Yesterday I exercised my Mother’s Day rights and suggested to The Boyfriend and The Kid that we go see the movie Babies. They obliged. We had seen the trailer a couple of times in the past few months and thought it looked pretty cute. Indeed it was. I loved this movie for so many reasons. Read on if you don’t care about spoiler alerts. Although, in reality, there isn’t much to spoil here, we all know that babies grow up, it’s how they are raised that was the really interesting part.
The documentary tells the story of the first year or so of life of four babies living in very different parts of the world: Mari in Japan, Hattie in San Francisco, Ponjaio in Namibia, and Bayar in Mongolia. We were a little worried that there would be some heavy birthing action we would have to explain to The Kid, what with four babies being the focus of the movie and all, but thankfully there was nothing too far beyond her tender six years.
I’ve heard tell and read in a few blogs that there are some folks out there who saw Babies and really thought it was a below average film, and to that I have to say: maybe they missed something, or maybe it can be chalked up to different strokes for different folks. And different is the operative word here. While Babies follows Mari, Hattie, Ponjaio, and Bayar throughout the similarities of their first year; first words, first crawls, first walks, family pets, interaction with other kids, etc., the movie is really all about differences. While the four babies may have had very similar experiences in utero, at least in terms of physical environment, after they are brought into the world; the similarity of their lives pretty much comes to an abrupt stop.
The differences go well beyond the obvious. Ponjaio lives in a hut in a very small village, surrounded by a ton of other kids who don’t wear shoes or much in the way of clothes, while Hattie lives in one of the most expensive cities in the country, if not the world, in a house with a rooftop hot tub.
Mari and Hattie are only children whose parents seem to have a lot of spare time, maybe they work from home or don’t work at all, you can’t really tell; while Bayar has an older sibling who constantly tortures him and parents who are farmers and appear to be working most of the time.
Ponjaio may have several siblings; it’s a little difficult to tell because there seem to be many moms and kids interacting but not a father to be seen. And there are obviously differences in technology, Mari and Hattie are raised with every modern convenience, Bayar lives in a yurt with solar panels and a satellite dish, while Ponjaio’s village doesn’t appear to be modernized at all.
But beyond these obvious differences, there is what I perceive as an underlying social commentary. The movie is so much more a contrast of societies than it is about cute babies. The extreme cuteness is just a bonus that comes along with a much larger message.
Watching Ponjaio lick rocks and roll around in the dirt with not a bathtub in sight made the germophobe in me cringe. His toys were what Americans consider recyclables: tin cans, dirty discarded water bottles, etc. However, what made me cringe with equal distaste were the baby yoga and kum-by-yah classes that Mari and Hattie’s parents presumably paid money to take their kids to learn how to… what exactly? Thankfully Hattie had the good sense to run for the door during a particularly hippy dippy earth mother class with her dad. Best scene of the film, hands down.
I guess what I’m getting at, and here’s where I get on my soapbox, is that we make so many things into must-haves. Baby swings, jumpers, strollers of all kinds, baby gates, toys by the millions, baby classes… how much do babies really need? Probably next to none of it. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way ready to go raise my next kid in a hut in Namibia. But the day I need to enroll my 10 month old in a class to learn how to lay on her stomach and put her arms out at her sides in the airplane pose, you can have me committed. I have more imagination than that.
The other huge contrast in the lives of the four babies was safety. It amazed me that what in Namibia or Mongolia was seemingly a perfectly safe practice, would result Child Protective Services knocking on your door in America. While I do think that American parents are a wee bit overprotective in many situations, I don’t think I’d shave my kids head with a kitchen knife, or tie him to the bedpost on a leash while I go out to feed the yaks. Strangulation hazard? I think so.
Like I said, this movie is all about differences. But the beauty in that is that, at least for me, it made me think about what we really need to raise our kids well, and where we indulge in complete excess. I’m convinced there is a happy medium between Hattie’s life and Ponjaio’s life, and I think I’ll be doing my Kid, and myself, a good service by finding it.