Thursday Night I Took a Look at the Babadook (Warning: May Contain Spoilers); Insidious Assassins Received
If you do too, prepare yourself for an emotionally wrenching 93 minutes. Right from the start — a woman dreaming of herself, pregnant, being driven to the hospital by her husband — about to crash! Amelia’s son, we find out, was born on the day her husband died and even now, ten years later, she has yet to put it behind her. This puts her into a love-hate relation of sorts with her son, and the son, who’s a little bit weird himself, doesn’t always help matters.
He still fears monsters in the night, half the time ending up sleeping with mom — that is, when either of them gets much sleep. His bedtime routine includes checking the closets and under the bed, with mom there beside him, who must also read him a story after she’s tucked him in. He invents lethal weapons (and hoards firecrackers) against the time a monster might actually make an appearance. He has no friends and, partly because of him, mom doesn’t have that many friends either.
He makes a pact that he’ll protect mom, and insists that his mother promise that she’ll protect him too. This last is important.
THE BABADOOK is an ugly film, it’s an uncomfortable film. Because between actress Essie Davis’s all too realistic playing of her part and writer-director Jennifer Kent’s* concept, what I was watching seemed very much like a woman not so slowly going insane on the screen. And what must her son think? — yet he doesn’t seem all that stable either.
It comes to a head when mom tells son to pick a book from the shelf for her to read for his bedtime story. He grabs one neither has seen before, a pop-up book called MR. BABADOOK. It is not a good book for children frightened of monsters, because it tells of a creature that knocks, and knocks again, and once it’s let in it is not a good thing — and “you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” And the kid goes practically catatonic.
But how much is real, and how much is still only imagination?
Things start going bad fast: Mom has to take her son out of school. She has him examined by the doctor, gets a prescription for child tranquilizers, makes an appointment for a psychiatrist in a few weeks. But in the meantime the two of them have to survive together, under repeated strange happenings that appear more and more to indicate the Babadook is coming!
He (it) does, it all reaching a head in one horrible night when mom almost kills her kid, the kid wounds and ties up mom — or has mom become possessed by the Babadook herself? And what then when the boy “turns” — or is the Babadook something external, pulling the child away physically once mom has started to calm down? It’s here where it breaks, maybe an hour and a quarter into it, when something primal brings Amelia onto the attack — her part of the pact, her son before with his wounding and tying and prior misbehavior having done his best to protect his mother.
But what of the Babadook itself? And was it real, or just symbolic/psychological? Here I would make a guess, that it is real, a physical being, but born as a manifestation of (mostly) Amelia’s psychological monsters (note to readers: Find a very old science fiction fan and ask them about “Monsters from the Id” from the 1956 film FORBIDDEN PLANET), which she, on the eve of her son Samuel’s tenth birthday/death of her own husband/the father Sam never met, finally needed to come to terms with.
It’s a scary movie on several levels, and if you like scary movies, see it! Even if you think you know what may happen.
Then one more thing, the scene at the end, or “you can’t get rid or the Babadook.” On the walk home I recalled another movie at the IU Cinema late last year, THE LIFE OF PI, about a young man who’s trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger, and its turning point with his realization that he can’t tame a tiger — but he can train it.
And so it may be, too, with Babadooks.
Then in a quick unrelated matter, Thursday afternoon my contributors’ copy of INSIDIOUS ASSASSINS (see January 21, 2, et al.) arrived. “Here you will meet some truly insidious characters — characters you may find yourself applauding when you know you shouldn’t. . .” the back cover of the very handsome volume from Smart Rhino Publications tells us. No sign on the contents page of Mr. Babadook though.
*Like Ana Lily Amirpour’s A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (see January 10, et al.), THE BABADOOK is Australian Jennifer Kent’s first feature-length film. One suspects both directors will bear future watching.