Archetypes: Film: Review: ‘The Babadook’ (2014)

IFC Films

IFC Films

Death is often seen as a conduit to new life, a theme at the heart of The Babadook, a psychological horror film written and directed by Australian Jennifer Kent.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother, whose husband died seven years earlier in a car crash while driving her to hospital to deliver her child. His death metaphorically begat the birth of her son, Sam (Noah Wiseman), now six.

How does Amelia cope with that death-birth association? On the one hand, she could sadly regard it as a terrible quid pro quo, where Sam was the lesser-value human in the equation. Or, more positively, she could see Sam as a wondrous gift of life from the gods. Neither Amelia nor director Kent tells us what Mom is thinking. Maybe that’s because Amelia is wiped out trying to make ends meet by working in an elder-care facility, and deeply stressed out from mothering high-strung, disruptive and anxiety-ridden Sam, who has bad dreams, rants incessantly about monsters under their roof and needs to be read stories to help put him to sleep.

What brings matters to a head is the inexplicable appearance on Sam’s bookshelf of a thin volume called “The Babadook.” Its graphic images – of a dark-robed Satanic figure with top hat, bad teeth and spindly fingers – pop-up as one turns the pages. But it’s the disturbing words – “If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook” – that have even greater staying power.

IFC Films

IFC Films

Amelia unsuccessfully tries to destroy the thing several times. But Mr. Babadook keeps revealing himself – like some denizen of the underworld – to take haven once again in their increasingly chaotic home.

Is this diabolical book-figure-come-to-life a projection emanating from Amelia who wants to eradicate her soul-sapping offspring – “Bring me the boy,” insists the Babadook – or her own personal death wish? Is it a projection generated by Sam who believes the creature is real and, like a brave knight, vows to protect his mother with his hand-made weaponry?

The Babadook explores themes that are terrifying but which are essential to the psychotherapeutic process of self-discovery that requires identifying, redefining and transforming the monsters within, not denying one’s personal nemeses or falling prey to Neptunian distractions. Such processes involve tapping into the Plutonic Underworld – often through self-mothering – to give birth to a more robust version of oneself.

Archetype: Mother. Child. Death. Rebirth. Devouring mother. Satan. Monster. Underworld. Powerful high-stakes life-or-death mothering.

Astrology Archetype: ☽♇ (Moon, Pluto)

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