Monday, May 10, 2010

Babies, the movie, a summary and a review.

I just got back from seeing the documentary, Babies. I have to say, it was great! I really enjoyed seeing the differences in parenting and lifestyle in the four different countries they focused on. I'm going to talk a lot about what happens in the movie, but since there isn't really a plot, it's not exactly going to give anything away. Still, if you want to go see the movie and are going to get mad at me for "giving it away" then I'd suggest not reading this. After the summary I'll be doing a bit more of a critical review.

A quick overview of the movie:
The documentarian followed four babies from four different countries for a little over a year each. The movie is mostly without dialoge, except for the little bit of talking that the parents do, and it is mostly shot from the baby's level. It seems to be organized by different developmental stages of the babies' lives, for example, it shows the babies, one by one, learning how to walk or interacting with other children. It was a great way to highlight the different cultures and keep the movie flowing.

Quick overviews of the different babies/parenting styles:
I think I found Ponijao, the baby from Namibia, the most interesting. The parenting style was very different than it is in the U.S. It was extremely community oriented, though men seemed to have no place in parenting there. It was actually hard to tell who was the baby's mother through much of the movie.

Mari, from Japan, was raised in a very 'Westernized' manner, with her mother taking her to arranged baby play-dates and having her play with baby-industry produced toys.

Bayar, from Mongolia, lives on a family farm. It's amazing to see how closely he grows up with the animals there, being given a lot of freedom. It's also interesting that his parents seem to take a very removed roll. Although the mother does take an active roll in parenting at times, much of the time he is left to his own devices or with a slightly older sibling.

Hattie, from California, grows up with a TON of baby toys and books. She goes to organized baby activities, but otherwise is very solitary. The father seems to have the largest roll in this baby's life.

Small critical review of the movie:
The movie does a great job of staying silent. There is no voice-over commentary. There is no focus on the parents apart from when they are interacting with their child. That said, I think the filmmaker intended to create a discussion about parenting, but instead the movie easily acts as another way to create an "other". It creates a divide between the first world and the third world. Although it shows how babies are similar over all cultural and economic divisions, I think that not providing some context and commentary makes it too easy to view the other cultures shown in an 'outsider' sort of context.

It's also hard to draw conclusions from the movie. It's hard to remember that these are sample sizes of one. It makes it easy to critique the parenting style of Japanese parents because there are more than a few scenes of Mari being generally crabby, but she could easily have colic or be teething, or it could just be a result of her parents' individual style, not a reflection of that society as a whole. Similarly, the movie makes it seem as if Mongolian families are completely removed from parenting, when it could just be the economic pressures that that individual family faces and the need for Bayar's mother to continue working on the farm.

There were also some negative reactions that I noticed in the theater. They showed breast feeding, to which there was a small gasp from another patron, and there were some inappropriate reactions to the fact that the children in two of the cultures were regularly without pants. I think these reactions tell a lot about why breastfeeding is viewed so negatively and is so difficult for so many mothers in the United States.

Other than these few things, the movie was AMAZING. I'd definitely suggest it to anyone who has an interest in children or parenting. I would just make sure that the person understands that these are glimpses into the lives of individuals, and while they may fit into their culture, they are not necessarily representative of the culture as a whole.


  1. We'd love to cross-post this on our site, with your permission. If you're interested, give me a shout at infoATfeministreviewDOTorg.

  2. Yay! I can't wait to see this.

    Its interesting you mention that Hattie's father has such a prominent role. She lives her in the bay area and I've noticed how normal it is for fathers to be the primary care givers. Even in our household Noah is more of a traditional "mommy" Taking on a lot (if not all) of the domestic roles. Once breastfeeding has been established and I've lost the baby weight I'll go back into the working world and he will stay home with the girls.

  3. Thanks for your review! My husband and I are really looking forward to seeing this. When I first saw the preview in the theatre I was instantly in love with the babies.

  4. I saw this in the theater with a friend and when there was a scene of breastfeeding one little voice piped up from the audience "Baby! Milk!" Which elicited laughs from the adult population of the audience. Perhaps we're simply more accustomed to breast-feeding and semi-nude children here in Quebec, but no one seemed shocked in the slightest at breastfeeding or little bare bottoms.