The Babadook and Surviving With Depression

In case you haven’t heard, The Babadook is one of the most terrifying films that has been released in recent years.

Please only continue reading if you have seen the film or don’t care about spoilers, because this is a Film Finale, and I will spoil the film in extreme detail. 

The film begins with Amelia (Essie Davis) being driven to the hospital by her husband Oskar as she is going into labour. They get into a car accident and her husband dies. Samuel’s (Noah Wiseman) birthday is now a constant reminder to Amelia about the death of Oskar. Because of this, Sam never celebrates his birthday on the day of, but rather shares it with his cousin.

One day, as Sam is ready to go to sleep, he brings a book from the bookshelf for his mother to read. It is a book she has never seen before, “Mister Babadook.”

 

The book traumatizes Sam and causes him to start thinking about Mister Babadook constantly. He tries to protect himself and his mother from the monster that he’s seeing, the same one he sees in the car and induces a febrile seizure.

The next question you ask yourself, as an audience member, “is this the work of a child’s imagination, or is the terrifying creature real?” In the film it’s real, but it also isn’t. See, the Babadook is a physical manifestation of her grief. Once the book is found and read, it was like releasing the creature to take control.

Where does the book come from? A theory online points to Amelia herself, who has trouble sleeping (noticed in the incredible time-lapse moments that perfectly encapsulates those sleepless nights), and also used to write books for children. One night, Amelia watches films from the German Expressionist movement, which is why it seems like the incredible design of the creature (and it’s not a digital effect, it’s real) feels like he could have come straight out of Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The simple design (a coat, a top hat, and what appears to be claws) is nearly duplicated when she goes to the police station on a coat hook on the wall. It’s what scares you at night, in your room, in the dark. It’s not that the coat that looks like a person is necessarily an evil entity, but it’s that it could be that makes it terrifying. As your eyes roam your room in the dark landing on your sweater, which for a split second, appears to be a person watching you sleep, it jolts you awake.

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The fact that the Babadook is so tangible and real adds to the horror of it all. As it sneaks into Amelia’s room before possessing her, it leaves her – and you – frozen. Before she’s possessed, she’s quiet and isolates herself. She doesn’t get out of bed to make food for her son, and when he tells her he’s hungry, she lashes out. All signs or symptoms of someone who has been diagnosed with depression.

Grief, the Babadook, or depression. Whatever you want to call it, in this case, there’s no true difference. Before getting possessed, it follows her around the house and it’s everywhere she goes. The Babadook, grief, or depression. Pick and choose, the film feels the same way regardless.

When the movie begins, Sam is chaotic and causes problems at school, you’re angry at him, stressed out due to him, but by the time he finally ties up his mother in the basement, he’s no longer the same character. He’s endearing, he’s sweet. You understand and can feel the love in the scene.

“I know you don’t love me – the Babadook won’t let you – but I love you, mum, and I always will. You let it in, you have to get it out.”

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It’s not just about some false creature, it’s about dealing with these issues, and feeling alone, and the support and love that can help you survive with it.

This becomes extremely apparent when she finally “wins” the battle. In one of the most powerful moments I’ve seen in a movie of recent years, she relives the moment in which her husband dies. She breaks down on the carpet, and you can hear the creature get stronger as he shows himself. It attempts to scare her. It gets bigger and bigger, but she’s there with her son. She knows she’s stronger this time.

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“You are nothing. This is my house. You are trespassing in my house. If you touch my son again, I’ll fucking kill you.”

She banishes it away to the basement and it appears to be locked up, like a pet of sorts. She brings it food, literally feeding her grief. So, the battle wasn’t necessarily won, as it’s still around. This is where I’ve noticed my feelings on the ending are a bit different than others based on a few meanings of words and phrases.

To me, Amelia didn’t fully win. She hasn’t beaten the creature (or grief, or depression), but instead learned to live with it. If a house can represent somebody’s mind, she has locked her fears and griefs in the darkest part of her own. Sure, she beat the creature this time, and has learned how to survive with it as, outside, she’s finally celebrating Sam’s birthday on the actual day. That in itself is a true victory. But it’s still there.

To me, this doesn’t take away from the incredible film, or the powerful performances and meanings within it, it just adds to what I’ve always thought. Depression, or anxiety, or any other name you can give it, will be long term. It will always be there. I’ve lost count on how many people I know (including myself and some other writers) who deal with it in one form or another. I would like to think positively and think we can beat it and that a day will come when we no longer will face these moments. But, if we can’t, the next best thing will be to do what Amelia accomplished: survive. Let her be our hero as she was Sam’s. Sure, there will be bad days and bad weeks and, God forbid, bad months, but we will get out. It all comes down to the small steps. If one day we can make it outside when the day before we couldn’t, that’s a victory. Our grief, our depression, our very own Babadooks will always be there to attempt to drag us back into the basement and make us feel alone, unloved, and unworthy. We just need to find a way to tell it what it is: it is nothing. As Amelia shows, if you yell loud enough, we believe it too.

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