“Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead” & “The Stages of Initiation”


This was a paper for a Theology class. I had to chose a non-secular “movie” that corresponds with “The Stages of Initiation”. Naturally I had to go the ridiculously absurd route because the idea of this paper is in itself – ridiculously absurd.


The movie “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead” serves as an allegory to “The Stages of Initiation.” According to anthropologist Victor Turner there are three main stages of initiation that include: Separation, Liminality, and Reaggregation. The movie depicts each stage respective to the main character Sue Ellen Crandell. (Played by the actress Christina Applegate.) This movie lends credence to Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s postulation of the peak experience, as it exemplifies the facilitatory role the peak experience plays in the initiation process. The stages of initiation are veritably ubiquitous throughout the movie. The following text elaborates on each stage of initiation that corresponds to the main character, Sue Ellen Crandell, of the movie “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead”.


The “peak experience”, as posited by Psychologist Abraham Maslow, is the highest moment of any particular state of consciousness. Sue Ellen Crandell and her siblings experienced an awakening event. This life changing experience began when their babysitter died while in possession of their funds, that were meant to sustain them, during their mother’s summer abroad. Sue Ellen and her siblings then become self-dependent in response to this adverse event. This event changes Sue Ellen into a more responsible individual who is rapidly forced to transform into a mature adult.



The anthropologist Victor Turner (influenced by the classic work of Arnold van Gennep.) regards the three stages of initiation as: separation, liminality, and reaggregation. Victor Turner describes the first stage, separation, as a point when the individual must break away from the old patterns and self-awareness. This point is exhibited in the movie when Sue Ellen, is confronted with consequences ensued after the peak experience. Sue Ellen, who once suffered from a sense of entitlement, took responsibility and ownership of her new role as the provider for her siblings. The separation is followed by a purification stage that occurs once the individual is ready for the change.  The behaviors that embody the purification stage are exhibited when Sue Ellen gradually distances herself from her former friends and lifestyle.


Victor Turner describes the next stage, Liminality, beginning once the old self-awareness has broken down, and the separation from the old self and patterns of thought is complete. This stage is observed when Sue Ellen is naturally inclined to save the company she works for, including her co-workers jobs.


According to Victor Turner the final stage, reaggreation, takes place once the individual has created a new self and has a new identity. Turner’s analysis on the final stage extends to the idea that the identity that one has for themselves and the old identity has been destroyed, and the person is ready to reincorporate themself back into society as the new person. Victor Turner emphasizes the point being no matter what, the individual can never go back to the “old” identity or the old self.


The final stage, reaggreagation, is exemplified at the end of the movie. The events throughout the movie caused a lasting impression on Sue Ellen. These events permanently changing the very fabric of who she was as a person. It changed her belief system and outlook on life. She was no longer a superficial girl, but now a mature adult ready to take on the future. The new found self-discovery during these events causes an awakening. This results in the permanent and lasting change, forever imprinted on her.


The movie “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead”, allegorizes “The Stages of Initiation”, throughout the entire film. This film encompasses the stages in a dramatic fashion; highlighting each one individually. The peak experience exhibited in the beginning of the film created a crisis in which the main character, Sue Ellen Crandell, had to respond. These reactions to the events can either change a person with negative or positive ramifications. Sue Ellen responded in the latter, taking ownership of the situation and adapting herself to overcome the obstacles. This event changed who she was. Sue Ellen from being a pretentious superficial adolescent into a responsible woman ready to take on the challenges of adulthood. Her value system was drastically changed. During the final stages of the movie her desires and focus of attention were now on goals that were productive and meaningful. Once her mother returned from her vacation in Australia, Sue Ellen Crandell was now focused on pursuing an education to foster a stable career and promising future. At the beginning of the movie her goals were mostly focused on shopping items that are frivolous in nature, and drawing attention from members of the opposite sex. The varying degree of superficiality amongst Sue Elllen Crandell, was neutralized by the consequences of her awakening.


In summary “Initiation” has three distinct stages. The first stage, according to acclaimed Anthropologist Victor Turner, consists of separation. This stage is when an individual must break old habits in preparation to fulfill a dramatic change in oneself. The main character, Sue Ellen Crandell, exhibits this stage by removing herself from non productive situations and distancing herself from individuals who are not contributing to her progression in life. The second stage according to Victor Turner is “Liminality”. In this stage an individual completes the transformation taking ownership of their new identity. Sue Ellen accomplishes this by successfully performing at a job, allowing her to be able to provide for her siblings. The third and final stage, according to Victor Turner, is “Reaggregation”. This stage consists of the individual continuing ownership of their new identity and reintegrating themselves back into their former environment while maintaining their new values and principles. Sue Ellen, achieves this by pursuing her new goals while reestablishing her relationships she previously held with her peers. As evinced, the movie “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead” displays Victor Turner’s “Stages of Initiation”, as well as embodies the “peak experience”, by Psychologist Abraham Maslow.

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