Rozann Carter offers her review of the recently released documentary film entitled, Babies:
This past weekend, I went to see Babies, the new feature film that simultaneously documents the first year of four separate little lives from across the globe. Briefly, the characters: Ponijao was born as the 9th baby to a family of the Himba tribe in a small village in Namibia, Africa. Mari lives in the middle of Tokyo, the only child of a metropolitan Japanese couple. Bayar is one of two children born to a couple who operates a small family farm in rural Mongolia. Finally, Hattie is the first child of an ecological, “green” couple residing in San Francisco.
Interestingly, the stark differences between the cultural situations of the infants’ upbringings are both radically highlighted and utterly forgotten every 30 seconds of the movie. The viewer, as to be expected, is witness to the fact that parenting methods differ greatly from family to family, and often even more drastically from the first world to the third. From by-the-book techniques, mother/baby yoga classes, and multitudes of technologically advanced toys to communal care, lackadaisical safety standards, and farm animals as bosom buddies, Babies displays a varied range of parental practices and cultural realities.
However, in a high-rise metropolitan city or in a grass-hut village, with the ringing of cell phones in the background or the sounds of flies buzzing about, wearing Baby Gap attire or outfitted in a loincloth, the babies are often so similar it is uncanny. Despite their mutual remoteness and societal diversity, the similar expressions, lessons, and interactions of each baby reveal an underlying commonality. The shared experiences of wonder, fascination, newness, growth, discovery, and development (not to mention the viewers’ response to these shared experiences) demonstrate a universal phenomenon: there is something special and almost inexplicable about life.
The “Culture of Life,” was first defined by Pope John Paul II in 1993 as a “respect for nature and protection of God's work of creation… [a] respect for human life from the first moment of conception until its natural end.” In Babies
, we become aware that this Culture of Life defines a universal concept precisely because of its particular nature. The sacredness of life in general stems from the understanding that there are countless special and inexplicable characteristics of each life in particular. Human life is of the highest value because each individual living creature is sacred, not because of a collective standard of achievement. Babies gives us the chance to see within the lives of four of our newest brothers and sisters to rekindle that blazing truth. By connecting these particular faces to this general reality, Babies challenges the viewer to get beyond the current tendency to veer toward a faceless systematization that renders Life lifeless. It unites all of these pint-sized movie stars as participants in this common culture of life, and in so doing, it helps the viewer recognize his/her place within that same reality.
Because if its highly visual, cinematographic nature, it is difficult to do justice to the documentary by reducing it to words. The film crew was present for all of the moments in which parents notoriously wish they “had only had a camera” with them, capturing a series of beautiful, quirky, and pivotal parts of each of the babies’ lives for which only a visual encounter is properly appropriate. This is not by mistake. The visual, in fact, makes the movie personal in a way that words cannot. It reflects a truth that can be understood by way of explanation, but can only be internalized and made real by way of experience. This, in fact, is the defining feature of the sacred. It is present in all aspects of the Faith and finds its fullest expression in the Sacraments. The value of life, the spark of existence, the indisputable wonder and fascination in each developing personality (fueled by unpredictability, possibility, and the beautiful gift of free-will) is not a calculable reality. It can be known and accepted by the intellect, but it must be experienced to be properly appreciated. Love is like this. It’s knowable by the intellect, but it is also personal, experiential, present to the senses, and utterly inexplicable. In fact, it came into the world 2000 years ago to cater to our human necessity. Love entered the world in an objective event, and it resides here still. To properly appreciate this love, we must experience it in Christ by way of a personal encounter. His gift of the Sacramental life of the Church provides us the opportunity for experiential love and deeply personal encounter. Through the Sacraments, we see Christ’s glorious face, and we learn to recognize it in the faces of all of our brothers and sisters.
The person of Christ is the embodiment of the Culture of Life. The mystery of humanity’s existence in His likeness reflects this intrinsic value in every particular being. Life is new, ever-changing, fascinating, unpredictable, full of wonder, and sacred. We often need to reconnect with Babies to rediscover this reality.
Rozann is a Production Assistant at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.