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“I’ll wager with you. I’ll make a bet. The more you deny, the stronger I get. You start to change when I get in, The Babadook growing right under your skin. Oh come! Come see what’s underneath!” – Mister Babadook
Warning: the following analysis includes spoilers!
Early in writer/director Jennifer Kent’s Australian creeper The Babadook, widowed mother Amelia crawls onto the floor with her six year old son Samuel to check underneath his bed, ensuring there are no monsters there before he turns in for the night. The scene, repeated throughout the movie, has its roots in the seemingly every day life of a parent calming their child’s fears but also acts as one of the film’s many metaphors to dramatize the concept of “what lies beneath”. Grounded in German expressionism, the film, like many great horror movies do, works on a psychological level as an allegory to convey the concept of suppression and repression, showing us the ill-effects – including cognitive dissonance – of what happens when emotions, particularly grief, have not been dealt with.
Before delving into the film further, let’s take a closer look at expressionism and allegory so we can understand how they fit into the bigger picture here. Expressionism is at its bare essence taking the internal and making it external. Expressionists seek to express meaning and emotional experiences – often radically to reflect mood and tone – rather than physical reality. An allegory is used to convey complex ideas in ways that are more readily understood by an audience. Its difference from a mere symbol is that an allegory, at least in story, is a narrative whose whole – much like a theme – has a meaning the author wishes to convey. The use of these two together may explain why some viewers confessed to not understanding the movie (or its ending) – though to some extent, it’s a movie that’s aimed squarely at the real fears of an older audience – at least those old enough to have children of their own and suffered loss (for that’s what many of those who do will find relatable.)
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