Babyteeth (2019): “She Did Not Say Goodbye To Me…”
By: Hooman Razavi
“We can speak and think only of what exists.” Parmenides wrote millennia ago. Babyteeth, the feature debut of Australian filmmaker Shannon Murphy takes us through the lives of Milla (Eliza Scanlen) and her family (Essie Davis- Anna, Ben Mendelsohn-Henry) affected by protagonist’s debilitating illness. Moses (Toby Wallace) comes into Milla’s life shortly and accidentally, and a dose of hope is injected into her life, but eventually, she succumbs to destiny. The film is a meditation on life themes, inevitability of death, cohesion, and stability of family, love, and loss under stress; also, one can add a more profound question of why we cease to exist when we are gone.
The film's opening scenes set up the whole story and the tragedy to unfold. Milla pants and bleeds, Moses gets ejected from the house and has nothing but to show a snake scar. Henry and Anna's lovemaking is front and center, but behind the passion, a feeling of deep sorrow and realization rests. The acting ensemble captured the fluctuating moments of hope, grief, madness, despair, and euphoria perfectly. Aesthetically, camera movement arrests the changing emotionality of characters with close-ups, medium shots, erratic motions, and guiltless focuses on eyes, bodies, and emotions under huge and hidden stressors. Classical melancholic music is a character of its own. It lives not only with Milaa, Anna, and the piano teacher, but it is an embodiment of ensembles’ restless souls. At a deeper level, one can sense a Dionysian undercurrent manifesting in Milla’s desire to dance, love life, and Moses and hold on passionately to the perishing melodies of life.
At a social level, Moses is an outsider, outcast, a drug dealer. Can he fit ever with an affluent family? Can the class standing of characters impede their erotic attractions and yearning? Can he go back to the family that rejected him because of what he does? It seems like a cliché storyline, but Babyteeth complicates this narrative by incorporating other novelties. All characters are vulnerable. There is no peace of mind and families at the brink of implosion. It is this realism that Murphy’s film portrays aptly. Not only the tragedy that evokes sympathy with viewers, but how much this scenario reflects our fragile nature. In Babyteeth, all characters mature up, which is evident in the birthday scene, which is so contrasting from the early dinner scenes; this realization is so powerful, they can rely on each not only instrumentally. This evolution could be a trajectory for all of us. The story’s episodic narration is another feature. The titles hint us what is ahead, but it is not too obtrusive. The drama maintains its rhythm, and as viewers, we crave to see not only more but more deeply how the characters and plot unfolds and interact. The ending on the shoreline and camera shooting the restless waves could be unsettling; it may signify the doomed nature of our existences and losses ahead, and it can be where Milla and all of us eventually end up.
Babyteeth does not narrate a strange story; it does so in a unique way. Milla-Anna, Milla-Moses, Anna-Henry, and Milla-Anna-Henry-Anna characters, through the power of the camera, characterization, and remarkable acting, all show that it is possible to live vulnerably and triumph. The insight is that it is not enough to live, but to live with others; Cinema of Others, and its authentic depiction. Ultimately, memories fade, relationships like waves fall and subside, but what connects us to others linger.
Babytheeth will be out on June 19 in theaters and on demand!