Monday, December 1, 2014

The Babadook - Part Two

I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks this, but I believe that the sign of a great movie is that it sticks with you for a while. I watched The Babadook for the first time two weeks ago and I've seen a dozen other movies -- some of them really good -- since then, and yet all I want to do is talk about The Babadook

There's a lot of individual elements in The Babadook that are amazing and deserve their own separate praise. In my first post about The Babadook, I talked only about dicks and I only barely scratched the surface of that topic. I only barely dick-scratched. Dick-scratching was at a minimum.

Today, I wanted to talk about the film as a whole, so if you haven't seen it yet and don't want to know all the details, I give you permission to stop reading this blog and go play on Reddit or something. However, I would argue that knowing the details of this story will not necessary ruin it for you, so you may just want to read anyway.

The Babadook may be the best horror movie I've seen in years, perhaps even in the last decade, and part of the reason is that it is a story not entirely planted in the horror genre. It is a script that revolves entirely around its characters first and foremost, and the "horror" aspect second. Think about your average horror movie and more importantly, the thought process that went into creating that particular film. I imagine that the plot begins with a "how do we incorporate the monster into this story" angle. Like, ok, we got a creature, it's a guy with a hockey mask and a machete, how do we make a story around this? Our zombies are going to run, let's make a movie about that. We have this idea with a demon-possessed doll; now what does it do?

The Babadook is unique in that it is so character-centric that at the end of the movie, you're not sure whether the monster is real or imagine, whether it is metaphorical of the problems facing this family or a manifestation of them. You're not even sure where the problem stems from -- the child's fears or the mother's depression -- and it doesn't matter. Because whether the monster is real or fake has no bearing on the effect it has on the characters, which is the true focus of the film.

Fuck, I just love this movie.

So the mom, Amelia, loses her husband in a car crash on the way to the hospital to deliver her firstborn child, Samuel. Samuel is difficult as hell, probably on the spectrum, suffers from nightmares, and is becoming increasingly more violent. Not only does Amelia have to deal with the loss of her husband, but she now this objectively awful child to raise by herself and she does not take it well. She is depressed and struggling by the beginning of the movie and even before the monster arrives, things begin getting worse, with Amelia's job in danger and Samuel getting kicked out of school. The fact that the friction between these two characters is building up to a showdown (read: murder suicide) lends credence to the idea that monster was just a manifestation of this conflict or just an idea in both of their heads.

However, there is of course an event that sparks Mr. Babadook's entry into both their lives (which happens while both of them are together, I might add) and that is the reading of the Mr. Babadook children's book to Samuel one night. As mentioned before, this act is this mother and son's nightly ritual, one that causes them a great deal of stress, so already the monster Mr. Babadook is associated with this personal, filial conflict. Not only that, but it is mentioned early on that Amelia used to write children's books for a living. It is left unanswered as to whether she created the book Mr. Babadook herself as a way to introduce the monster Mr. Babadook, which is just a stand-in for the frustration she's feeling.

I am going to spell out exactly what happens at the end of this movie in this paragraph, so if you don't want to know just stop reading now.

Alright, so the end of the movie reinforces this idea that the monster is Amelia and it's simply an expression of her frustration. For one, the Babadook possesses Amelia and tries to kill Samuel by strangling him at one point. (I should also point out that this is a vaguely -- very, very vaguely -- sexual scene with Samuel being strangled while completely on top of her.) If the Babadook was a living monster, it would make just as much sense for him to kill the family himself. He also loses control of Amelia once the kindly neighbor comes over just to tell her that she's there if she needs to talk. In any other horror movie, the old woman entering into the scene would signal her immediately demise (You can picture it can't you? The old farmer or shopkeep walking around outside with a flashlight. "Who's out there? Show yourself!") But in this movie, her calming presence weakens the hold that the Babadook has on Amelia, and she doesn't get killed for it. This is not a film out for blood.

The final scenes has Mr. Babadook retreating to the basement after being confronted by Amelia. Not fought with, but confronted, which is a necessary step if you have depression. The final scene is her "fighting the monster" by acknowledging its existence, and working to contain it, instead of ignore it or let it roam the house as it was before. The movie seems to be almost completely allegorical at the very end, and I understand some audience members' frustration at the fact that she doesn't "fight" and "kill" the monster. In the logic of the movie this wouldn't work, however, because that's not how depression works. You can't say, "I'mma kill this depression rel good," and then wake up the next morning and have everything be perfect. Amelia's husband is still dead, Samuel is still not going to school and still a perfect little asshole, Amelia's job still sucks -- these are things that require constant attention and care to keep in check. The only alternative to this ending would be if Mr. Babadook killed both of them, but in a way, the movie isn't finished yet. It's still possible for the Babadook to get lose and kill.

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