Reclaiming the gaze in The Babadook     

The fallibility of the father is also represented visually in the film, which functions to subvert the male gaze (Laura Mulvey's contention of the presumed male spectator in cinema). Throughout the film our identification lies with Amelia, however, the Bbd/father's haunting in the film signifies his attempt to reclaim the gaze. The primary example is the device of the POV shot, which is used three times in the film; 1) when Amelia is possessed by the Bbd/father, 2) during the final confrontation with the Bbd/father, and 3) at the end when she visits the Bbd/father after he has retreated to the basement. The first instance represents his attempt to regress Amelia into the typical horror film female, and the second two instances are especially key, as they occur during the moments when Amelia asserts control over her grief. Subjective shots like this are typically tied to the male perspective in films, so by positioning us directly as the Bbd/father in these key moments,

I absolutely love this movie. I wasn't quite sure about it at first because of the slow and steady development of the story, but it's well worth the wait to get to the scary stuff (which genuinely inspires horror and terror throughout). What I like best about the film though is Amelia. She is not your typical horror film female -- sexual object, body in the throws of ecstasy, the monstrous feminine, etc. -- she is a diverse character going through an intense period of emotions after her husband's death. We see her at work interacting with her colleagues, raising her son Samuel alone, in meaningful conversations with her sister and neighbor, and we even get a glimpse of her sexual frustrations in the scene where Samuel interrupts her while she's masturbating. These are important characteristics that strengthen our sense of identification with her, but the film offers much more than a complex female protagonist undergoing emotional trauma, particularly when you consider the subversive treatment of the father figure.

The father is typically a symbol of power/authority in horror films, and at the beginning of The Babadook we learn that Amelia's husband is dead. This is not a terribly new idea, as a lot of horror films start out this way (the absent father as a symbol of patriarchy in crisis), but usually, the film will introduce some kind replacement (priest, boyfriend, lawman), or the father returns, and so forth, so that the symbolic order can be properly restored. As the Babadook intrudes into Amelia and Samuel's life (with the Bbd as an obvious metaphor for her grief after the passing of her husband), the Bbd and the father are coupled together as a symbol of patriarchal authority. Amelia must overcome this demon/husband, and she does so by directly defying him at the films' end. He screams at her, and she screams right back (to the point where glass shatters!), ordering him to leave her house. He flees to the basement, where he will always be kept (grief will always be there, just repressed, offering a progressive spin on Robin Wood's notion of the restoration of repression), and she can go there to visit whenever she needs to. This is key, because patriarchal authority will always be subordinate to Amelia/the mother. The Bbd/father/grief will always be under her control. Furthermore, the final images of the film are of her and Samuel embracing one another; a representation of Julia Kristeva's semiotic chora (the space of mother/child symbiosis), and a symbol that she has denied the restoration of patriarchy.

and then having Amelia confront and defeat him, Amelia is effectively "taming" both patriarchy and the gaze. The Babadook is ultimately a story about symbolic figures in crisis, and their failure to assert their authority and re-establish control of the gaze. Amelia shouts them down, renders them impotent, and goes on to live “happily ever after” with Samuel in the semiotic.


posted on 06/16/15 by apw