‘Baby Ruby’ Themes And Characters, Explained: New Age Motherhood Explored Through Postpartum Depression

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Bess Wohl’s “Baby Ruby” follows Jo (Noémie Merlant) and her husband Spencer (Kit Harington) as they welcome their titular child into the world. Jo is a vlogger, and Spencer is the owner of an artisan butchery. The two share a lovely relationship and are more than happy to become parents. But as soon as Jo gives birth, she starts to experience hallucinations, paranoia, and an unending sense of anger. Her willingness to protect Ruby alienates her from her husband, her mother-in-law Doris (Jayne Atkinson), her neighbor Shelly (Meredith Hagner), her PR Caroline (Camila Canó-Flaviá), and she spirals down into a pit of conspiracy theories and horrifying visions. So, let’s talk about the themes that are explored through the process of becoming a mother in this day and age.

Major Spoilers Ahead


Postpartum Depression

The most obvious topic that’s explored in “Baby Ruby” is postpartum depression. Right after delivering her baby and while going back home, Jo thinks she witnesses a woman taking her baby out of the perambulator and throwing it at her car. Soon after that, she fails to keep track of time, thinking that only 12 hours have passed when in fact, a whole month has gone by. At one point, she thinks that their family dog has eaten Ruby, although it was just chewing on a bone provided by Spencer. In a brilliantly edited, kaleidoscopic montage, we see Jo trying and failing to get Ruby to stop crying. She has body image issues, which are depicted by her reflection not mimicking her movements but simply staring at her while she panics. While on a date with Spencer, she assumes that Ruby is being stalked and haunted by a ghost that looks just like her. She thinks that Ruby is crying to antagonize her because she behaves properly when she is with Spencer, Doris, or in public. And all this anxiety and anger crescendos with her theory that everyone around her is out to get Ruby and sacrifice her for some sinister cause.

Postpartum depression is a very real thing, and it can happen to either of the parents. But it’s shown to happen more commonly with the one who has carried the child in their belly for nine whole months, which in this case is Jo. The cause of this phase of parenthood is apparently unknown. The changing hormones and the physical and mental stress of dealing with an infant are considered to be the biggest factors. The period of postpartum depression has been known to last from a few hours to more than two weeks, depending on the individual. Of course, there are counseling and therapy programs in place to counter such a situation so that it doesn’t have an adverse impact on the newborn child. At several points in the movie, eating the placenta is advised as a means to counter postpartum depression. However, that sounds a little nonsensical because the placenta can have various kinds of harmful organisms in it that can’t just be killed by cooking it. Also, why would you eat your own placenta? Anyway, by the end of the film, Jo does go to therapy and seems to confront this “other” self of her psyche and accept the fact that she’s a mother now.


Blogging

I am not sure how many movies have recently tackled the topic of becoming a parent while being surrounded by social media, blogs, vlogs, etc. But “Baby Ruby” certainly puts that aspect at its center by making Jo a professional blogger. And the topic of her blog is herself and her family. It seems like she was able to update it regularly before the birth of her child. However, as soon as Ruby comes into the proverbial picture, she fails to engage with her followers because the baby becomes her first priority. As mentioned before, her PR keeps reminding her to at least put a picture of Ruby, but Jo’s overprotective nature and resentment towards the baby prevent her from doing so. The fact that she fails to earn any money from her blog is brought up when Spencer ends up becoming the only earning member of the family, thereby forcing him to bear the cost of the baby products, the repair of the villa-like house, and, well, his own business. While undergoing therapy, Jo tries to update her website but then deletes it all.

I don’t know about family-centric or parenting-centric blogs, but there’s certainly a dearth of family-centric and parenting-centric vlogs on YouTube and Instagram, and all of them are sickening. Family life is either very boring or very dysfunctional and problematic. It’s never as bright and happening as these vloggers make it look. So, it’s obvious that after a certain point, they are faking the emotional core of their relationship or manufacturing scenarios to paint a particular picture of their family. Since the parents’ lifestyle and income are linked to that social media page, which in turn is linked to how the family functions in front of the camera, every moment in their life has to be a clickable thumbnail for them. There isn’t a single genuine, heartfelt second that’s shared between them. And when things get troublesome off-camera, it reflects in their public behavior as well, and that obviously drives away the fickle-minded viewers. In addition to that, it traumatizes the kids and ruins their future because their entire childhood is now out in the open to be judged by millions of strangers. Therefore, here’s a suggestion: keep your personal and professional lives separate.


Discussing the Ugly Side of Motherhood

In one of the most harrowingly realistic scenes in “Baby Ruby,” Doris starts to talk about her experience of bringing up Spencer so that Jo can understand that she isn’t the only woman in the world who thinks motherhood is hell. She says that labeling Spencer as a “crier” during his childhood days is quite an understatement because he was insufferable. Doris admits that she did love him, but she also hated him. She apparently dreamed of all the awful things that could happen to Spencer. But soon, she realized that those apparitions were the reflections of the things she wanted to happen to Spencer. She even prayed to God to send someone who could take her baby away from her so that she could resume the life she had before his arrival. However, since she knew nothing like that was going to happen, she thought of killing him. Thankfully, that was the moment her maternal instincts kicked in, Doris didn’t go to jail, and Spencer lived on to become a well-rounded human being.

As mentioned before, Jo is a blogger, and years of maintaining this fake lifestyle prevent her from being honest with herself. So, if she can’t be honest with herself, she can’t tolerate someone being honest with her. In this entire scene, Doris echoes everything that Jo has been feeling. She inadvertently sheds light on that brief moment where Jo sees herself naked and dead in various ways while a technician is baby-proofing the house. It means that she wasn’t thinking about saving Ruby from dying horrifically; she was hoping for Ruby to die by choking or impalement. For the sake of clarity, nobody wants this to happen, and it shouldn’t happen, either. But these are deeply personal thoughts that are being put on the screen so that every parent in the world can understand that they aren’t alone in this process. A constantly wailing child can make a sane person go crazy and act impulsively. That doesn’t mean anyone is going to act on that impulse. However, when the thought crosses your mind, and you regain your sanity, you can feel guilty for even thinking about committing a violent act. The movie wants to assure you that it’s just a passing thought.


Latent Queerness

While buying clothes for Ruby, Jo comes across her neighbor, Shelly. Neighbor is a pretty liberal term because she lives miles away from Jo’s house, but she’s the only person near Jo. Hence, neighbor. Anyway, the two shared a pretty bland dynamic until that one night. We’re dealing with an unreliable narrator here. So, what I’m saying is what I think is the true narrative. Shelly invites Jo to party with the rest of the mothers in the town. Since Jo is fed up with Ruby and thinks that Spencer is doing a fine enough job of handling her, she goes to the party. She gets drunk and proceeds to make out with Shelly. The next morning, Jo either assumes it was all a dream or compartmentalizes that episode by convincing herself that it was a dream. Later on, when Jo barges into Shelly’s house, Shelly confirms that they did, in fact, make out, and she’s very offended by the fact that Jo didn’t address it later on. Due to Jo’s debilitating mental state, she assumes Shelly doesn’t actually have a baby and is out to get Ruby. That’s why she abandons Shelly a second time. While undergoing therapy, we do see that Shelly is neither some diabolical, childless maniac nor is she angry at Jo for being non-communicative about their romantic moment. She is happily showing her baby to Jo and supporting her through her recovery process.

This is something that does come out of the blue, but it speaks to the fact that Jo has possibly never explored her queer side before committing to this heterosexual relationship. The same can be said about Shelley. But after being around each other for such a long time, I guess they are beginning to realize that they are interested in men and women. It also shows that bloggers or vloggers always promote a cisgender and heterosexual lifestyle because they think that’s more marketable. And they aren’t wrong because there are a lot of vocal, homophobic haters on the internet who can attack a person for simply being in tune with their gender and sexuality. Jo undoubtedly loves Spencer. However, it’s possible that she never experimented with herself, and since she feels trapped in this straightforward lifestyle, she’s experiencing this need to do things she should’ve done a long time ago. Is this the right thing to do after one has married and has a kid? Well, personally speaking, cheating should be a dealbreaker, and one should break off a marriage, no matter what stage it is in, instead of fooling their partner. Or, commence your experimental phases before committing to a relationship. Don’t rush into things because society wants you to.


Empathetic Husband

In stark contrast to most movie husbands and real-life husbands, Spencer comes off as a reserved and reasonable partner to Jo. When Jo loses her cool at a restaurant, he doesn’t reprimand her for acting in that manner. Instead, he quietly sits down with her and assures her that it’s totally okay to be anxious about their daughter. We don’t see him with Ruby a lot, but it’s made clear during a scene with Jo where Spencer asks her to let him try and put Ruby to sleep that Jo has been preventing him from carrying her around or taking care of her in any way. The other reason he doesn’t stay in the house all that much is that he needs to earn money for the three of them. Even when Jo thinks that Spencer is part of some cannibalistic club and is going to kill Ruby, and she crashes the car, he doesn’t react angrily. When Jo comes back home, he reminds her that even after crashing the car, she protected Ruby. In doing so, he helped her combat the guilt of putting Ruby’s life in danger.

Yes, all the aforementioned activities are the bare minimum that a man should do when his wife has just given birth to an entire human being, and yes, the bar for what’s expected of a man is subterranean. But to make things better again, we should see more Spencers on the screen. Because it’s easy to point out the problem and explain how bad things are, that too in detail. However, once you have done that, it’s important to provide a solution. Of course, things in real life aren’t going to change by watching Spencer take care of Jo. In reel life, though, it’s possible that we’ll get more empathetic portrayals of male characters who are willing to provide for the family without thinking that they’re doing the world a favor. Maybe Spencer’s existence is going to prompt more writers to create male characters who don’t act emotionally when their female counterparts are going through a mentally exhausting phase. And maybe when there are a ton of characters like Spencer, we’ll start to see its impact in our lives too and see men leave their egos at the front door and contribute towards making a house feel like a home.


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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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