We have been on the road a lot lately. Amid the usual hustle and bustle, I finally had a chance to watch the movie “Babies” the other day, and if you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it. “Babies” is a French documentary which follows the first year in the lives of four little ones: Bayar in Mongolia, Hattie in the US, Ponijao in Namibia and Mari in Japan.
The film is a babies’-eye view of the world, and while the scenes are quiet and poetic, they give a profound and sometimes oblique glimpse into an infant’s life–both in general, and in the particular communities portrayed.
The film certainly shows some cultural differences in the ways that babies are raised: Ponijao the Namibian baby and Bayar the Mongolian child had considerably more freedom to roam, to taste dirt, and to fraternize with the cow herds, compared with the American and Japanese kids whose lives are clearly more managed. But more striking to me were the similarities between these four children’s experiences, in particular the intense intimacy that infants have with those around them during their first year. Of course, I know this personally, as I have children and Felix is now 6 months old, but it was actually a bit shocking to me the degree to which I recognized myself and my family and all of us humans, in this portrayal. (I was struck too, by how much Horus and Treva’s first months resembled the Namibian child’s life over the American’s. One of Horus’ favourite stories is of how he learned to walk when he was nine months old, at our old Little River Anagama, the 27 foot-long kiln built in the middle of the woods on a steep incline surrounded by rocks. We lived out there that summer, and Horus was naked the whole time, let loose to crawl over the mud and the rocks while we fired the kiln, with breaks down at the river to cool off…)
What I also found quite wonderful about the film is the degree to which these simple scenes–the child lies with his mother, the child looks at the cat, the child gets teased by an older brother–are absolutely riveting. I am fortunate to be among those who really appreciate and understand how brilliant, wise, magical, hilarious and fascinating babies are, and this film seems to understand the profundity and magic of babies and presents it unadorned, in all its profane, poopy, glory. “Babies” does what so many films do *not*do, which is to show some respect (a lot of respect and sensitivity, in fact) to infants, with lightness, and humour. In popular films and tv, babies are a prop, or the butt of a joke, or representative of crisis. It was quite poignant to be given time, onscreen, to ponder the unfolding of these new people.
I was a little concerned at first that there would be material here that I would find upsetting, the way that I am compelled to turn off or drop out of any movie or book that has anything to do with pregnancy or birth, due to my countercultural convictions on these subjects (!!). And there were a few things that I did find really hard to take in “Babies”. In one early scene in which we see the emergence during the birth process, the baby is violently assaulted by a syringe/suction within seconds of being born, a standard form of infant-abuse that occurs constantly in obstetrics units all over the world, which I find incredibly disturbing. In another scene, the American baby, Hattie, is shown dangling from a doorframe in a jolly jumper. Her mother is preparing food in the kitchen. Hattie doesn’t seem particularly unhappy, she seems fine…She just floats there. Alone, and out of the context of the mother, the family, the everything happening. The scene speaks ambivalent volumes, I thought.
Although I adored the quietude of the film, and the lack of jibber jabber, I was also quite surprised by how little it seemed to me that the mothers spoke directly to their children. But then, I often feel that I am somewhat out there in my assumption that from the moment of birth, my children possess the entirety of language and comprehension within them, and that I can be free to speak to them as fully formed individuals, which I do. No, my children are actually not brilliant over and above the average kid, but they do have a mother who talks constantly. Lucky!
In any case, “Babies” is an absolutely lovely movie, maybe my new favourite.
Here are my most recent resolutions:
14. Media fast. I need to honour myself enough to take some space away from the news, sometimes. I have become a little worked up lately. Idle-no-more. Women fighting the man in India. The almost-daily parade of men-in-power whose proclivities towards abusing children is brought to light. Current affairs are somehow enticing and intoxicating and irrelevant and useless to me…So I have resolved to cut out all internet, newspapers, radio, everything, for one day a week. And of all of my resolutions, I think this might be the trickiest for me. How pathetic…
15. Say Your Prayers. Before bed. Such a beautiful habit. I do this with the kids, but I think it would probably do me some good, as well.
16. Make Your Husband Right. Lee has many flaws, as do I. Relationships are complicated. But when I can somehow hold on to the spirit of adoration in whose thrall I found myself when Lee and I first met, I am so much more readily able to soften towards his shortcomings. Lee’s strengths *are* overriding. Empathy & forgiveness.