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SXSW 2021 ‘Ninjababy’ Review: A Sharp Portrayal of An Early Life Crisis

Motlys

Dirty dishes fill a cluttered apartment. Crumbs litter every surface. Loose pencils and paintbrushes roll around a crowded desk. Creative sketches of characters cover the walls. This is Rakel’s (Kristine Kujath Thorp) room; an apt representation of where the 23-year-old is currently at in her life. While trying to figure out where she fits in, she likes to party and draw cartoons. For her, this is the worst possible point in life that she could find out she’s pregnant. 

Rakel has been in denial about her pregnancy for the past six months — in fact, she’s barely even noticed her body changing. Now, when it’s too hard to ignore, her roommate finally points it out. Thinking that she isn’t too far along, Rakel goes to get an abortion with her one-night stand Mos (Nader Khademi), whom she thinks is the father. At the clinic, she discovers that she is actually six months pregnant and can no longer get an abortion. Rocked by this news, Rakel explores every option she has to get rid of this baby as soon as it is born. 

Yngvild Sve Flikke’s film is witty, dark, and surprisingly heartfelt. Rakel is an irresponsible young adult refusing to accept her situation. The news of her pregnancy is such a shock that she can barely wrap her head around it. To cope, she invents an imaginary cartoon character based on her unborn child — Ninjababy — who follows her around and offers opinions on Rakel’s life decisions. Ninjababy is animated over the live action of the film, as are other cartoon drawings that subtly enter the frame to represent Rakel’s thoughts and feelings. These doodles are quick insights into Rakel’s state of mind, but they also match the dark, humorous tone of the film. 

Quick editing and pointed dialogue shape the characters and the situation. This scenario is bizarre — how did a 23-year-old not notice that she was pregnant? Her search for a solution is also far from normal, and she appears to be selfish; even reckless.

Yet the characterization and tone of the film make it hard to judge Rakel. Ninjababy puts you right into her head in order to understand her utter disbelief and unpreparedness for her situation, and also presents her as an extremely relatable figure, given that her life is a complete mess. She really is just trying her best, and the addition of the Ninjababy cartoon as an emotional device reveals her guilt about the situation, lending more heart to the film. 

Despite the amusing attitude of Ninjababy, there is a seriousness to it. With only narrow knowledge of the female body, Rakel doesn’t understand how she went so long without knowing she is pregnant. Now her whole life is turned upside down. What is one supposed to do, especially if they had no intentions of having a child so soon (if ever)? The film doesn’t place all the blame on Rakel, as much of society might do. She confronts the baby’s father about his irresponsibility, and their conversation really brings out the ideas society has surrounding childbirth. Why is it always the mother’s sole responsibility to take care of an unplanned pregnancy? Why is the father never expected to help in the process, or even held accountable? 

Ninjababy is an unexpectedly fun time. Given the all-too-real gravity of the situation, the humor might not be for everyone, but for those who like a dark comedy with slick editing, this is for you. The animations only add to the script’s creativity, making the film feel like it inhabits Rakel’s mind as her life spins out of control, while Thorp’s performance should be commended for her dexterity in switching from quick-witted commentary to an emotionally devastated young mother who never intended to be one.

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