We came across this film from the Czech Republic on Netflix in the “Watch Instantly” section. Who could resist a description and a movie poster like this:
In this bizarre fantasy from the Czech Republic, an ordinary couple, Karel and Bozena, are unable to conceive a child. When Karel digs up a tree root and whittles something vaguely resembling a human baby, Bozena’s strong maternal longings transform the stump into a living creature … with a monstrous appetite that can’t be met by baby’s formula!
In my rudimentary research into the fairy tale of Otesanek, I could not find whether or not this was a real Czech fairy tale or one that was made up just for this film. But, as with all good fairy tales, there is always a very dark and sinister side, and it is obvious that the moral of the story is for not only children but also adults.
Otik is the stump-baby that the father, Karel, engenders from a felled tree in the back yard. Otesanek is the fairy tale equivalent of Otik. They are essentially one in the same.
When Karel gives Bozena, his wife, the stump-baby, he doesn’t quite understand the extent of her maternal longing until he hands the stump-baby over to her. She latches onto it immediately and devises an elaborate 8-month-long plan to act as if she is pregnant so she can “give birth” to this stump-baby and bring it into town so they can live as a family and not in hiding–which is ironic because she never lets anyone actually see Otik because, obviously, he is a stump. When 8 months is up, she mimics labor pains in front of her neighbors so they will not be suspicious and she and Karel go out to their country house to get the baby (which they keep stored in a cupboard). Karel drops her off and leaves for a few days so that their plan can be as realistic as possible–going to work and telling his coworkers, telling his neighbors, etc. When he gets back to their country house, Bozena is nursing the baby. Up until this point, the stump has just been a stump, but now its mouth moves. But that’s just the beginning.
Turns out little Otik has a taste for more than porridge and mother’s milk: he craves flesh, and human flesh if he can get his hands on it. He grows to an astronomical size and eats quite a few people. The parents eventually lock him in a chest in the basement of their apartment building, but the suspicious little girl next door (Alzbetka), who has been onto their little Otik for a while (she is the one that introduces the viewer to the fairy tale book about Otesanek), befriends the blood-thirsty stump baby and takes care of it when its parents abandon it to (hopefully) die.
Alzbetka is about as precocious a little girl as was ever conceived. She reads text books about reproduction and other adult-type things, and seems to understand them. She says many intelligent things that consistently dumbfound her parents. And she seems to be a step ahead of everybody, especially the building pedophile (an old man with a penchant for staring at her bottom). She’s a little girl but she’s smart. In fact, like with all good fairy tales, Alzbetka is the smartest one of the lot. She has an insider’s view of the situation–she knows how to control Otik like only a child could. Many of the adults get eaten, but not her.
I could go on and on with the description of this film. But what I’d like to consider now is what the heck was going on here? What’s the purpose of this fairy tale/allegory? We have impotent parents enabling a blood-thirsty stump-baby despite the fact that they know it’s wrong to enable such behavior; we have “out-of-touch” parents raising precocious little Alzbetka, and who don’t listen when she tells them that their old man neighbor is a predator; and we have a society in which people disappear and no one notices–this is a frequent line in the film. So, it appears that no one pays attention to those around them, and frequently people overlook the obvious moral/ethical-issues that face them and their society.
It appears as though many characters are impotent in this film. The two parents, Karel and Bozena; the old man pedophile–when Alzbetka imagines he is getting aroused at the sight of her, what comes out of his pants is a hand, not something else, so he must be impotent; Alzbetka’s parents are impotent at raising their own child and feeding her mind with materials appropriate for a girl of her intelligence; and the police don’t seem to do much about all the murders until the last minute, it seems.
Society-and-the-family-as-impotent is a disheartening idea. Something is going terribly wrong when we allow a monsterous beast to take over our lives and devour those around us because we are too impotent to do anything. And the fact that Alzbetka takes on the responsibility for Otik’s eating habits is infinitely disturbing–she’s a child and should not be participating in such blood lust, going as far as “drawing straws” to decide who in the building is going to get eaten next. We have an absolute corruption of morals here. The girl lures the old man into the monster’s lair with sexual advances, and ultimately to his doom. She is accomplishing a few goals: feeding Otik (her plaything, and something she can apparently control), and revenging her dignity. She’s smart. She’s deliberate. She doesn’t exhibit the kind of morals we want individuals to have in society. But she is a direct result of those around her–impotence apparently breeds dysfunction. That is certainly the case with Otik.
In the end, the character who saves the day is the old lady caretaker who has been growing and tending to her cabbages for the entire movie. The only character who has grown anything properly is the only one who can wipe the slate clean with her hoe. And that’s what she does–according to the fairy tale about Otesanek, it is the farmer that slices open the monster’s belly with her hoe. Now, the viewer doesn’t see this on screen but it’s obvious that it happens.
But how does the little girl recover from such things as she’s witnessed and done? Can she be rehabilitated? The only rehabilitation available to Karel and Bozena is to die as a result of their impotence, same for the old pedophile. But the little girl is the future and she must be set straight. She still has parents around her, and the old lady caretaker who perhaps represents moral balance. But what about little Otik? Why should he die because no one knew how to raise him? Well, he was a monstrocity, unnatural, inhuman. No possibility of rehabilitating a real monster. But the little girl, she’s worth saving. We have to try harder next time. We have to not raise monsters.