Wednesday, May 4, 2011
The Baby (1973)
This is Monster Mommies Week! All this week we'll spotlight some of the cruelest, meanest, and scariest cinematic mothers.
The Baby (1973)
seen online via YouTube
There's a website (which I won't dignify with a link) that's dedicated to the elimination of the "r-word" from the English language, the word in question being retard. I've always believed that when we hide behind potentially harmful words with euphemisms, we give those words far more power over us than they deserve, and we make genuine communication that much more difficult. That said, when I heard the word "retarded" used to describe the title character in The Baby, it still shocked me for a moment. It was used in the purely clinical sense, meant to describe Baby's medical condition and not as an insult, but it still seemed surprising and yes, even anachronistic, to hear him referred to this way. Decades of politically correct brainwashing have had their effect, it seems.
The Baby is another movie I discovered through the horror site Kindertrauma and it was a very pleasant surprise. Ruth Roman, a veteran TV actress who was in, among other films, Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, plays Baby's mother and she dominates the film. Physically, Baby is a young adult, perhaps 18-21 years old, but developmentally, he's still an infant, incapable of speech or even walking upright. His mother and two adult sisters take care of him. A social worker assigned to the family determines that Baby needs a better environment in order to progress, and so begins a tug-of-war between the two women over who should have full custody of Baby.
Roman's character, Mrs. Wadsworth, reminded me of an old Bill Cosby line from his stand-up days. In talking about parenting, Cosby says that little children are "false advertising:" they're great fun when they're little, all cute and playful and totally devoted to you, but then they grow up! In this case, Mrs. Wadsworth gets the best of both worlds, in a sense. In one scene, she more or less admits as much to a group of her friends. She says something like how other parents might consider dealing with Baby a burden, but she doesn't. In that moment, she speaks of Baby with such genuine tenderness and love, and Roman completely sells it. Watching her, you forget that her love for Baby causes her to do some cruel things to anyone who tries to come between them. An unfortunate babysitter provides one example early in the film.
I'm not a parent, but I can see how this could, on some level, be a kind of wish fulfillment fantasy. To have a child's unconditional love, untainted by the changes time and exposure to the wider world inevitably make, forever, has to have some appeal to a parent, particularly to a new or recent one. When I was about 12 or 13, I was a counselor-in-training at a summer day camp, and I met a girl, a camper, perhaps three or four years younger, who developed an unusual fixation on me. She actually thought of me as a surrogate father, though I couldn't begin to tell you why. It goes without saying, perhaps, that she had some major issues. Still, though, a part of me liked being in that position, difficult as it was (and boy, was it difficult), and I felt as if I would've done anything to protect her.
The Baby has the feel of a horror movie in places, but I'm not sure if it should be considered one. There is violence and murder, but it comes in relatively small doses and doesn't dominate the overall story. Most of the fear and tension comes from other sources. For instance, one of the more disturbing aspects is the sexual tension. Baby may act like an infant, but he has the body of an adult man, and more than one woman in the story responds to that, even though Baby himself is incapable of initiating any sexual activity. When the majority of the violence comes, it ends up twisting all your conceptions about the characters completely upside down, leaving you with a shocker of an ending. I know I didn't see it coming.
Previously on Monster Mommies Week: