The Babysitter is a 1995 movie I randomly came across on Netflix. While the critical reception of it at the time, and really over the years since, has been negative, I found it to be incredibly insightful and refreshing in the delivery of its message.
It was taken literally in 1995 and I really don’t understand why. It seems the only way for a movie to be taken in a non-literal sense, it has to be loaded with metaphors, filled with symbolism and overall be really self-indulgent, pretentious and full of itself.
Which is why it is so nice to come across a meaningful movie that doesn’t do any of those things. With that said, let’s get to it.
In The Babysitter we have a girl who comes in to babysit three kids while their parents go to a cocktail party. This girl becomes the center of attention of virtually all other characters: Mr. Tucker, his wife Dolly, their ten-year-old son Jimmy, as well as the town bad boy – Mark and the girl’s boyfriend – Jack.
But to say that she becomes the center of their attention is to be willingly dishonest. Nobody is really paying attention to her. Instead, they are paying attention to what she represents to them – a girl. Every one of them sees her for what they want to see her. Their perceptions of her are scarily removed from reality. “She seems a little careless,” says Dolly about the babysitter. A strange assumption and one not based on her behavior or actions. Said about the girl who makes sure everyone of the kids takes a bath and goes to bed on time, about the girl who reads Shakespeare’s Othello out-loud. “I’m pretty sure she had her boyfriend over the other time.”
From the opening shot of the movie, the babysitter is an object of affection – it begins with a police officer staring at the vent window as she passes by on her way to the Tuckers’ house.
The male gaze is what is omnipresent in the movie. It hangs ominously over every scene like thick haze. We are shown the dark movie playing out in the heads of those who come into contact with her: what they imagine, what they want, what they wish for.
An object. “She is such a cute little thing,” says Mr. Tucker. “Things like her have to be passed around,” suggests Mark.
Mark, from the very beginning, is in pursuit. What he does is the exact reflection of the cultural mores. He does what a real man is supposed to do in society. Mark is masculinity.
He gets in her way, follows her around and doesn’t take no for an answer.
“Are you deaf, Mark?”
“Are you deaf?”
The boyfriend of the babysitter – Jack – seems like a polar opposite of Mark. Jack is a “good guy”, a “good citizen”. An adolescent male so often idealized in small and big towns alike. Someone who does his school reading while eating a sandwich, someone who plays ball (many kinds of ball, all kinds of ball), a good guy.
Jack meets Mark and Mark, seeing an opening, makes a suggestion to go over to the Tuckers’ house. He uses every argument he can think of to persuade Jack, pushing all the right buttons. Driving home one point really – “It’s kinda hard to know if you really love a girl unless you’ve fucked her.”
The ball-playing, book-reading, sandwich-eating Jack is persuaded in no time by Mark’s artless arguments. Because they make him feel insecure, because they question how much of a man he is.
Meanwhile, the dark movie playing across their brains, continues. We see the babysitter in their fantasies. Some violent daydreams, taking on new forms. Mr. Tucker, for instance, imagines walking in on her taking a bath, walking on her making out with Jack in the living room, imagines having sex with her, raping her, killing her – not necessarily in that order.
The question becomes – not why the fantasies are there, but – how close will they come to acting on them?
One of the ugliest and most revelatory of the many ugly and revelatory moments that we see in The Babysitter, is when Jack turns up at the house and his girlfriend opens the door.
“Jack – no – means no. I said no and you came over anyway?”
Jack retreats back to the car, but Mark is quick to assure him, “It’s all part of the game.”
“You figure out what you want and go get it.”
The Babysitter proves that the reality may turn out worse than the dark-movie daydream itself. It gets at something toxic and wormy in masculinity. The encouragement of assertive behavior among male children, when it gets out of hand.
The bulk of the movie’s criticism centered around the fact that the character of the babysitter was “underdeveloped”, that she lacked a personality. But the point is that her personality didn’t matter, she didn’t matter as an individual at all. This is the reason we don’t learn her name until the very last scene.
“Jennifer,” Jack says, before drifting off into an uneasy silence.
She looks at him with a semblance of recognition and asks in a voice somehow weaker… “I don’t get it Jack. What were you thinking?”