“If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”
— The Babadook, 2014
By Julian Pearce
Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut is one of the most powerful films of 2014, and you may not have heard of it. Labelled as a horror film — although it could be argued the horror label short-changes it somewhat — The Babadook is a chilling, calculated and ultimately troubling tale that can (and will) leave you feeling unsettled for days. The film leads you by the hand through some dark places, and it’s only when you’re sitting alone, searching for answers to The Babadook’s questions, that it really starts to disturb you.
Without spoilers, The Babadook centres around a mother (Amelia) and her son (Samuel). Following the death of her husband in a car accident on the way to giving birth to Samuel, Amelia is struggling with her stressful job, misbehaved and disturbed child, and the grief of her husband’s death. After reading a bedtime story to Sam titled “Mister Babadook”, Amelia and Sam become haunted by a terrifying monster called the Babadook. But things aren’t quite as they seem, at least I don’t think so.
It’s difficult to come to terms with exactly what the monster represents. The Babadook itself could be seen as a Freudian-like representation –an embodiment of the grief that haunts Amelia and Samuel. For Amelia she is living with the constant reminder of her husband’s death. She is raising it, feeding it and empathising with it. For Sam, it represents his fear of a new father figure in the home; one that facilitates his constant desire to protect Amelia at all costs. It could also represent the dark part of a parent’s mind, the part that is worn too thin, the part a parent shuns away, that nagging question: “How do I cope with this?” Director, Jennifer Kent stated that her aim was to tell a story about facing up to the darkness within ourselves, the fear of going insane. “Now, I’m not saying we all want to go and kill our kids, but a lot of women struggle. And it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women.”
“The Babadook itself could be seen as a Freudian-like representation –an embodiment of the grief that haunts Amelia and Samuel…”
The Babadook (2014), Causeway Films
This resentment and strain can be seen in Amelia and Sam’s odd and fragile relationship. As postulated by Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, it borders on a quasi-conjugal relationship. “[Sam] is always clambering over her and heedlessly touching her in ways he doesn’t understand.” It’s as if Sam is taking on the role of the deceased father, unknowingly over-compensating by providing affection when unneeded and protecting her when protection is unnecessary. While Samuel is often giving out affection and expressing his feelings for his mother, Amelia lashes out in anger and is unable to reciprocate. Needless to say, there’s plenty for pro-Freudian’s to decipher from this relationship alone.
There’s so many psychological elements underlying the narrative of The Babadook. You have the struggles of parenthood, the struggles of childhood as an outsider, and not least the struggle of dealing with the volatile blend of mental illness, psychological trauma, and grief. Even after weeks of pondering over the true meaning of the film, it’s still difficult to tell exactly whose point of view we’re the seeing distorted narrative through. Is it Amelia’s grief-stricken, knife’s edge point of view? Or is it Samuel’s childish, protective and equally disturbed point of view? Maybe it’s both. One thing’s for sure, The Babadook represents grief, it represents that sinister part of a parent, it represents what we can’t get rid of.
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