‘Monsters are real. And ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win’ – Stephen King
So, in part 1 of my Blog ‘Making Friends with Monsters’ I discussed the film director Guillermo Del Toro’s recent influence in my life and I looked in more detail at his movie, Pan’s Labyrinth. In Part 2 of this blog I will look at the Australian horror film The Babadook. I found this blog entry quite tricky to write and I had to come back to it a few times. The problem I had was I had so much I wanted to say about this movie, but I realised that it was quite possible that nobody else would care even a little bit about most of it. SO...I’m going to try to be succinct and not ramble on (I know, good start huh!). However, as I had a lot to say about this film, my two part blog about movie monsters will turn into a trilogy (or even quadrilogy the way it’s going!). I hope you stick with me.
(Major spoilers ahead!)
The film centres on Amelia, a widow who lives with her young son Samuel. Samuel’s father died whilst driving his mother to the hospital to give birth to him and we learn early on that Samuel has never celebrated his birthday or had a party on the day of his birth as a result.
We learn almost immediately that Sam, as well as being fascinated by magic (we see him copying a TV magician and performing tricks for his mother as well as his toys) is often afraid of a monster in the house. This leads to him making weapons to protect himself and his mother, and we see that Sam will often sleep in his mother’s bed rather than his own.
‘If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.’
‘You’re going to wish you were dead.’
The story terrifies young Sam and over the coming days he begins to become obsessed with the Babadook, seeing it and feeling its presence in the house. As the film progresses, we also begin to see how much the Babadook is having an effect on Amelia, but with her, it begins to affect her mood and behaviour. In fact, it is clear that the Babadook has a much greater effect on Amelia than Sam, with him often seeing its presence most clearly in its influence over his mother.
So here is where my theory comes in...there is no movie monster. No creature or spirit which has leapt out of a book. The monster of the movie is depression. Amelia’s depression. Let me explain.
The Babadook sometimes appears dressed in a cloak and a top hat. This of course resembles that of a TV magician as well as the clothing Sam often wears when he performs his tricks. At other times the Babadook takes on the guise of her dead husband. Both Sam and the death of her husband are, in my opinion, the root causes of Amelia’s depression. She is lonely and sad because of the loss of her husband and she finds her son’s behaviour and quirks very tough to handle, as well as his presence being a continual reminder of her husband and the tragedy they have experienced. Also, because of Sam’s behaviour and ‘oddness’ she is quite isolated. She doesn’t really spend time with any other people, and even her sister tells her she hates going to her house because it is depressing and she hates being around Sam too.
As the Babadook begins to take hold of Amelia she begins to sleep more, accept Sam’s personality less and less, becoming more withdrawn and short tempered. All the way through her transformation, she continues to deny the existence of the Babadook. Even when she sees it, she still says it doesn’t exist, ‘it isn’t real’. Despite this she still tries to throw the book away, ripping it up and throwing it in the trash...out of sight, out of mind right? Well the book re-appears, taped back together, on the doorstep. And when the book comes back, new lines have been added. Now the book reads:
‘I’ll make you a wager, I’ll make you a bet, the more you deny, the stronger I’ll get.’
‘You start to change when I get in, the Babadook growing right under your skin.’
Sounds like a pretty good description of how depression could take hold of someone!
The book comes back, I think, because it is symbolic of her depression. It is another symptom but not the cause, and because of this, she can’t get rid of the book until she addresses the cause of its making.
Whilst all this is happening, Sam seems to be able to see the nature of the Babadook most clearly, telling his mother he will protect her from it.
Finally, towards the climax of the movie, Amelia ‘lets the Babadook in’. It finally takes complete control of her. To begin with she kills the family dog before stalking Sam like an animal in an attempt to kill him also. Sam evades his mother, knocking her to the ground in the basement before tying her up. Is it a coincidence that the final showdown with the Babadook when Amelia will finally accept that it is indeed a very real monster for her, begins in the basement...the place where all of her husband’s things are kept, all the things she hides away and which Sam is not allowed to go near or touch, all of the things which are reminders of the cause of her depression?
When his mother wakes, she screams, shrieks and cries at Sam. It is now that Sam shows again how much he understands the Babadook, telling his mother ‘I know you don’t love me, the Babadook won’t let you. But I love you mum, and I always will.’ As Sam moves closer to his mother, she again grabs her son, strangling him. But even whilst he is being violently choked, he gently strokes her face with his little hands. It is this love for her son which eventually helps her to drive out the Babadook from her body. The action then moves to Amelia’s bedroom where the Babadook again takes form. And now, for the first time...she no longer denies its existence but instead faces it, fights it. Now rather than saying ‘it isn’t real’ she instead screams ‘what do you want?’ before telling it ‘you are nothing. You’re nothing!’ along with a few carefully chosen expletives which can be paraphrased as ‘go away please’. She has stood up to the Babadook (her depression) and not denied its existence, and now, finally...she has won. The Babadook flees from the bedroom, retreating back to the basement.
The film draws to an end with a much happier Amelia and Sam, celebrating Sam’s birthday for the very first time on the actual day of his birthday. We also see that Amelia has now accepted Sam for the boy he is rather than wishes he’d be ‘normal’, even reflecting on how much like his dad he is.
The end of the film shows Sam collecting a bowl of worms which Amelia takes to the basement. Sam is not allowed to come with her to the basement. This is because the Babadook is still there, and Amelia is feeding it. In my opinion this is symbolic of how her depression is now under control, she is minding it, looking after it, accepting its presence in her life, but she knows it won’t ever go away.
She has made friends with her monster.