Part parade-of-cuteness, part anthropological exploration, Babies takes a look at the first year in the life of four children: three girls (from rural Namibia, urban Japan, and urban U.S.) and one boy (from rural Mongolia). There’s no dialogue, just background noises, baby babble, and the occasional snippet of adult conversation. Yet it manages to say so much…
I was fascinated by the differences in mothering among the cultures: The Mongolian mother uses breast milk to clean the baby’s face and warms the baby’s bath water in her mouth (both make perfect sense, come to think of it); the Namibian mother practices Elimination Communication with her infant (though for her it’s just the traditional way of attending to her child’s physiological needs); the Japanese mother drops off her not-yet-crawling baby at daycare (much to the child’s dismay); the American mother (or maybe it’s the father) takes the child to Native American music sessions (in which the only people showing any interest or involvement are the adults).
The child-rearing approaches are as varied as the families’ socio-economic levels, and yet all the babies strive for – and achieve – the same things. They bond with the parents, explore the world around them using all five senses, torment household pets, and work incredibly hard to develop gross motor skills.
I was fascinated by the contrast of the traditional Mongolian and Namibian families against their modern Japanese and American counterparts, proving that there’s more than one way to raise a healthy and happy child. Regardless of their living conditions, the children were developing at their own rhythm, following Mother Nature’s plan, and pausing only when faced with environmental obstacles. If anything, the children born in third-world countries seemed to have the upper hand when it came to solving problems on their own, and had more opportunities to learn from their communities.
While I couldn’t imagine raising a child in rural Namibia, it is refreshing to realize that one can forgo all the gizmos, gadgets, and toys we’re led to believe are essential for raising a happy and healthy child. Behind this movie’s cuteness and novelty factor is an important lesson for all parents (and parents-to-be): Children are resilient, follow their inner drive, and need only a healthy dose of freedom, love, respect, trust, and tangible experiences to unleash their potential.