The “taboo” subject of women who regret having children is rarely discussed. While there’s still great social disapprobation toward women who express such sentiments in the public sphere, one area where they’re able to openly explore notions of regret, terror, and aversion toward motherhood is within the domain of the horror film. Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014) envisions motherhood as nightmare, raising the specter of regret and disidentification with mothering in a woman who is—at times—repulsed by her own child. Amelia finds herself increasingly alienated from the role of “mother” and from her son Samuel, who is at turns obnoxious, clingy, and downright strange.
Amelia is going through the motions, attempting to be the “Good Mother”. However, this is ultimately more performative than sincere. She takes no delight or pleasure in this role. Indeed, the mundanity and repetition of her existence speaks to a kind of drab monotony that is mirrored in the mise-en-scène with its grey, muted color scheme—a symbolic leeching of vibrancy and energy from Amelia’s life. However, when Amelia lies about Samuel being sick and leaves work to wander around a shopping mall, Kent temporarily returns her to an idealized time before motherhood. The high key lighting, shifting focus, and dreamy score make Amelia’s unhurried ambling (she has all the time in the world) and enjoyment of simple pleasures (an ice cream cone) a utopian dream compared to her dreary and exhausting daily routine of never-ending caregiving to others. Returning to the parking garage, Amelia is momentarily arrested by the sight of a couple kissing in another car, which she voyeuristically watches with naked longing. Her brief reprieve from her responsibilities as a mother all speak to a fantasy vision of the “time before” she became a mother when she could have romantic and sexual desires (it’s no coincidence Samuel interrupts her masturbating earlier in the film). Amelia’s longing for a return to the “time before” Samuel is about more than her grief and trauma over her husband’s death; it speaks to another type of grief—grief over her own loss of self.