From Toni Morrison’s Jazz

I was going through my old journal, to realize that today four years ago, I was very busy trying to think of my wedding vow. I tentatively concluded to read a passage from Toni Morrison’s novel Jazz. I copied it on my journal, therefore, thinking that I would later personalize it. The matter of fact is that I did not read any wedding vow at my wedding. First, I was overwhelmed by so many miscellaneous things to be taken care of right before the wedding, and second, I was not sure how my guests would respond to the passage of my choice. I was afraid that they thought the passage was too dark for a wedding. To me, however, this is a much more powerful, eloquent message of love than saying I love you “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” (By the way, many people understand Toni Morrison as a writer who focuses on racial problems in America. She is, but at the same time, she is an amazing poet of love. I can’t believe that not many people know this. She writes so many passages of love to caress and to wretch my heart. More about this later…) I hope my husband reads my belated wedding vow.

Duchess of Marlborough

Duchess of Marlborough

He needs courage for that, but he has it. He has the courage to do what Duchesses of Marlborough do all the time: relinquish being an adored bud clasping its future, and dare to open wide, to let the layers of its petals go flat, show the cluster of stamens dead center for all to see.

…Not hating him is not enough; liking, loving him is not useful. I have to alter things. I have to be a shadow who wishes him well, like the smiles of the dead left over from their lives. I want to dream a nice dream for him, and another of him. Lie down next to him, a wrinkle in the sheet, and contemplate his pain and by doing so ease it, diminish it. I want to be the language that wishes him well, speaks his name, wakes him when his eyes need to be open. I want him to stand next to a well dug quite clear from trees so twigs and leaves will not fall into the deep water, and while standing there in shapely light, his fingertips on the rim of stone, his gaze at no one thing, his mind soaked and sodden with sorrow, or dry and brittle with the hopelessness that comes from knowing too little and feeling too much (so brittle, so dry he is in danger of the reverse: feeling nothing and knowing everything). There then, with nothing available but the soaking or the brittleness, not even looking toward the well, not aware of its mossy, unpleasant odor, or the little life that hovers at its rim, but to stand there next to it and from down in it, where the light does not reach, a collection of leftover smiles stirs, some brief benevolent love rises from the darkness and there is nothing for him to see or hear, and there is no reason to stay but he does. For the safety at first, then for the company. Then for himself – with a kind of confident, enabling, serene power that flicks like a razor and then hides. But he has felt it now, and it may come again. No doubt a lot of other things will come again: doubt will come, and things may seem unclear from time to time. But once the razor blade has flicked – he will remember it, and if he remembers it he can recall it. That is to say, he has it at his disposal.

Movie Review: The Babadook (2014)


I am not a big fan of horror movies. Not that I feel adverse to the genre itself, but I usually watch movies at night, and I am afraid that watching scary movies right before going to bed will lead to nightmares. But today, I decided to watch a movie in the middle of a day, and today was a gorgeous day with lots of sunshine, so here we go: The Babadook, a horror movie from Australia that arrived in North America last year to critical and public acclaim.

To say the conclusion first, I found The Babadook a really, really scary movie. Scary not because the Babadook, the ghost/spirit/monster of the movie, is scary (in fact, the Babadook does not do much but making some metal scraping noises and guttural, growling sounds. Not scary at all) but because the causes of fear that give rise to the Babadook are so real.

Let’s go into details. There are basically two main characters in the movie. Amelia is a single mother, and she lives with her six year old son, Samuel. Amelia became widowed 6 years ago. Her husband was driving her to the hospital, while she was in labor with Samuel, and an accident happened to kill the husband immediately. Amelia and Samuel survived, and the movie focuses on portraying the single parent family’s life. If you know around you someone who is a single mother, you may know how difficult it is to raise a child without a partner’s support. Our Amelia in the movie has an endless list of problems. She barely makes ends meet, she suffers from chronic shortage of sleep, and whenever Samuel makes trouble at school, she is called to school and gets worried about if the absence of the father negatively affects her son’s development. She does really feel the absence of her husband. When her friend says that with her husband’s new job, she gets so busy as to lose gym time, Amelia retorts with a sneer, “what a difficult life!” And, although the movie does not really develop this element, it throws Amelia’s unfulfilled sexual hunger as part of her mounting problems. The absence of the father is difficult for our boy Sam as well. He is consistently bullied by his friends for not having a father. When he attacks the bully, his tantrum is attributed to his fatherless condition.

However, these problems are all minor, subsidiary one. The deep, primary problem concerns the mother’s and the son’s sense of guilt. Because Amelia’s husband got killed on the way to the hospital, the husband’s funeral day became Samuel’s birthday. It means for the little boy Sam that his birth or his presence exacted his father’s life. Despite his young age, he knows that if he were not born, his father would be alive. And his peers say this to his face. Amelia is guilt ridden, too. Let’s face it. When a woman has to choose one between a child and a husband, chances are, the husband will be chosen. With spouses, we’re in mutually supportive relation. I help him, and he helps me. But a child? A child is completely dependent on me, and s/he is first and foremost my “responsibility.” Whenever Amelia sees Samuel, therefore, she feels some sort of mild resentment towards him. As Samuel feels about himself, Amelia feels, at the bottom of her heart, “but for you, my husband would be here. My life would be easier and better with him, but without you.” Such a horrible, unspeakable sentiment for mothers to have. Consequently, Amelia is trapped in a sense of guilt for resenting her son’s presence.

babadook 1

Nevertheless, both Amelia and Samuel do their best to put up the facade of a fatherless but still happy family life. Birthday parties are a requirement for any “normal” middle class child, so our Samuel needs one. But his birthdays are precisely the time when his and his mother’s shared sense of guilt rears its ugly head. It is not an accident that the movie starts with Sam’s birthday and ends with another. The Babadook appears in the first birthday, to give expression to the mother’s and son’s hidden anger at each other. And the Babadook is overcome right before the second birthday, when both the mother and the son recognize and own their anger and resentment directed at each other. The events between these two birthdays are what gives this movie a claim to the genre of horror. When our little Sam says, “if you protect me, I protect you. If I protect you, you protect me,” this statement sounds to Amelia’s ears as if saying that they have nobody to rely on but themselves. And Amelia is right. Nobody is available to help them. Not Aunt Claire, not local police. From this realization, it takes little before Amelia locks Sam in the house and cuts off the telephone life to frustrate Sam’s request for outside help. She needs to prove to her son and to herself that they can get by on their own. And at times, Amelia feels a desire kill her own son and escape her difficult life. This desire leads to the brutal killing of her dog Bugsy (one of the scariest scenes for what it tries to say), and overwhelmed by her own unspeakable desire, she enacts some blood shedding scenes and faints.

To repeat what I said above with some variation, The Babadook is such a success as a horror movie, because it is so real. Sometimes I wonder if we need a monster or a spirit for a horror movie, when our real life is already filled with horrors and easily lends material for a horror movie. Premised on the horrors of our real life, the Babadook makes us take a long look at the horrors of our everyday life. It is a hard movie to watch, but it is definitely worth your time.