Back for more? Have you recovered from the pancake spiders? Are you sure?
Okay, then let’s get moving and take a look at the two biggest complaints that people have about “The Babadook”
Exhibit A. The annoying Son of Sam
“That little boy is so annoying. I’d never let my child throw a tantrum like that! He deserves a good spanking.”
One of the biggest complaints we’ve heard about “The Babadook” is that the little boy in the movie is an obnoxious monster that deserves, at the very least, a serious time out in the corner as punishment for his horrible behavior.
Within the first five minutes of the film, unless you don’t have enough RAM for processing emotions, you will begin to hate Sam. He’s obnoxious, has boundary issues, and literally spends several scenes screaming for attention from his mother Amelia.
It very quickly becomes clear as to why he’s like that, and it’s not because he’s been eating 5 lb. bags of gummy bears daily for over a month.
The biggest hint comes when Sam climbs into his mother’s bed after having a nightmare. Instead of cuddling with her son and soothing him and telling him that it’s all right so that he’ll settle down and go to sleep, she rolls over, and puts her back to him. Once asleep, we see that Sam is suffering from so much anxiety and stress that he grinds his teeth. When he starts doing that she angrily shoves his arms and leg off of her and scoots over to put as much space between herself and her son. That is not normal behavior.
What we have here is a case of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).
Amelia never effectively bonded with her son while he was an infant, most likely due to depression, trauma, and suppressed rage. Her husband died in an accident while driving her to the hospital. She was in labor. She and Sam survived. Her husband did not. Thus, for Amelia, Sam’s birth was a very traumatic experience.
So traumatic in fact, that she’s barely holding herself together enough to keep her job when we first meet her. She’s a total wreck, and her son is a monstrous little brat. But, they both have reasons for being that way.
All of the character’s actions make perfect sense if you understand the dynamics between mother/son relationships. Is her son annoying? Yes. But that’s only because he’s trying to get her attention, and she’s completely emotionally detached herself from him. Once he gets what he needs and wants (her attention and love) he calms down. All he wanted was to protect her and to get her to return his love.
You see, Sam is convinced that a monster called the Babadook is out to kill him and his mother, and he desperately wants to save her from it. He thinks that if he can save her, she’ll finally love him.
It’s actually kind of sad when you think about it; the Babadook represents mental illness, and Sam wants to conquer and destroy it in order to save his mother and end her suffering. This is what makes “The Babadook” such a powerful psychological horror film.
Exhibit B. Monster Weaknesses include tap water, dancing lawn gnomes and Adam Sandler CDs.
Some viewers don’t find the Babadook to be an impressive monster only because of how he is vanquished at the end.
“It’s obvious that the director didn’t know what she was doing. I mean, it’s a dumb movie. Screaming at a monster to make it go away? How lame is that?”
Seriously? The aliens in M. Night Shyamallamadingdong’s “Signs” were killed by water. Not holy water or salt water, but regular old tap water. So was the Wicked Witch of the West, and no one complains about her death scene. Honestly. Kids these days. You wouldn’t know a good scary monster if it popped up beside your bed in the middle of the night and tried to eat you.
If anything the Babadook is a grown up version of the Boogeyman. It is the dark shadow of our personalities. We all have them. The shadow contains all of the negative thoughts and emotions we carry with us that we don’t want to acknowledge. It doesn’t exist. We don’t want to think about it, we don’t want to see it. You know, all the bad crap; jealousy, hatred, bigotry, intolerance, greed, selfishness, all that stuff. We bury it deep into our subconscious because to admit that it’s real, and that it’s a part of us, makes us bad people. And nobody wants to admit that they are bad or evil. Not even other bad guys. They’re all just people trying to survive in a dog eat dog world. But, we can’t bury it forever. One way or another, it will find a way to express itself, usually in the most harmful way possible.
That’s why Amelia goes so nuts. She buried her shadow so deep, it needs an elevator just to get to the first floor of her mind.
‘‘Bringing the shadow to consciousness,’’ writes another of Jung’s followers, Liliane Frey-Rohn (1967), ‘‘is a psychological problem of the highest moral significance. It demands that the individual hold himself accountable not only for what happens to him, but also for what he projects. . . Without the conscious inclusion of the shadow in daily life there cannot be a positive relationship to other people, or to the creative sources in the soul; there cannot be an individual relationship to the Divine’’ (cited in Diamond, p. 109). https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/201204/essential-secrets-psychotherapy-what-is-the-shadow
The Babadook is both a creation of Amelia’s mind, and a real in the flesh (or in this case shadow) monster. Since Amelia perceives it as an outside force that has intruded her home and is attempting to kill them, the monster is real. Perception is reality, or so the saying goes. I think that topic was covered by John Carpenter’s “In the Mouth of Madness.” Or was that “Big Trouble in Little China?” I think that was something that said Jack Burton said on the radio while driving the Pork Chop Express. That sounds likes something Jack Burton would say. Also, it’s all in the reflexes.
The eponymous monster represents Amelia’s repressed rage at her husband. He died and left her and she was forced to raise their son all on her own, and Sam’s turning out to be quite the handful. She hates her son for being so horrible, she hates her job, she hates everything, including herself, and she doesn’t want to accept the fact that she is so full of hate and anger.
At it’s heart, the Babadook monster is Amelia’s shadow. It wants to be free to roam about in her mind unchecked. It’s glutted on her rage and is hungry for more. It wants flesh and blood. Seriously, it makes her kill. And its terrifying to watch.
When she screams at it and tells it to go away, what she’s really doing is taking control of her emotions and coming to terms with what she’s done to her son (and herself) since her husband’s death. Like much of what occurs in the movie, it is a symbolic moment. Her screaming at the monster and conquering it is actually the moment that she looks her own shadow in the eyes and saying, no you don’t control me any more. I know you exist, and I accept that, but I’m in charge. I decide how those negative emotions and thoughts are expressed. You don’t scare me any more.
In that moment, she finally accepts that her misery and suffering is all her own doing, and that the Babadook (or her subconscious dark desires) cannot dictate her actions any longer.
But, she doesn’t kill the Babadook. She can’t. It’s a part of her. The best she can do is subdue it and keep it locked in her basement and feed it worms and grubs to keep it alive. By acknowledging it and feeding it, she’s trying to embrace those negative aspects of herself and keep them in check. It is her mental illness, her despair, the curse of her own psyche, and it’s up to her to take care of it, because no one else can.
So, is “The Babadook” a masterpiece, or a menace?
We say it’s a masterpiece, and here’s why.
There is a beautiful, haunting artistry behind every scene, from the muted color palette that evokes a feeling of despair and loss, to the hand made pop-up book that conjures the Babadook and allows him to enter their reality. Even the music with it’s eerie, music box like sounds, creates a feeling of dread that is difficult to describe in mere words. It must be heard for you to understand what it is. Trust me. You need to hear it.
At its dark heart, “The Babadook” is a work of art. Many of the visuals in the film are an extension of German expressionism, an art style that borders on the surreal, which might be why some people have a hard time grasping what it’s really about. If you aren’t familiar with using visuals and music to evoke raw emotion, it can be a bit trying to understand this movie. It’s also another one of those things where if you enjoy movies with more depth and artistic value, you’ll love it.
It properly portrays the subject matter in a way that isn’t ham-handed or forced. The characters are believable, their actions make sense. While they might not be the most sympathetic people, it’s hard not to pity them once the suffocating dread sets in and the movie really gets serious.
“The Babadook” is a tour de force that grasps onto the human psyche with gnarled, clawed hands and doesn’t let go. We can’t recommend it highly enough.