The Babadook – I had heard several people talking about this independent Australian horror movie, but I had no idea what to expect. I figured the title referred to some kind of monster, which it did, but it was more psychological than I would have figured. If you don’t want anything spoiled for you, I’d advise not reading the rest of this post until you’ve watched it.
The story involves a widow with a six-year-old son. Her husband actually died while driving her to the hospital to give birth, and she’s very clearly not over it. She refuses to go into the basement where his things are stored, and doesn’t want anyone to mention him. The son is so obsessed with protecting his mom from monsters that he gets in trouble at school. He finds a mysterious pop-up book with Edward Gorey style illustrations called Mister Babadook and tries to get his mother to read it to him, but she deems it too scary after reading the first few pages, and indeed the kid becomes terrified of the Babadook.
The mom tears up the book and throws it away, only to find it pieced together on her doorstep with extra pages that show her killing her son and then herself. She eventually becomes possessed by the Babadook herself, and it’s essentially a manifestation of her lingering grief. She’s unable to destroy the monster, but manages to contain it when she starts coming to terms with her grief in small doses. It’s good at producing a creepy atmosphere, probably largely because of the sense of not being secure in your own home.
I looked up the movie on the IMDB and a few other pages, and it looks like the term “Babadook” was invented for the film, but was inspired by the Slavic Babaroga, a sort of bogey with a name meaning “old woman with horns.”
It’s also an anagram of “a bad book.” I’ve seen suggestions that the mother might have written the book herself and then forgotten about it, as evidenced by her sister mentioning that she used to write for children before her husband died. If so, did she create all the pop-ups as well? Apparently the book was actually available as a movie tie-in for eighty dollars, but I think it’s sold out now.
One aspect of the film that reminded me of something else I’d read recently is that, towards the beginning, the mom reads her son the story of the Three Little Pigs, and the kid wants reassurance that the Big Bad Wolf died. Mari Ness is doing a series of reviews of Disney animated movies and the stories they’re based on, something I did a little bit of in my own Disney reviews. Anyway, a commenter points out that one reason the villains’ deaths in traditional fairy tales tend to be totally gruesome is that they wanted to reassure young readers that the villains weren’t coming back. I mean, Snow White is presumed dead three times in the Grimms’ version of the tale, but comes back to life when the offending object is removed. The Queen’s dance in red-hot iron shoes guarantees that such a revival isn’t possible for her. While the Disney film shows the Queen die, it isn’t anywhere near as final. I’m reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s famous quotation, “Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.” I just thought that was an interesting connection.