frequently seen as positive.

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