Grief Is At The Heart Of The Babadook

At The Daily Beast, Tim Teeman provides a nuanced review of the critically acclaimed horror film The Babadook, arguing that the "real monster" is grief itself and the ways in which loss can haunt, debilitate, and almost destroy us. The movie centers around a widow's battle to save her son from a menacing presence in their home.
The film is not only scary and disturbing, it is one of the most moving—and true—movies about loss and grief, and how they can corrode and consume, yet also make us, re-shape us, change us.
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But the death of Amelia’s husband is not just the heart of the film, but—for this viewer—the heart of its subterranean message. This film is about the aftermath of death; how its remnants destroy long after the dead body has been buried or burned; it’s about how a loved one’s death can erode, and then threaten to kill a family.
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Yet it is significant that when the Babadook seems to take over Amelia it passes over her: a shadow of darkness; she may swallow it, or its horror, at one point. In its presence--jolting, sudden, horrific—the monster is the monster of grief. The grief in this house is extreme of course; this is a horror movie, after all. It controls, differently, mother and son. It warps them and yet makes them, and horrifies them both as it does so—just as grief does.
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But it is another great and piercing truth of The Babadook that the reality of grief, the horrible truth, is that—unlike what you typically see on TV and in movies—is that you don’t get over the loss of a loved one. Time yanks and chivvies you forward, edges are softened, life trajectories evolve, but years down the line that baseline, incontrovertible grief is still there.
You can be doing some cleaning and bam, you’re floored. You can be working, and then you remember. Suddenly, you are crying, breathless, raging, and on quieter days just going through the motions. “Moving on” from the death of a loved one is rarely uniform.
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 The Babadook is the shape of grief: all-enveloping, shape-shifting, black, here intensely, terrifying, then gone. The house decays around Amelia and Samuel, their world narrows and becomes mad, undealable with. Energy is sucked from them, the world around them becomes impossible—the Babadook of grief and loss exerts its force everywhere.

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Just as in real life, you can come to live with grief, so Amelia and Sam do at the end of the film. It doesn’t have to destroy you, but it may never leave. Oddly you nurture it, it is part of you, and inescapably part of your past, present, and future.
But it has its place. It has a presence, it remains potentially destructive, but all we can do is attempt to marshal it.
Grief is part of us, living with loss is part of us. We do not “get over it.” Grief, like the Babadook, never leaves. Terrible loss may never be surmounted. But it needn’t warp us, destroy us, kill us. You can accord it a place, and then—hopefully—like Amelia and Sam find a way to get on with your life. Rather than terrifying me, The Babadook moved me to tears—like Into The Woods, it is an unflinching exposition of the realities of grieving and loss, but in very unexpected, and vivid, clothing.

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