I hate to generalize, but: If you didn’t like The Babadook, you’re a sexist monster. Just kidding. I’m sorry, I just get really passionate when a film does a decent job at representing women. Sometimes I forget we have feelings other than, “I hope that boy texts me back,” and watching a film like The Babadook makes me feel like I’ve just been released from The Matrix.
Australian, feminist, horror… It’s everybody’s dream come true. Written and directed by certified female Jennifer Kent, The Babadook follows the story of a woman (not a girl, a full grown lady with wrinkles and everything) who lost her husband in a car accident when he drove her to the hospital to deliver their son. The repression of her grief manifests itself in a children’s book monster (Mister Babadook) and tears her small family apart. There are so many great, progressive things about this film that I’m going to employ my favorite pastime: List making.
Awesome feminist things about The Babadook:
- Amelia is multi-faceted; She’s a mother, sister, employee, wife, single woman, neighbor, and caretaker. We get to see her dynamic relationships with every person she comes into contact with, giving the audience the startling realization that MOMS ARE JUST REGULAR PEOPLE WHO ARE ALSO MOMS.
- The depiction of a mother’s emotional labor. It’s not just the cooking and the cleaning that we expect of mothers, we demand that they be emotionally available to their families at all times often at the expense of their own feelings. Amelia’s child, Sam, is erratic and difficult, and she is expected to absorb his every mood swing.
- A mother’s body is not her own. I once read an article from a mom about how little she wanted to be touched because there were ALWAYS children grabbing at her. Raising sticky, grabby children who always seem starved for attention takes a physical toll and leaves mothers over-stimulated. Amelia swats her son away from physical touch. We see an example of real motherhood, which is tough as hell.
- MOMMY-SHAMING. In a scene at Amelia’s niece’s birthday party, we get a beautiful look at mommy-shaming. Financially privileged peers of Amelia claim understanding of her situation because of their volunteer work with “disadvantaged women” who’ve lost their husbands, provide her with fake empathy, then go on to complain about their lack of free time to hit the gym these days right in front of her. Every mother’s fantasies are realized when Amelia snaps back at the Privileged Mommies and mocks their #firstworldproblems.
- Lack of community support and understanding. The Babadook illustrates so perfectly how little slack we cut mothers, especially ones without husbands. The school refuses to work with her troubled son, her sister demands that she get over her grief, and when Amelia reaches out to police for fear of a stalker, they laugh at her and tell her that there’s nothing they can do.
- Amelia tries to get down with herself. I don’t know a less awkward way to say that, but the point is that she isn’t objectified with suggestive camera angles or skimpy clothing: She is a human being with sexual feelings. Feelings that have been complicated with the loss of her husband and feelings that are constantly interrupted by her son.
- Grief, depression, and motherhood are a tough combination and that’s okay. We often shame mothers into thinking that anything less than Betty-Crocker-Meets-Mrs.-Cleaver is unacceptable. But, depression and grief are insidious creatures, especially when raising a child amidst it. When Sam tells his mother he loves her, she says “me too.” When Amelia starts devolving, she admits that she has often wished that Sam died instead of her husband. Sometimes you don’t like your kid, and that’s okay. Sometimes, mental illness gets the best of you and you have unsavory thoughts. That’s okay, too. The point is not to hide your scary feelings but rather reach out for help. THIS IS SOME SERIOUS STUFF HERE, BABADOOK.
- “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” This is my favorite line of the film when working under the assumption that the Babadook monster is a manifestation of grief and depression. Grief and mental illness are permanent. This is so important to understand. They’re permanent, but not debilitating if handled properly. The film ends with the understanding that Amelia will have to open up about her grief, keep the Babadook tucked safely away from her child, and make sure to care for it from a safe distance every day. Grief will only grow if ignored. The loss of someone you love deserves attention, but not to swallow you alive. A little self-care can go a LONG way, ladies.
I could go on for days, but I’d prefer you to check out the movie for yourself. The fact that women are represented in films at all is usually a win, but in The Babadook we get the added bonus that women are represented as real human beings. Women get older, they experience loss, they struggle with depression, they struggle to balance motherhood and independence, they work, they are judged, they are inadequately supported, and they are human. They are not a spectacle or a sexual accessory to a male antagonist. They are not unworthy for having flaws any more than a man is. Don’t let The Babadook get you down, ladies. Fight on.