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Grief, Trauma, and Terror: The Babadook

In Film, parenthood, spoilers on January 12, 2015 at 6:00 am

  the-babadook

Sarah S.

The Babadook is one of those excellent little horror films that reminds how much scaring can be done with good acting and a competent director. It’s delightfully spooky and eerie, with interesting sound choices and great cinematography and scene setting.

Plus, it’s a film about a woman, written and directed by a woman—Jennifer Kent. In the first half, The Babadook offers up a moving portrait of a profoundly ordinary woman parenting a troubled child. In the second half, well, things take a turn for the terrifying. Essie Davis’s performance as the mother, Amelia, blows the roof off, proving once again that the bias against genre films by those who give out awards and accolades is entirely misplaced.

In this Australian horror-thriller, Amelia is a single mother who struggles to manage her emotionally-disturbed, monster-obsessed son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), only to find that one of his monstrosities might be real. The Babadook, a sinister figure with a black trenchcoat and talon-like fingers, first shows up in a strange pop-up book that appears in Amelia and Samuel’s gloomy house. As Amelia’s isolation grows so does the power of the Babadook to terrorize her and Samuel.

The Babadook is essentially a haunted house story, albeit one where the “ghost” seems to be deliberately tormenting these people (rather than being attached to the house itself). Haunted house narratives are often about the dark side of family life (think The Conjuring or the first season of American Horror Story). These stories may be interested in infidelity or children’s maturation or even  the common challenges of marriage and parenting. The message is that something sinister (mental illness, homosexuality, pick your symbolic menace) is always lying just under the floorboards, wanting to tear the nuclear family apart.

The Babadook toys with this genre. It’s a haunted family story, but in The Babadook the nuclear family has already been destroyed. Amelia is a single mother because her husband died in a car crash on the way to the hospital to deliver Samuel. It’s been seven years and even if Amelia no longer talks about her husband, her grief lingers. Amelia and Samuel live in his house, a house that should be idyllic and instead feels oppressive. Amelia has relegated his belongs to the basement, ostensibly an attempt to put her grief away that is belied by how she blocks these items and her husband’s memory from Samuel.

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How To Be Awesome Like Claire Underwood

In adaptation, DNC, feminism, gender, How to be Awesome Like, Netflix, parenthood, reproductive health, spoilers, Television, TV villains on February 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Sarah S.

In the first episode of Netflix’s House of Cards, one recognizes immediately that Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is Lady Macbeth to devious congressman Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) Macbeth/Richard III hybrid. But despite her overt support of villainy, Claire is easily one of the most fascinating women in a current series. Here’s how to be awesome like Claire Underwood.

-Marry not because you’ll be “happy” or “stable” or have a passel of children. Marry because your Intended promises you’ll never be bored.

-Know what you want and go after it.

-Look your age but with an unwavering running schedule, an amazing haircut, and a wardrobe of dresses to die for. (I love how this show plays off Wright’s star text by hearkening back to Princess Buttercup and her being the “most beautiful woman in the world.”)

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-Have a hot, art photographer ex-lover in Manhattan on speed dial for whenever you’re feeling a little bit down and/or your husband is being an unsupportive ass.

-Have a true companionate marriage based on absolute honesty and respect and so

-Be pissed as hell when your husband begins to sacrifice your career for his and asks you to make compromises he’d never ask of himself.

claire1

-Be part of an interesting experiment in the evolution of “television.” House of Cards, Netflix’s foray into series making, has flaws but it’s super interesting on multiple levels nevertheless. If nothing else, am I irritated that Claire’s sense that her life is missing something is manifesting in her wondering if she should have had (and should pursue having) children? Absolutely. Because it’s boring and cliché and so obnoxiously obvious and typical—e.g. not like Claire at all. (Related, I also hate that in her discussion with her doctor we receive two pieces of medical misinformation: first, that despite what she’s heard her age is no impediment to a healthy pregnancy; second, that her uncomplicated abortions might have negatively affected her fertility.) However, perhaps we are supposed to think that this newfound desire is misplaced, given what we know of both Underwoods. Only time will tell if Claire will be crushed by the inevitable tumbling of this House of Cards.

Watching Parenthood in “The Descendants”

In Film, Oscars, parenthood on April 9, 2012 at 8:53 am

Phoebe B.

When I was a kid, which alas I only now am in spirit, I spent a decent amount of time looking at adults and presuming, sometimes rightly so, that they knew best. I believed that they understood things I was not quite capable of grasping yet; that their decisions inherently made sense and should be followed, even if I didn’t like them. I suspected that my own parents just knew what to do with some sort of parent-specific magic. It seemed to me that their rules, whatever they were, were preordained, and that bedtimes were of course always at nine, or ten, or eventually maybe even eleven.

As an adult, I have come to realize that my parents—like many other parents I imagine—are just people trying to do a good job taking care of their kids. This may sound silly, but it was quite the serious revelation for me. Even the best parents are not martyrs like Harry Potter’s parents. They’re probably more like the Weasleys, with their crazy house and messy kitchen and cluttered garage. The Weasleys do their best, but their best doesn’t always work out as well as planned. Or parents might be more like the less-magical but awesome Tami and Eric Taylor, or even MTV’s teen mothers, trying under difficult circumstances to do a good job despite being kids themselves.

Parenting is work. Fun work most of the time (according to my folks), but work nonetheless—which perhaps is why my mom quite smartly developed a system to pay herself for the work she did around the house and taking care of me when I was really little. And because I am at a point in my life where parenting is not quite on the table and but definitely up for discussion fairly often these days—not because I’m planning on being a parent anytime soon, but because many of my friends have started having children—I am all the more intrigued by representations of it.

That’s why The Descendants stood out to me. The Descendants begins with the near-fatal boating accident of Matt King’s (George Clooney) wife, Elizabeth. It becomes clear early on that Elizabeth will not survive. The film follows Matt and his daughters as they come to terms with her sudden death. Amidst his mourning, Matt learns from his eldest daughter, Alexandra, that Elizabeth was having an affair. The rest of the film follows Matt and his daughter’s search for his wife’s lover, including a Kaui vacation, to track him down. While this narrative does not laud Matt’s parenting skills, it suggests that there is no model or manual for good parenting and that everyone, including each of the family members, copes differently with grief, loss, and life.

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