We've seen the release of many fantastic and frightening horror films in the last few years, but there is an argument to be made that none could be called better than writer/director Jennifer Kent's The Babadook. Made for just $2 million, the Australian movie is the rather simple story of an exhausted mother, an out-of-control child, and incredibly disturbing pop-up book -- but it comes together as an exercise in pure terror that effectively gets movie-goers to curl into the fetal position in their chairs.
In addition to being scary as all hell, The Babadook is also a smart film that doesn't feel the need to explain everything and talk down to its audience -- but that does leave the ending up to some interpretation. Specifically, what is Mister Babadook, and why won't he leave Amelia and Sam alone? Below and on the next couple of pages we dive into this subject in depth, so read on and learn more about this magnificent horror movie!
SPOILER WARNING: The following feature contains massive spoilers for The Babadook. If you have not yet seen the film, and don't wish to know details about the way the movie ends, you may want to click away to another one of our wonderful articles.
What Happens At The End Of The Film
It's a bit hard to pinpoint an exact place to call the beginning of the end in The Babadook, given that the end of the second act is as chaotic and insane as great cinema gets -- so we'll just start after the young Sam (Noah Wiseman) has managed to knock out his mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), and tie her to the floor in the basement. Still clearly under the influence of Mister Babadook, she wakes up and immediately assaults her child, attempting to choke him and kill him. Doing anything he can to try and stop her, knowing she loves him very much, Sam reaches out with his hand and begins to stroke his mom's cheek, which works successfully.
Amelia releases her hands from around her son's throat, has a nice solid freak out, turns over, and vomits a long spew of black liquid. While it seems for a moment that Amelia might be gone, she wakes after being stirred by Sam. As they go back upstairs, the atmosphere becomes peaceful once again, and it looks as though the mother and son are finally free to return to their lives, with the evil monster that has been plaguing them finally gone. Unfortunately, it's at this point that Sam reminds Amelia of one of the pop-up book's most memorable lines: "You can't get rid of the Babadook!" Sam falls backwards and is quickly pulled up the stairs by an invisible force, dragged into his mother's bedroom.
When Amelia catches up with Sam, she watches as he is violently thrown against the wall multiple times -- leading her to grab him and take him to the bed. Staring into the darkness of her room in which Mister Babadook loves to appear, she screams asking what the haunting figure wants. From out of the shadows we see Amelia's dead husband, Oskar (Benjamin Winspear), who repeats the words he said just before the car crash that killed him -- and she watches as his head is sliced in half. It's the visage that finally pushes the grieving mother over the edge, and she begins to howl at the torturous presence: "This is my house! You are trespassing in my house! If you touch my son again I'll fucking kill you!"
Though it seems like the house is going to fall apart for a moment, the chaos abates, and Mister Babadook's seemingly empty suit and top hat fall to the floor. As Amelia approaches it and reaches out, it once again stands to full height, screams in Amelia's face, and speedily bolts down to the basement, where Amelia locks it in.
The next scene picks up sometime later, as Sam celebrates his birthday at home... with the presence of the two social services workers checking in. Both Amelia and Sam seem much happier than they were, and Sam is incredibly excited to actually be having a party on his actual birthday. While this is perceived as odd, Amelia explains the situation, and says that her husband died on the day of Sam's birth -- following up by noting that her son very much takes after the departed Oskar.
Once the social workers have left, Amelia goes into the backyard and begins digging up worms and putting them in a bowl with Sam's help. Together, they then go to the basement door, where Sam asks if he'll be able to see it -- and his mom explains that he will someday, when he's bigger. Going downstairs, she puts the bowl of worms on the ground -- as is scared to have Mister Babadook charge at her, blowing her back. This winds up being just one intense moment, however, and after calming words from Amelia, the monster eventually retreats, taking the worms with him. Having successfully fed the beast, the proud mother goes back upstairs to have sandwiches with her son, and watch him perform an amazing magic trick. Finally happy, she hugs Sam and smiles as the credits begin to roll.
But what does this all mean? Who is Mister Babadook? Go on to the next page for our explanation!
What Is Mister Babadook?
As anyone who has suffered a debilitating, scarring loss can attest, there is no way to erase that kind of emotional pain. There is no drug that can cure it, and there is no amount of time that will permanently relegate it to the past. Instead, it becomes a part of your life and something that you have to live with -- as when destruction is impossible, the only answer is management. Understanding this is key to deciphering the end of The Babadook, because what you ultimately discover about the titular monster is that he's not your traditional kind of monster. Instead, he's a physical manifestation of the extreme grief that Amelia has been living with since the day her husband died.
The first and most important clue to this conclusion is something that may come as a surprise to those of you who are still putting all of the movie's puzzle pieces together: the author of The Babadook book is Amelia herself. This is something that's never explicitly put together within the film, but there is plenty of evidence to support it as fact. This includes the conversation Amelia has while talking with the other mothers at her niece's birthday (where it's revealed that she's a writer who dabbled in "kid's stuff"), but also the charcoal on her hands when she is at the police station. In the moment you might take away that this was a result of the book BBQ -- but it's far more likely it came as a result of writing the additional pages that are in the new copy of Mister Babadook that appears on her doorstep post-shredding. The explanation for why we don't actually see any of this on screen can be explained by the fact that The Babadook is exclusively told from Amelia's perspective, and her hyper-emotional state makes her an unreliable narrator.
While the identity of the author of the book is the more subtle clue regarding the identity of Mister Babadook, the more substantial validation is the relationship between Amelia and Sam in relation to Amelia's dead husband, and the structure of Amelia's arc in the movie. It's bad enough that Sam is insanely clingy, has no brain/mouth filter, and is both obsessed with and terrified by monsters, but he also happens to be a living breathing reminder of his mother's loss, being born on the same day that Oskar was killed in a car crash. This day winds up driving all of the events in the film going forward, as Amelia's narrative closely resembles the Five Stages of Grief. Her loss leads her to ignore reality (isolating her to a life with just her son), lash out in anger, lose hope, and even bargain with the Babadook for the life of her child.
In the end, it's thankfully recognized that infanticide is never the answer, and final scenes of The Babadook provide all of the finishing clues needed to recognize exactly what kind of monster the Babadook is. Not only does the conclusion finally feature Amelia standing up to her demon and staring it down (a.k.a. acceptance), but the epilogue demonstrates how much her life has improved now that she has learned to manage her deep inner pain. She herself can recognize the spirit of Oskar in Sam, and has even reached a point where she is fine with her son celebrating his birthday on his actual day of birth. It's not all peaches and cream, as the emotional nature of the day does make her feel the need to literally feed the monster that is dwelling deep within her house -- but Mister Babadook a.k.a. Amelia's intense grief is under control and her relationship with Samuel improves, and that's really what matters.
What The Director Says
In the last section, what you read is my personal reading of The Babadook - which is unquestionably one of my favorite horror films of all time, and one that I've breathlessly watched multiple times. As much as I love the film, and as much as I've studied it, however, at the end of the day the most interesting view on the finale of any movie is going to be the director's. Fortunately for us, Jennifer Kent has spoken in interviews about her own interpretation of the conclusion, and what she was specifically trying to get across with the end of her script.
When The Babadook was finally finding its way into American theaters at the end of 2014, Jennifer Kent did an interview with The Dissolve, and within the conversation not only discussed her thoughts on grief being the ultimate monster in the movie, but also that she had to fight for her personal vision of the ending. It seems that the writer/director was getting a lot of notes about it being important for Amelia to kill the Babadook... but that was something which she had absolutely zero interest in doing -- to the extent that she was willing to walk away from the project entirely. Said Kent,
We had many people fight the ending. I had to really defend that ending. To be perfectly honest, if I had to have killed that thing I wouldn't have made the film. You can't kill the monster, you can only integrate it. Even with Amelia, she can't ever forget that her husband was killed in a car crash, that will never go away. So yeah, it's the most crucial thing, to keep that thing alive on some level. I recently heard Russell Brand talk about addiction, and he was saying that it's every day, it's every day... I'm fortunate enough not to be in that kind of place, but every human being goes through that on some level.
To start with the obvious: killing off the Babadook would have been an absolutely terrible mistake, and Jennifer Kent absolutely did the right thing in defending her script to those who would have preferred to see it change. Surely the note-givers were purely thinking about audience satisfaction -- as movie-goers always want to see the hero defeat evil by the time the credits start to roll, but that's just not the movie that Kent has made. To go back to the point I was making earlier, you can't actually get rid of grief after a devastating ordeal; you can only try and find some way to make your relationship with it livable and not let it ruin your life.
Continuing this point, Jennifer Kent's comparison to addiction is a rather astute one. While Amelia isn't exactly deriving any kind of pleasure from her perpetual mourning, it has become such a big part of her life that it has basically swallowed the entire thing whole. Her only way to defeat it is to recognize it as a damaging part of herself, and seek a way to fix it. Much in the same way that an alcoholic never stops being an alcoholic, Amelia will never completely be over Oskar's death, but she can find a way to rebound from it.
Do your opinions match up with mine and Jennifer Kent's on the ending of The Babadook, or did your watching of the film lead you to a different conclusion? We'd love to hear your thoughts, so please head down to the comments section below!