The Babadook – A Bad Film but Great Case Study
Spoiler and Trigger Warning: Since a lot of my issues with this film are it’s ending, this post is full of spoilers, if you haven’t seen The Babadook and you want to don’t read this 😉 This post and the movie also deals with childhood trauma, emotional neglect, parentification of children and depression.
The Babadook is a psychological thriller from 2014. It is about a mother and son, and largely how the mother denies and refuses to deal with her own personal demons. The big back story on the characters is that the son’s father died in a car accident when he was on the way to the hospital for the son’s birth.
We start the story with the son getting expelled from school for being disruptive and violent. We watch the mother’s feeble attempts to parent. She is often inattentive like she manages to allow him to scale an entire tree on a rickety ladder without noticing what he’s doing until he’s fallen to the ground. He also manages to break a girl’s arm due mom being to busy arguing with her sister.
The mother repeatedly states she is over the loss of her husband. Though will not celebrate her son’s birthday on his actual birthday because it is also the day she lost her husband.
As this stage is being set the The Babadook is introduced through a child’s storybook that magically appears on the shelf. The Babadook is the boogie man who gets sronger the more that you deny he is there. The son immediately becomes terrified of the Babadook, and his mother repeatedly ignores him. She even turns to getting tranquilizers prescribed for the son so he will sleep, versus actually dealing with his fears.
So the Babadook grows in strength and appears to slowly possess the mother. She begins to become aggressive towards her son, and makes telling statements like that she wished her son had died that day instead of her husband. She becomes outwardly abusive towards her son, and then has moments when the Babadook is not in control and becomes extremely apologetic.
The son in turn becomes the parent. He manages to eventually tie his mother up in the basement and says to her “The Babadook won’t let you love me, but I love you mom”. After a few moments of begging his mother for love, and urging her to let go of the Babadook she appears to vomit out the demon and become herself. However, once the Babadook is there, it won’t leave. They manage to trap it in the basement.
The story ends on the son’s seventh birthday, his mother is preparing a party for him. She now thinks her seven year old playing with a crossbow is cute. They have a follow up meeting with child welfare workers who have been following the child since he was expelled. While the mother appears to be showing more love to her child, the child tells CPS that this is his first birthday party. The mother denies this until the son clarifies that it is the first birthday that he has celebrated on his birthday because his father died the day he was born. There’s a brief moment of concern, and then everyone is laughing again.
Mom right before the party tells her son to stay upstairs and she goes to the basement to feed the Babadook a bowl of worms. The son, by the way still being the parent, asks how the Babadook is that day, and she responds that it is pretty quiet. Then the movie is finally over.
The Impact of Parental Depression, and Unresolved Grief on Children
Depression alone can cause a parent to develop attachment issues with their child. It is a part of why post partum depression tends to be taken so seriously. Adding unresolved grief issues into the mix makes things even more difficult. In the Babadook this leads to the mother denying and holding back that she is still grieving which leaves both her depression and grief untreated, and this gets taken out on her son.
Emotional Abuse and Neglect
If the primary caregiver is unable to be nurturing this often causes emotional disturbance in the child. Children learn healthy ways to cope with their emotions through their parents. So if a parent is detached due to their own emotional issues the child will have a very difficult time developing healthy coping skills.
In the Babadook this is compounded by the fact that the mother is not dealing with her feelings of anger towards her own child. Since a large part of her grief is the irrational emotions of anger that if her son hadn’t been born her husband will still be alive.
The Babadook itself is truly a representation of the mother’s denial and resulting unresolved emotions.
All of this leads to at best inconsistent parenting. Attachment remains extremely poor. On top of neglecting the child’s emotional needs and development there are aspects of emotional abuse. Counting the possession by the Babadook this goes on to include physical abuse and violence towards the son.
At the end of this story while the mother has improved she is still neglectful as she is not seeking help for her son who is clearly still bothered and affected by his mother’s behavior. Instead she continues to attempt to deny any wrongdoing on her part.
Parentification of Children
In the movie as the storyline progresses the child has to take more and more responsibility for his mother. At the climax of the film he has to care for her in order to save his own life. This is not really resolved at the end of the film as the son continues to act very mature and takes the lead in many conversations. By the end of the film the mother is still not demonstrating a healthy parenting style, consistent discipline, or emotional support.
Repression, Repression, Repression
The Babadook is a metaphor for emotions and thoughts that we deny are there. The Babadook grows the more that we deny these feelings exist. Eventually we become possessed by the Babadook and act out the emotions and thoughts that have been repressed and denied.
While at the end of the story the Babadook has been acknowledged, it is still locked in a dark basement. The son is not allowed to go there. The mother does just enough to keep the Babadook from getting back out.
So really by the end of the movie the mother has learned nothing. She shows signs of ongoing denial, and ongoing repression of her feelings.
Why I’m Not a Fan of the Movie
When certain topics are explored in a film, there needs to be appropriate follow through on those themes, and appropriate resolution. The film intends for the ending to be “happy” a win of good in us beating the bad in us. While the film did have some fairly good symbolism and theme exploration the ending just wrecks it and misses the mark.