I know of a single mother, whom I am quite close to, that is in a similar situation as Amelia, the mother within the film “The Babadook.” Now, the person I am talking about isn’t nearly as troubled as the poor widow that you will come to know in this film, but, from what I’ve overheard and witnessed, she too has a little boy that can be a bit of a handful. Trust me, I love the two of them immensely, but whenever I visit them I always wonder just how she does it. I’m not going to say that I completely understand what they’re going through now, but I think after seeing “The Babadook,” I understand just a little bit more.
“The Babadook” takes place, mostly, within a household; the household of Amelia and Samuel (the son) to be exact. It has been six years after Amelia’s husband died in a car crash that occurred while on the way to the hospital in order to deliver a baby which would soon grow up to be six year-old Samuel (he’s actually almost seven). The household in which this little boy grew up in looks like your average home, except for a very intense sense of abandon that coats the walls; a bleak scent of sadness that is felt by anyone who steps foot within the walls. One of Amelia’s friends, or only friend, even admits to not wanting to spend time there due to the depressive sensation one cannot help but fall victim to.
There is some necessary exposition and then we find a book, suitably called “Mister Babadook.” It’s the story of a strange man who lives in little boy’s closets who, at first, seems like a friend, but soon turns into a nightmare. The boy, who was tormented on a nightly basis by nightmares before even reading the book, is sure this is the thing that has been infesting his thoughts at night. Like any mother, Amelia checks under the child’s bed and in the closet and attempts to brush it off as if it is nothing, but as Samuel’s behavior gets worse and worse, there’s a presence in the house that becomes more and more eager to be heard. “If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look; you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”
“The Babadook” is a horror movie, but it is not your usual horror flick. “The Babadook” is one of the most sophisticated horror films I have ever seen; one that succeeds at provoking many more fears than just the one of what’s under your bed at night or in the dark corner of the closet. Most horror films can be called gleefully scary. By this I mean a movie that can be scary as all hell, but, in the end, you had a good time watching it and carry on with a smile on your face as the end credits roll. “The Babadook” isn’t one of those. There’s nothing fun about this film and that’s one of its greatest achievements. You may actually call “The Babadook” more of a drama than a horror film, or maybe even a tragedy. Much of the film is actually grounded in realism, making the more supernatural aspects seem even more frightening. I actually found similarities between this and classics like “The Shining” for its intense depictions of parenthood and the loss of one’s sanity. “The Shining” is actually another film with fantastical elements bathed in realism; I wouldn’t be surprised if writer and director Jennifer Kent was at all inspired by that film.
I could definitely see a viewer weeping while watching this film…I could see my own mother weeping while watching this film, or any mother for that matter. There is a simple question at the center of “The Babadook”, and it couldn’t have been summarized better than by what Samuel asks his mother in one scene, “If I promise to protect you, will you promise to protect me?” Isn’t that every mother’s duty, to protect their child? I know that’s what my mother set out to do. I can’t even begin to count how many times my mother reassured me that she wouldn’t let anything ever happen to me. I used to think that was said only to make a child stop crying and feel safe in their beds at night, but now I know it’s something much deeper and much more literal. The bond between mother and child may be the strongest bond in the universe. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
I bet you that Essie Davis is a mother. Her performance as the troubled Amelia was nothing short of brilliance. The sorrow is in her eyes and it’s as if you’re being jabbed into the heart with a knife every time you look into them. You find sympathy within her character and Samuel’s character as well, because they’re pain is universal. They’re the kind of characters I go to the movies weekend after weekend to see; one’s that aren’t just fiction, but are as real as anyone you’ve ever met.
Now, I am not a parent, but I can honestly say that I look forward to revisiting this film later in life once I actually become a father, unless I’m too afraid to which could easily be a possibility. I cannot even begin to imagine the impact this film could have on a loving parent. This is why “The Babadook” deserves every piece of praise it’s gotten; it’s a film that provokes the inevitable fear and unconditional love of parenthood. I think I have begun to put the puzzle together on how the mother I spoke of before is able to put up with all the hollering and disorder, and the answer is actually quite simple; it’s love. Love: the longest four letter word in the English dictionary. When people say “I love you”, they rarely mean it. They may believe they mean it, but the human race has not yet developed an understanding of that word, not even close. It’s not something that is consciously felt. Its meaning is vaster than the universe itself and is only felt due to the most primal of instincts, such as a mother’s need to protect her child. There’s something very soothing about that.