Caitlin Quinlan explores Yngvild Sve Flikke’s take on a bestselling graphic novel that offers up a singular and hilarious take on unexpected pregnancy in the 21st Century.
They say it takes a village to raise a child – that is, if everyone is a willing participant. When 20-something Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp) unexpectedly discovers she is pregnant, neither herself nor best friend Ingrid, potential lover Mos or drug-loving baby daddy Dick Jesus (also known as Are) want to be the one left holding the baby.
In Norwegian filmmaker Yngvild Sve Flikke’s sophomore feature Ninjababy, parenthood is far from a desired state. But that’s ok – Rakel might not be completely sure of what she wants from life, but she knows that being a mother isn’t for her. Her pregnancy, therefore, comes as a complicated interruption in a life that has swung between having fun and getting by; Rakel’s preferred lifestyle at the beginning of the film involves late nights, casual sex and recreational drug use. To add to these complications is Rakel’s realisation that her pregnancy is much further along than she thought. At six months, abortion is no longer an option, so she must reckon with the knowledge that the baby may have suffered as a result of her partying. The prospect of becoming a guardian for another being, when Rakel is arguably in need of one herself, is unconscionable.
Thanks to its graphic novel source material (the film is an adaptation of Inga H Sætre's Fallteknik), what may sound like a tale of gloom and suffering is, in fact, uplifting and light-hearted, peppered with as much idiosyncratic humour as emotional insights into what it takes to choose a path in life. Before Rakel pinpoints Dick Jesus (her irresponsible yet somehow irresistible frequent hook-up) as the father, the other possibilities on the table prompt Ingrid to remark, ‘Rakel, this is like Mamma Mia’. One-night-stand Mos, who Rakel meets again at an Aikido class, is memorable to her because, she says, he smells like butter. Ninjababy’s script, co-written by Flikke, Sætre and Johan Fasting, alongside Kristine Kujath Thorp’s performance as Rakel – effortlessly likeable, if more than a little sarcastic – combine here to charming effect.
Early in the film, Rakel sorts through her ideal job options in endearing on-screen artwork: ‘astronaut’, ‘beer taster’, ‘globetrotter’. It is ‘comic artist’ that really seems to stick, as reflected in the scribbles and doodles that appear throughout the narrative, illustrating Rakel’s innermost feelings. Her most animated creation is Ninjababy, a drawing of her growing foetus. Named for its sneaky arrival in her womb, it increasingly occupies Rakel’s every thought, speaking back to her and cheekily advising her on decisions she needs to make. It’s an affecting – and effective – means of exploring Rakel’s interiority and keeping the conversation around choice firmly focused on her. As this illustrated Ninjababy is her construction, we see her toying with her own ideas about what she can offer a child in place of being its parent; Angelina Jolie as an adoptive mother perhaps (as Ninjababy wishes), or simply just the chance to be raised by people who are ready and willing to take on the role of parent.
The film’s success lies in the fact that it grants its protagonist an openness to explore the options available to her while never wavering from her ultimate convictions. There is no sense that Rakel will give in to the demands placed on her by this accidental pregnancy and commit to being a mother, but there is still real tenderness in the way she navigates her reconciliation with such an emotionally complex situation. It is also refreshing to see the opposite happen for Dick Jesus later in the film, once a man with a ‘Blaze the Lord’ poster on display in his kitchen, now considering to take on fatherhood as he faces such a life-changing event. Ninjababy is a film with its sights set on disrupting expectations around what the bond between a woman and a child should be, but it is also a celebration of coming to terms with who you are and what you want to be. Flikke finds equal poignancy in Dick Jesus’ happiness in the possibility of parenthood as she does in Rakel’s lack thereof.
The film’s lasting sentiment is perhaps less about a child-raising village and more about the bonds between friends who cherish and support one another through the challenges of the unexpected. Those close to Rakel don’t try to change her mind or talk her into a life she doesn’t want. It’s a film that celebrates the independence of thought in the way we live our lives, whether we have an animated infant challenging us on it, or not. In the end, the film suggests, everyone needs to find what’s meant for them.
Watch Ninjababy in Cinemas or on Curzon Home Cinema Now