Lily Hudson


QDoc offers true tales of tragedy & triumph

In its 10th year, the Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival scours the globe in search of diverse stories from the LGBTQ community.

In “Far From The Tree,” his nonfiction book about how families deal with intergenerational differences, the writer Andrew Solomon puts forth his theory of where we get our identities.

It goes like this: we are all made up of both vertical identities (the ethnic and national identities passed to us by our parents, like having dark skin, speaking French or being from Vermont) and horizontal identities (the identities that are unique to us and that we’ll never share with our parents, like a deaf person being born in a hearing family). Being a sexual or gender minority is a sterling example of a horizontal identity; queer people are born into every country, culture, religion and race on earth. Once they figure out who they might be, they must devise ways to find others like them and create a shared culture.


Thomas Phillipson sums up 15 years at the NW Filmmakers’ Fest

The man behind this week's 42nd annual Northwest Filmmaker's Festival says goodbye to Portland and talks about the festival

A Portland tradition since 1973, the Northwest Film Center’s Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival showcases regional work by filmmakers from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alaska, Idaho and Montana (those last three are technically part of the Northwest). As Regional Services Manager, Thomas Phillipson has been helming the fest since 2000, so he’s seen a lot of on-screen flannel. ArtsWatch writer Lily Hudson spent time with Phillipson to talk about the 42nd year of the festival (which opens Thursday, November 9 and runs through November 18), the newfound diversity of regional film and the despotic rule of the celebrity judge.


ArtsWatch: You’ve been with the NW Film Center a long time. This year’s 42nd Fest marks 15 years and 15 NWFests. What’s been the arc of regional film in your time with NWFC? How has it grown and changed?

Thomas Phillipson: It’s tough to place the development of the Northwest filmmaking community in an arc—it just keeps bubbling and changing all the time. Of course technology has democratized filmmaking, and the Film Center’s glib mission of “putting cameras in the hands of the people” gets quite a lot easier when you move from a 16mm Bolex camera to today’s whiz-bang equipment. You no longer need an army to make your film… or video… or digital media. That means that there can be fewer filters between the auteur and the audience. I’ve been pleased to watch and have tried to especially promote projects that feel like natural expressions of the people who made them, and each year I feel like I have more of these types of films to choose from.

Forty-two years ago, the Film Center was pretty much the only screen in town where you could find super-indy Northwest filmmakers’ work, but that’s just not the case any more. In the new world order of an explosion of content, the Film Center’s curatorial function is all the more important.

While it sounds elitist (because it is) the Film Center’s high curatorial bar lets filmmakers and their audiences know that what they see on our screens is carefully chosen. We strengthen the Film Center’s brand not for the sake of the Film Center, but to be in an optimal position to advocate for the filmmakers whose work is screened here.

Phillipson introduces a film at a previous year's NWFest. Photo by RL Potograpiya.

Phillipson introduces a film at a previous year’s NWFest. Photo by RL Potograpiya.

Does the Pacific Northwest film scene have a ‘personality’ or a way of looking at the world? Is there a perspective that characterizes films coming out of this region? Or themes that come up again and again?

I hesitate to suggest that there is a defining characteristic common to filmmakers living in the Northwest, because that might unfairly suggest that this work is somehow provincial and quaint, when it’s viable on any global standard that I would care about. I’ve looked and looked through the years for something to talk about that is quintessential in Northwest filmmaking, but the work is so varied that any summing up feels forced and exclusive.

Can you tell us a little about the features this year?

I am pleased with the diversity of our feature-length films this year, which might point to that arc you were asking about before. Northwest filmmakers are great at exploring their community, but I see more and more excellent features investigating the world outside the Northwest. We have several features shot overseas (CHRISTIANA: 40 YEARS OF OCCUPATION, DRAWING THE TIGER, MAKE MINE COUNTRY, WELCOME TO THE CIRCUS), as well as other important issue documentaries (ARRESTING POWER: RESISTING POLICE VIOLENCE IN PORTLAND, HADWIN’S JUDGEMENT, THE WAY WE TALK) and some well-told narrative pieces (BIRDS OF NEPTUNE, THE CURIO, DEATH ON A ROCK, SLACKJAW, THE TREE INSIDE) that are finding audiences all over the world. In the same day we are showing the latest work produced by our friends at NW Documentary, VOYAGERS WITHOUT TRACE, and an entirely hand-animated (in cut paper) WWII epic AND WE WERE YOUNG. I’m also quite looking forward to our screening of THE SANDWICH NAZI, a documentary portrait of a colorful, somewhat outrageous deli owner in Vancouver that is an extrapolation of a favorite short of the same name we screened a few NW Fests back.

The ‘shorts’ sections are broken into three themes: Fantasies and Diversions, Tracing Space and Intimate Portraits. How do you define these three themes?

Each year, the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival brings in a new guest judge who watches, selects and offers awards to a few gifted filmmakers (Roughly 10% of the films entered are selected). This year our judge was Steve Anker, who teaches at CalArts and has a long career in programming innovative and challenging work. Steve not only selected the short films this year, but also placed them into their three shorts programs guided by themes he saw in the work, hence the program titles.

Most years, the judges watch the films, tell me which ones they would like to include, and then I am left to place them into programs. I always like to make each shorts program as diverse as possible so any given audience will see a breadth of work being produced in the region. Then there’s the old mix-tape game of controlling the flow of mood throughout the program and also setting each film up to thrive in its position in the lineup. It’s always a delicious challenge for me and I missed not having the opportunity this year, but on the other hand, it’s great when a judge like Steve really digs into the project and goes one step further to solidify a point of view in the programming.

The advantage of the single judge system the NW Fest has stuck to all these years is that we end up with more adventurous programming than anything juried by a committee. The choices in the end are pointedly subjective; there’s no pretense that these are the only films that might have been selected for the festival this year, rather they are one highly regarded professional’s selections. So I’ll dodge your question because part of the fun of watching this year’s shorts programs is to think about how the individual films fit into Steve’s overarching, slightly enigmatic titles.

This is your last year working with the Film Center—any parting words? Hopes or dreams for the future of the NW Filmmakers’ Festival?

Yes, I am pulling up my deeply buried anchor and all the attached barnacles and setting sail for Germany without a clear idea of what comes next for me. There is a large part of me that is a little worried that I am leaving what could be the most rewarding work I will ever do. For me, the job has been first and foremost about getting to know and serve the filmmakers of this region. I have made so many dear, lifelong friends. As the old cliché goes, they have given me much, much more than I have given them. My dreams for the festival no longer have any currency but I look forward to my able and inspired replacement, the very talented filmmaker, Ben Popp, taking the Festival into new exciting directions.

There have been times over the last 15 years when I very selfishly thought of this Festival as my baby, but of course, it’s the Filmmakers’ Festival and its freshness and success relies on them much more than it ever did on me. It’s in great hands.

Thomas Phillipson will be at every screening for the 42nd Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival. All screenings are at Whitsell Auditorium located in the Portland Art Museum. Except for one film, which screens at the Skype Lounge. For more information, check the web site.

QDoc 9 is just around the corner. Every year, Portland’s own queer documentary film fest sets the bar high with a selection of films that do justice to the scope of LGBTQ experiences. Here are nine reasons to celebrate QDoc’s ninth year, beginning this Thursday, May 14th.

Tab Hunter Confidential

Tab Hunter Confidential

1. Almost every good-sized city boasts a queer film fest or two, but to attend another festival focused on LGBTQ documentaries, you’d need airfare to Bucharest (that’s right, Portland’s got the only one in the Western hemisphere).

2.Now that it’s at the Hollywood Theatre instead of Kennedy School, you no longer have to navigate around sluggish clumps of meandering hotel guests to get to your movie. The adventurous programming style of the Hollywood is a perfect match for QDoc, and I hope it’s the beginning of a long  partnership.

3. Like a great episode of 30 for 30, the opening night doc Game Face pries out the kernel of humanity that animates professional sports. It brings a swell to the hearts of even those of us who can’t be persuaded to care about athletics. (For those of you who do, former NBA star Jason Collins will be at the opening night.)


Russ Gage and Daivd Weissman. Photo by Alicia Rose Photography.

4. Co-Programmer David Weissman happens to be a talented documentarian himself with two great films under his belt: We Were Here and The Cockettes. He and festival collaborator Russ Gage have an eye for the offbeat and strike a nice balance between the serious and the entertaining.

5. The super-funky We Came To Sweat: The Legend of Starlite calls for a playlist of its very own.

6. QDoc is always rich with profiles of art and cultural figures. This year, a novelist/figment, a hollywood hunk, an overlooked artist and a post-modern dance maven are in the mix.

7. QDoc cares about the kids: anyone age 23 or younger can get into films free of charge. E-mail to reserve free tickets.

8. Directors are in attendance for almost every film, so all burning questions can and will be answered. (Let’s all remember to be on our best Q&A behavior.)

The Year We Thought About Love

The Year We Thought About Love

9. It’s a special thing to watch films about secret histories in a public space. You find yourself watching a story unfold surrounded by people who lived through it. My fondest memory of a QDoc past: watching Lesbiana, a film about ’70s-era lesbian separatists, with a delighted audience of grandmotherly older women and getting a hint of their radical pasts.

QDoc 2015: The Cult of JT LeRoy and Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer

Now in its ninth year, QDoc: the Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival begins May 14th. Lily Hudson highlights two films from its 2015 lineup.

QDoc: the Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival is always a great place to look for films about the lives of artists. Here are two films from the upcoming fest that I especially enjoyed. Both films mingle the personal and the political; one deals with the controversies that can arise around the identity of the artist, and the other explores how an artist’s understanding of their sexuality shapes their work and worldview.


Frightened, feral, fragile: the truth about JT LeRoy

In 2000, when JT LeRoy’s first novel was published, he became a sensation, in part because of a personal backstory as arresting as his gritty prose. A teen prodigy, ravaged by an abusive upbringing, suicidal and living on the streets of San Francisco, finds solace in art. He writes two tremendous volumes of heartfelt autobiographical fiction. They give him a voice, skyrocketing him to worldwide acclaim and granting him all the love, attention and esteem he was tragically denied growing up. It’s an irresistible story, except for the fact that it wasn’t true.

Marjorie Sturm’s The Cult of JT LeRoy chronicles one of the most charged literary scandals in recent memory. Like pop star Sia, JT LeRoy claimed to be afflicted with crippling stage fright that led him to hide his face. So celebrities stepped in to read publicly on his behalf: a JT LeRoy reading sparkled with stars, from literary luminaries like Mary Gaitskill and Sharon Olds to film faces like Carrie Fisher and Ben Foster. Many of these celebrities, as well as literary agents, publishers and editors, formed relationships with JT through long e-mail and phone correspondences. Many of the interviewees express feelings of wishing to “nurture,” “heal” or “mother” this wounded young man.

But Jeremy Terminator LeRoy was not, in fact, a wounded young man. In 2005, amidst a film option deal and concern over LeRoy’s HIV-positive status, it was revealed that he was the fiction of a writer named Laura Albert, a woman in her 30s. The backlash was enormous and filled with fury. To many people, Albert is the embodiment of all the ugliest parts of an artist’s ego, or the naked ambition for fame which is the antithesis of true art. Once a beacon of recognition and hope for queer street youth, LeRoy’s work now felt like a plundering of their lived experiences, appropriated by a more advantaged adult for her own purposes.

Laid out with true-crime suspense, The Cult touches on many things: the intoxicating effects of celebrity, the myth of the Jean Genet/William S. Burroughs-style abject genius, the power of a shared delusion, the mechanics of manipulation, the line between creativity and dishonesty.

Sturm’s even-handed treatment of the material doesn’t rest at the easy villainization of Albert; it acknowledges the literary craze for sensational stories like LeRoy’s, and the bias against older writers, especially women, that hinders them from advancing in their careers. After all, if Albert had presented her book as pure fiction by a first-time novelist in her 30s, would it have gained any traction? Seeing past the crafty and conniving surface, Sturm wisely delves deeper into questioning Albert’s motivations for making the choices she did.

Yvonne Rainer

Yvonne Rainer

Choreography as theory: Yvonne Rainer and postmodern dance

Jack Walsh’s documentary Feelings are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer begins with a dance: Trio A. In footage from 1978, Rainer performs her own 1966 choreography, now considered a hallmark example of postmodern dance. It feels casual, improvisational, fragmented, not defined by physical virtuosity but by small, modest movements. It subverts the body’s “natural” inclinations at every turn. If the body naturally wants to step out of a particular phrase, Trio A drives it to collapse; if the body wants to move swiftly through a gesture, Trio A deliberately slows it. A dancer in Yvonne’s company describes it as “choreography as theory” and “a leveling of Western Dance history.”

Rainer moved from San Francisco to New York in the ‘50s, immersing herself in a cultural scene that included her dance mentors, Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham. She helped form Judson Dance Theater, an avant-garde company devoted to post-modern dance choreography that surprised audiences with unexpected combinations of pedestrian movements and prosaic props. In one piece, they sandwich themselves between a chair and a pillow. In another, they drag and flip unwieldy mattresses with great effort (viewed today, the piece instantly calls up Carry That Weight, the senior art thesis that drew attention to sexual assault on college campuses).

A rigorous examination of her career trajectory, Feelings are Facts also charts Rainer’s gradual understanding of her own feminism and queerness. A tempestuous seven-year relationship with artist Robert Morris led her from dance into filmmaking. Her films from the ‘70s and ‘80s are theory-heavy, highly-politicized works focusing on topics like the activities of the Baader-Meinhof Group and Mulveyian critiques of cinematic structure (if it sounds dated, don’t worry, it is – as a filmmaker she is very much of her intellectual era). In 1996, she came out with MURDER and murder, a surprisingly conventional narrative feature about a lesbian couple who deal with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Lauded for handling grave subject matter with humor and levity, it was also an autobiographical story about her own life with her partner, Martha.

Her career, and the documentary, are bookended by dance; in 2000, she gave up filmmaking to return to choreography. The affecting final scene shows Rainer, now in her ‘70s, with a crew cut and a single breast visible through her t-shirt, going through the familiar motions of Trio A: small, modest, fragmented movements.

The Cult of JT LeRoy screens Sat, May 16th, at 8:30pm at the Hollywood Theater. Feelings are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer screens Sun, May 17th, at 4:30pm also at the Hollywood. Visit for more info.

Where sound meets vision

Eric Isaacson's Mississippi Records Music and Film Series unites the music film with live performance

Pick an art form, any art form: Eric Isaacson could give you an enlightening, hilarious impromptu lecture on it. The proprietor of the Mississippi Records store and its accompanying record label is an encyclopedia of cultural knowledge; music, yes, everything about music, but also visual art, literature, film, and all their cross-disciplinary fringes. Last year, the Hollywood Theatre wisely tapped his labyrinthine brain for the Mississippi Records Music and Film Series, a monthly event curated and hosted by Isaacson.

On January 22, the series kicked off its second year of programming with a screening of the 2004 documentary, Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story, a profile of Portland’s most venerated grassroots punk band.


Mississippi Records Music and Film Series poster

In their day, Dead Moon (husband and wife team Fred and Toody Cole, plus drummer Andrew Loomis) was popular in the Pacific Northwest, but cultishly adored in Europe, where they were fervently embraced by the European festival scene as emblematic of a certain breed of fiercely individualistic, self-determined American artist. As an Austrian rock journalist explains in a broken English interview in the documentary, “No one who wants Dead Moon can buy Dead Moon.” They chose against affiliating themselves with an outside label – ever. Fred and Toody live in a rambling self-built house in the wilds of Clackamas. They infamously cut their own LPs on an ancient, precarious record lathe once owned by the Kingsmen.

The film, by Kate Fix and Jason Summers, explores the multifaceted musical career of two artists for whom ‘against the grain’ is a massive understatement. It’s the unlikely journey of four decades of Portland-based rock devotion, chronicling Fred’s roots as teenage rocker ‘Deep Soul Cole,’ to decades of psych/garage/bubblegum band involvement, to founding Dead Moon with Toody in the ‘80s as they both edged up on their 40th birthdays. By their own admission, they missed the Summer of Love – they were too busy homesteading and raising a passel of kids. When the kids were grown, they dove back into music, embracing stripped-down punk rock and the touring life. One of the most impressive things about Fred and Toody is how deftly they defy expectations about advancing age. As another European fan says in labored English, “They give me hope about being old. Because they are old, but they are still cool.”


Toody rocks.

It’s also the tale of Toody’s inspiring transition from the stay-at-home wife of a rocker, to a reluctant stand-in bassist, to a musical force in her own right. A longtime friend describes her timidity on the stage in the early days of Dead Moon (and its precursor band, the Rats). But in Unknown Passage’s present-day footage, Toody out-Patti Smiths Patti Smith as a savage punk rock priestess, with a wiry frame, a snarl of dark hair and mesmerizing stage presence.

And finally, it’s a love story. Married couples are not exactly uncommon in rock, but it feels special to see creative chemistry that flourishes unabated over decades. Watching Fred and Toody, I was put in mind of another punk rock power couple: Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of the Cramps. Like the Cramps, Dead Moon lays its foundations on a lifelong love affair chiseled out of the living rock of art and performance. The Coles stand out as a pair of freaks whose freakishness completes one another, who fan one another’s creative flames into a towering inferno. Post-screening, they took the stage for a mellow two-person set, plucking highlights from their 40-odd years of musical collaboration to a sold-out crowd.


Isaacson – photo by Jill Samish

I talked to Eric about his abiding love of Dead Moon, his plans for future installments of the Mississippi Records Film and Music Series, and his mainstream movie tastes:


REVIEW: Twenty-first Century Morocco

Through the lens of an outsider, 'Exit Marrakech' explores Morocco, warts and all.

His boarding school friends get to vacation in Italy and Spain. Teenaged Ben (Samuel Schneider) is disappointed that he’s being dragged to Morocco, where his theatre director father Heinrich (Ulrich Tukur) is staging a German play.

Director Caroline Link won the 2001 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film with Nowhere in Africa, about German Jewish refugees relocated to Kenya in the 1930s. Exit Marrakech is in a similar vein, transporting a privileged German boy to a world that he finds alien, alluring and dangerous. In the process, it explores the tension between old and new that colors daily Moroccan life: the city versus the country, modern versus traditional, the persistence of ethnic culture versus influences of the West.DSC_4966His father is absorbed with work, and so Ben wanders the streets alone, eventually heading to a nightclub where he meets a prostitute named Karima (Hafsia Herzi). There’s a spark of romance and they begin a ginger friendship. He follows her back to her village of origin, where he finds that she lives in a traditional Berber community. In the city she wears sequined skirts and lets her black hair tumble down her back; at home she covers up in a headscarf and layers of figure-obscuring shirts and tunics.

Ben goes native and buys a long, loose kaftan-style shirt to replace his Oxford button-up. A fellow prostitute friend of Karima’s mocks Western appetites for the clichés of North African exoticism, teasingly saying to Ben, “Your name is Muhammed Tagine, and my name is Fatima Couscous.” The film makes multiple references to the writer Paul Bowles, who was enamored of Morocco. Here he’s a symbol of how Moroccan culture is strained through the perspective of a white outsider. Heinrich reads a Bowles novel by the pool as they lounge at their opulent hotel. Later, Ben and his guide discuss local sites featured in Bertolucci’s 1990 film The Sheltering Sky, adapted from a novel by Bowles.exitmarrakech3There’s a back-and-forth between happy participation and turning its nose up at Western fetishization of the exotic Orient. At times, they loll on plush carpets strewn with brass teapots and torn chunks of bread; at other times, startling displays of human abjection jolt us out of the fantasy. Ben sees decrepit beggars cadging for food, and a mentally ill woman sequestered behind a barred window. (“Don’t stand there too long,” warns his guide. “She’ll spit.”) But it’s also modern-day Marrakech: camels share the roads with ATVs, and you can rent a snowboard to surf down the desert dunes.

That’s one half of the plot of Exit Marrakech. The other is concerned with the uneasy relationship between Ben and Heinrich. The Moroccan countryside ends up being a proving ground where the distant father and son size each other up: they verbally spar and experiment with emotional intimacy, talking about sex and learning more about one another. But the connection is volatile: they go quickly from candid chats over a shared joint to open-handed slaps across the face. It’s a bumpy road to being a happy family again.

Link’s narrative seems easily distracted, and as a result the film’s messages can feel diluted, but it’s very beautiful to watch. The appreciation for the powerful natural vistas of Morocco, and all the compelling corners of urban Marrakech, make the film feel like a picture postcard with a not-entirely-sunny message jotted on the back.

Exit Marrakech premiers Wednesday, January 14th at the Clinton Street Theater, as part of a monthly German language film series presented by Zeitgeist Northwest. All films are subtitled in English.

The Babadook is real

The emotional resonance of Jennifer Kent's new horror film gives it the power to do more than just scare.

(Note: this article contains spoilers for the plot of The Babadook)

In a house stunted by an old tragedy, a boogeyman comes a-knocking. He’ll make you afraid to go to sleep. And you can’t get rid of him…

After the untimely death of her husband several years ago, Amelia has had to raise their son Samuel alone. The boy is unhappy, acting out at school and anxiously preoccupied with monsters. One night, there appears in the house a mysterious picture book about a sinister visitor called “Mister Babadook,” who dresses all in black, with a top hat and a masklike face. Reading the book kickstarts a nightly campaign of terror that leaves them both tormented by fear and sleep deprivation, teetering on the edge of sanity.


A debut feature from writer/director Jennifer Kent, The Babadook is a horror triumph: story-driven, emotionally mature, vulnerable without sentimentality, unconventional but still firmly rooted in its genre. It’s rich in genre tropes but doles them out carefully, like Tarot cards that can unlock hidden meanings. William Friedkin, the director of the The Exorcist, has championed Kent’s film as a new classic to shelve beside the likes of Psycho and Alien. It’s playing now at the Hollywood and Living Room theaters and on VOD.

All the greatest horror films exist on two planes simultaneously. The monster is at once dangerously present and unmistakably symbolic. Kent understands this, and tilts her story on the ambiguity – what, exactly, are we watching? A troubled child acting out? The unraveling of a mentally unstable woman? Or is the creature real? The danger certainly is. Kent seems deeply indebted to the superlative horror trilogy of Roman Polanski, including Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant and Repulsion. In his films, mental illness is always a possible explanation for the ordeal of his heroines, but a misguided and insufficient one.


I find Polanski’s horror films deeply feminist. His notorious crime is all the more painful to consider when you appreciate the depth and sensitivity with which he portrays his female characters. Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby and Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion are women who shoulder abuse and exploitation, whose sanity is called into question by their peers but whose struggle is championed by the filmmaker. Even The Tenant, which stars Polanski himself, takes up the theme of a woman without allies, who is twisted and warped by her poisonous surroundings. The Babadook’s weary Amelia (Essie Davis) is a perfect Polanski-style heroine: pleasant and deferent on the surface, while cracking under the pressure of bearing much more than she should have to. Davis’ wide-ranging, fully embodied performance swings back and forth from fragile to vicious.

Pacing will make or break any film, but none moreso than horror. The Babadook simmers long on a very low flame. Like The Tenant, the first quarter or so of the film is staunchly non-supernatural, concerned only with the mundane misery of the protagonist. Amelia lives her life without extra money or romantic companionship or a creative outlet. Poverty and isolation are their own horror stories. Madness is drizzled in gradually, tinting the narrative until the whole screen is saturated.

The complete universe of mother and child is contained within their home, and most of the film’s action unfurls between three floors of a cold, gray-toned house. As things become more desperate, the house begins to crumble under the stress, the wallpaper peeling back to reveal a fissure in the drywall. Polanski fans will remember the chilling scene in the The Tenant when Trelkovsky finds a horrible souvenir from the previous renter: a human tooth tucked in a wall crevice. Like Trelkovsky, Amelia and Samuel are held captive not in their home, but by their home, and by the hypnotic draw of the history contained there. What is that history? When the monster begins to haunt Amelia with mirages of her late husband, the pieces fall into place: the Babadook is made of grief. Grief on its own is not deadly, but grief that goes unprocessed for too long (her husband’s death was seven years ago) ferments into something else, savage and frightening and unrecognizable.

When you think of a family held prisoner by the past, The Shining comes to mind. The Babadook has something else in common with Kubrick’s film: the haunting spectre of child abuse. Both films dive deep into the harrowing fear that plagues those who are dependent, that your caretaker could someday be your terrorizer. But in The Babadook, it’s the mother, not the father, who becomes dangerous.

The Babadook taps into the primal dread of a beast: the mother who harms her own children. Or who simply fears that she might. Like Rosemary’s Baby, it distorts dreams of maternal bliss into nightmares: as Rosemary’s Baby makes pregnancy into a hellish, energy-sapping disease, The Babadook presents motherhood as a yoke instead of a gift. Samuel’s volatility and aggressive behavior are too much for Amelia, who yearns for respite from the exhausting duty of being his mother.

Kent gives voice to some raw taboos about the ways that motherhood can fail women – the promised joy of parenting can’t distract Amelia from the void left by the loss of her husband, and at her most monstrous, possessed by the Babadook, she growls at her son, “Do you know how many times I wish you had died instead of him?” What’s truly horrifying about this statement is its honesty.

In one particularly gruesome sequence, Babadook-Amelia reaches into her own mouth and twists out a bloody tooth, the tooth that has ached all through the film (it has to be a hidden homage to The Tenant). Once he inhabits her, the Babadook insists that she do something to ease her own pain. Perhaps he is good for something, after all. The psychological lesson of the film is about the futility and danger of denying your painful emotions. It hurts terribly to confront grief, but the alternative, ignoring it, is much more perilous. And when it comes to mourning, temporarily becoming a monster may be part of the process.

Finally, you can’t get rid of the Babadook, you can only find a way to get along with him.

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