What Does the Lizard Signify in Patrick Melrose?

Addiction and abuse emerge as the central themes of Showtime’s ‘Patrick Melrose,’ as the titular character tries to fight his demons while processing the traumas of his past. It is a spiral that he can’t seem to get out of, no matter how many times he tries. Some things are rooted too deep in one’s psyche to be cast out so simply. With time, Patrick discovers that he needs to dredge up all the things he had buried for all these years, let them out, and talk about them. This is the only way he can move forward. Without it, he will be stuck in the same cycle that keeps repeating itself. In dealing alone with the trauma that they had been through, Patrick subconsciously clung to a few things that haunted him for a very long time. The image of a lizard on a wall is one of them.

The Lizard Represents Patrick’s Survival Mechanism

Sexual abuse is too horrific a thing as is, and to go through it as a child with no support system and no one looking out for you gets worse. What makes it even worse is when that abuse comes from someone who was supposed to have protected you in the first place. For Patrick, the abuse from his father is a betrayal on many levels and becomes the reason why he spirals out of control in his adulthood. Every time the thought of that day when his father first abused him at their house in South France comes to his mind, he sees a bright green gecko on the wall. The creature is present throughout the series and it is in the third episode that Patrick talks about its importance.

Patrick’s father, David, had always been strict and often cruel. He was highly intimidating, and being around him meant walking on eggshells. So, when his father got angry, Patrick couldn’t figure out what he had done wrong. Before his angry father called him into the room, Patrick had been sitting outside, under the fig tree, missing his mother. All he did was squash a few figs when his father yelled at him. He had no idea what he had done wrong, even though his father claimed he knew exactly what it was. It wasn’t until years later that Patrick realized that this was just an excuse for his pedophile of a father to start the cycle of abuse that he’d probably been itching for a while.

At the time, the house was empty. His mother had left for the airport with her friend, whose partner was in his room, separated from his parents’ room so that no one would pay attention to them. David used this opportunity to sexually abuse his son. For Patrick, it was too much to process what was happening to him. More so because it was his father doing it. At that moment, the only way his brain could protect him was by dissociating him from the reality. This is where the lizard comes in.

While it was happening, Patrick’s eyes fell on a lizard on the wall. It was in the same room, yet it felt far enough to be safe from his father. Patrick thought that if he could go there if he could transport himself to the lizard, he could bear what was happening to him. It was a pure survival instinct for him to want to become the lizard or to trade a point of view with the creature, to be on the wall instead of the bed. It was this dissociation that pulled him through that unimaginable thing. Later, try as he might, he couldn’t talk about it with anyone. His father threatened him never to say a word of it to another soul.

So, for Patrick, the lizard felt like the only witness to the trauma that had been inflicted on him. It felt like the only thing who knew what he went through and who, in some weird way, was there for him. The image of that lizard sticks with Patrick, and whenever he thinks about that day, it is the lizard he remembers. His mind, in trying to protect him, blocks out what was done to him and instead focuses on the creature on the wall. It isn’t until Patrick starts talking about it with his friends and eventually gets help for his addiction that the lizard disappears. This proves that he has started to heal from past wounds and is ready to move forward.

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