I’m not sure, but I think that Babies is the only movie this year that I’ve already seen three times. (Movies I’ve seen twice include Inception and Iron Man 2, the latter of which arrives on DVD today.) The first time was my initial screening. After it opened, I brought my whole family to see it in the theater—and we were joined by friends from church—another family with six kids, so there were sixteen of us in all. (We were easily the majority of people in the theater.) And last week I received an advance DVD screener, and my whole family sat down and watched it again. (My second viewing of Iron Man 2 was also via advance screener, watching with Suzanne, who hadn’t seen it in theaters. Suz sees a lot of movies that way.)
Over three viewings, certain images stand out more and more. Some of my favorite moments highlight eye-opening cross-cultural differences, such as the newly postpartum Mongolian mother with newborn Bayar in her arms straddling her husband’s motorcycle behind him for the journey from the clinic back to their yurt. Others are universally recognizable experiences that are the same for grown-ups and babies all over the world, such as sleepy Ponijao in Africa being repeatedly jerked away by her own nodding head. Of course Balmes often contrasts one image with another, the highlight being the intercutting between Bayar’s delight at getting his mitts on a roll of toilet paper and Mari in Japan’s despairing tantrum over her frustration with blocks. At one point she picks up a book, trying to distract herself, but the problem with the blocks has made the sun dark in her eyes, to borrow a Calormene idiom, and for the moment nothing can be right.
The Californian family has been felt by many to be seen in a somewhat critical light. This may not be entirely fair. A New-Agey faux Native American ditty at an infant music class is not one of American culture’s finer moments, but after all the mother isn’t selecting the music (and the image of little Hattie running for the door is pretty funny). I wince a little when Hattie smacks her mother, and her mother’s response is to show her a book called “No Hitting.” Then there’s the shot of Hattie with a banana handing her father peel after peel, and then a bite that she has chewed, taken out of her mouth, put back in her mouth, and then removed again. If Bayar didn’t want to eat something, he might spit it out, but somehow I don’t imagine him expecting his parents to reach out their hands to take the rejected bite.
I love these lines from my friend Jeff Overstreet’s review of Babies:
If more artists would take children seriously in their work, depicting a world in which all human beings—older than 40, younger than 4—are created equal, we might begin to see children treated with greater care and compassion. We might be more careful with the world they’ll inherit. And we might be humbler, remembering just how dependent we were, once upon a time. We might realize that we will be dependent again on these rising generations, who will determine the shape of the world in which we’ll grow old.
But let’s face it: It’s easy to disregard what remains unseen. It’s easy to stop believing that human beings, in the earliest stages, out of sight and out of mind, are of any consequence.
Babies is rated PG for “cultural and maternal nudity throughout.” In other words, it is about families made up of people who have bodies. If your children have bodies, and are aware that other people do too, I see no real reason they can’t see this movie. I wrote more about this in “Don’t Have a Cow, Man!”
Babies is one of the year’s most delightful films. It arrives today on DVD.