The Babadook isn’t a Hollywood monster or spirit that pulls you across the ceiling or sucks you into a strange underworld. He’s a Jungian-type shadow of the darkness inside our own hearts. “If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook,” warns the beautiful, simple handmade book Amelia reads to her son Sam in the first few scenes of this much buzzed-about film. The book is familiar, children’s books are often unsettling, introducing to the child, and the parents, a way to talk about the darker parts of life. Of course, often children’s nightmares can be inspired by creepy books, but that doesn’t mean that monsters aren’t important. We need fictional monsters because we have monsters living inside of us.
Sam was born into the world with a grief-stricken and unhinged mother who had no time to take care of herself and find a way to deal with her loss. As a single mom, she has to work long-hours as a caretaker for the elderly, and then come home and dig up love for her difficult son from her scant emotional resources.
They barely have any support system, and Sam’s violence and odd behavior drives away the only family they have. The film oozes with the complicated feelings of a mother and son who both desperately love each other, but are terrified of themselves. Each one is flailing, and cannot hold onto one another without sinking further down. When the Babadook is introduced to them, he’s a place to hang all these repressed feelings and nightmares, all the nauseous terror of love and need.
When it turns out that The Babadook is really Amelia, or that Amelia has become possessed by him, it also seems plausible that Amelia is his creator as well as his puppet. Amelia used to write children’s books, so it makes sense that she used her book-making skills to create the mysterious, haunted object that infiltrates their life. If that’s the case, the second book depicting herself as the monster was also made by her, possibly in an insomniac trance.
Seven-year-old Sam is a difficult child, but his situation is horrific, and has been long before The Babadook manifested itself. He’s just beginning to comprehend his mother’s resentment towards him, and the horrible fact that his father died on the same day of his birth. His obsessions with magic and weapons seem to stem from his intense need to protect himself, and his mother, from the constant threat of their very existence. As the monster grows, Sam himself transforms from a bit of a monster into a helpless child. As the danger increases for him, both the audience and Amelia start to see him more as a doe-eyed helpless child than a symbol of destruction, burden, and loss.
When they are saved from the Babadook’s madness by Sam’s tenderness, a neighbor’s concern and love, and, especially, Amelia’s assertion of power over the malevolent force, the Babadook is still with them. He will never leave, because he is still a part of Amelia. Feeding this creature worms is an acknowledgement for both Amelia and Sam of the terrible things they’ve been through, and the realness of the monster, while symbolically maintaining their control over its presence. Why it has to be worms isn’t clear, but maybe that’s not altogether important.
According to Carl Jung, “To confront a person with his own Shadow is to show him his own light.” Everything isn’t fixed for Amelia and Sam now that they’ve confronted The Babadook, but Amelia is no longer a captive to her darker impulses. She isn’t free, because we are never free of the hell we are capable of creating in our own minds, but she is able to functionally live and love her son again because she has acknowledged, and therefore tamed and diminished, the dark terror of her grief and pain.
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