By Johnny Ring
Under a new Trump Administration directive, dubiously titled the “Moral and Religious Exemptions and Accommodations for Coverage of Certain Preventive Services,” employers can now expand exemptions to “protect moral convictions” for companies whose health plans are required to cover contraceptives. While this will all but certainly limit women’s access to obtain vital care, right-leaning political operatives claim that there are plenty of other easily accessible health care services for women who may be denied coverage based on religious and moral stances. However, in many cases, these other services are generally under funded and vary state by state.
This continued affront to female liberty, disguised as a form of “protection,” certainly is not new in our politics. We not only see this daily in the news, but we also see film culture. Our films rarely establish their plots and narratives in a female-centered lens. And if they do attempt such a deviation from the norm, they do so without much accomplishment or tact.
Get Things We Watch delivered to your inbox
Jennifer Kent’s beautifully crafted low budget horror film, The Babadook, thrives in this void of female representation. The film’s striking horror wiggles underneath ones skin and stays there days after the film is over. Kent’s film crafts a precise exercise in horrifying jump scares and devastating psychological terror. Though, the more we look at the main character, the more layered we realize the film to be. Her story is really the one of so many female in our current, tumultuous time.
The reason Kent’s film establishes its relevance alongside the GOP’s continued assault of women’s right rests on the film’s main character, a single mom struggling to control her severally hyperactive and nearly insufferable son. As the son becomes increasingly difficult to handle due to both his temperament and the introduction of the titular imaginary monster, the Babadook, people begin to associate the mother with her son’s behavior.
This societal pressure to “control” her son and better manage her life isolates her and creates fierce tension between the mother and her child. Here, we see a better familiar picture. Throughout the United States, mothers—in and out of wedlock—struggle to support themselves and their children with little support from the government, while also living under the stigma of being a woman living alone with a child. However, the current administration and their allies seem more concerned with controlling a woman’s sexual behavior and pregnancy, rather than what happens after a baby is born. Social programs designed to alleviate this societal injustice face constant underfunding and possible cancelation.
Kent’s film highlights the hurtles a single mother must go through to maintain her sanity as she fights her inner demons that threaten her and her son. Moreover, these inner demons become manifested in the physical, as the Babadook’s presence causes further derangement.
The film begins with the mother, Amelia Vanek (Essie Davis), in a dreamlike state where debris, glass, and lights move around her, abstractly portraying a car accident. We later learn that her husband was killed in a car accident, as the two were on their way to deliver their son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman).
The dream is cut short, as a scared and insomniac Samuel wakes Amelia up, asking her to look for monsters. After confirming his safety, she reads him a bedtime story and he falls asleep soon after. In bed, he clenches to her body, which, though a sign of love and comfort, is by no means comfortable for her, only disturbing her sleep further. Her night is again cut short after awaking to a window breaking, a result of Samuel practicing his homemade catapult as a form of defense against the Babadook.
Amelia drops him off at school and goes to work as an assistant at a retirement home. It’s clear that Amelia is a naturally nurturing individual who focuses more on the happiness and comfort of others than herself. Though, we see little of her work, because she must again deal with Samuel. She learns that Samuel had brought another weapon—this time a handheld crossbow—to school.
After a repeat of the initial night, Samuel pulls out a new book unfamiliar to Amelia, Mister Babadook. The book escalates slowly, describing how after reading the book, the hat-wearing monster will slowly invade into your life, eventually revealing its true self, causing you to wish “you were dead.”
She promptly throws the book away, hoping it will help subside her sons nightmares. Samuel’s behavior becomes increasingly worse and aggressive after reading Mister Babadook. She begins to wonder if Samuel is intentionally sabotaging every social encounter they have. However, it becomes clear that there may be some underlying truths to Samuel’s fears.
Once Samuel is prescribed sleep medication, Amelia has her first full night of sleep in weeks. But, the relief cannot last, as the book returns on her front stoop. Though now, the story focuses on her and how Babadook will creep into her body and ultimately kill her and her son. Hallucinations of the creature appear during both the day and night, making sleeping virtually impossible and blending dreams with reality.
As her sanity begins to unravel further, Samuel’s existence becomes more precarious. In a horrifying encounter, the Babadook inserts itself in her body, becoming both Samuel’s mother and his tormentor simultaneously. In a heroic effort to free his mother from the monster, Samuel allows himself to nearly be strangled by Amelia, but her maternal love overcomes the Babadooks, as she recognizes that even with his flaws, her love for Samuel cannot be adulterated.
Rather than killing the beast, they understand they must live with the monster, as was the rule in the book. Their coexistence serves as a reminder not to repress the past, but to embrace it’s importance on everyday life.
On the surface level, had she never read the book in the first place, she would never have had to encounter the Babadook. Using the current administration’s logic, Amelia should have known better. But as Jennifer Kent story unfolds, it becomes clear that the problems in her life are far more complicated. Whether the Babadook is real or a imagined manifestation of her own inner rage and self-blame, the damage inflicted on Amelia is less from the monster than the lack of support from those who she needs most.