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“Babies” – A Review (sort of)

June 1, 2010

This weekend my family and I saw the documentary film, “Babies,” directed by Thomas Balmes. We chose to see this instead of the more mainstream choices available to us because this promised to be something that the whole family could watch without fear of nightmares later for my youngest. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this film, it follows the first year of life of four babies: Ponijao from Namibia, Bayarjargal from Mongolia, Mari from Tokyo, and Hattie from San Francisco. There is no narration or commentary during the film. Mostly you are watching babies explore their worlds and interact with the people in their lives.

My kids did not love this movie, but they did not hate it either. My oldest asked as we were walking out of the theater, “So what was the point of that?” At the time, my best answer was something along the lines of, “It shows how similarly babies develop despite big differences in environment and culture.” While I still agree with my original answer, after thinking about it more, I want to revisit the conversation with my daughter. “Babies” provides a great deal of thought-provoking material for rich discussion.

After watching Ponijao chew on rocks, sticks, and bones in an environment filled with dirt, flies and seemingly no water and Bayar and his older toddler brother attended only by farm animals while their parents were working, my first thoughts were to wonder about infant mortality rates in the countries portrayed. According to the CIA World Factbook as of April 2009, the rates (per 1000 live births) were 45.51 for Namibia, 39.88 for Mongolia, 6.26 for the United States, and 2.79 for Japan. All the children in the film appeared to be healthy and happy and to have loving interactions with their parents, but the surrounding environments were significantly different.

Not to say that all that fills our typical middle class American (and here the Japanese seemed very similar) baby environments is necessary. The film clearly shows how children can find interest and stimulation in their natural environments which support healthy development, and that our abundance of “stuff” is not always a good thing. I was also fascinated by the Mongolian practice to tightly bundle their infants in a way that significantly restricts movement for the first few months of life. Yet these babies learn to move and walk at apparently similar developmental stages to their non-Mongolian counterparts.

When we came home from the movie, my oldest – the one who questioned the point of the film – posted this as her Facebook status: “There are three things I’ve learned in life. We have to learn to hold ourselves up before we can crawl. We have to learn to stand before we can walk. And we have to learn to fall before we can run. Our own existence is proof of that.” So I guess she figured out a point!

I would love to hear from any of you who have seen the film. What did you think?

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