The Mother (2003)


“The Mother” is another one of those many profound films about reaching the peak of your life and suddenly having nothing to look forward to. The two characters we see at the beginning, May and Toots are a couple who basically are not really sure what to do with themselves. We’re not told, nor is it spelled out for us, but the first ten minutes we see them, it’s pretty clear. And it becomes sadly clear that life has pretty much moved on without them, especially their children who greet them with less than emotional sentiment when they pay them a visit which Toots is against. “The Mother” breaks free from the formula of what I mentioned, but is still in the tradition of great films like “Harry and Tonto.” It’s pretty clear they’ve lost their place in their own family, but when May’s husband suddenly dies from a very expected heart attack, suddenly she finds she all on her own.

The film begins on a pretty emotional point that somewhat fades as the movie progresses and is very well directed by Roger Michell. The lack of theme music in the beginning really helps define the emotions of the tragedy without jerking the audience to shed a tear like a cue on when we’re supposed to cry. The film excels at some true emotions, and the first thirty minutes are very well done and effective. But suddenly, we shift the story slightly, and it becomes more of a story about self-discovery as May slowly progresses from old maid to curious figure.  May must now find a way to keep going and in a sense re-discover a part of herself she never really knew while being married. She suddenly doesn’t want to do what she used to and is looking for something, but she doesn’t really know what in particular. She’s followed these restrictions all of her life, and now wants to break free from them and challenge her limits and boundaries.

Her kids don’t love her, nor do they really want her around them, but they feel obligated to keep her there, as is painfully obvious. But then she meets the carpenter Darren, her son’s best friend, but soon also discovers he’s sleeping with her daughter while married with a son. Suddenly they manage to spark a relationship. The relationship between Darren and May is sweet at first glance, but through the relationships tumbles we can always sense something isn’t right, especially with Darren, but in their bonding, and conversations, he seemingly gives her the companion ship she wants, and inevitably they begin an affair despite his connection with her daughter and family. Michell portrays their affair with a raw, unrelenting view never cutting away and always showing the seventy something May making love with Darren. By the affair with Darren she throws all fear out the window and acts out her suppressed desires.

It’s said by her daughter in passing that in her younger years she just plopped down in front of the television all day when she was younger, so by the affair, she lives through her daughters own desires. There’s a bit of a Freudian connection with both the daughter and mother’s sexual desires embodied in Darren being connected and related. By the affair, she grasps on to youth and keeps it with her, while Darren is hoping for pleasure for himself and desperately tries to find it. With Bruce, an old man she meets in writing class, he symbolizes old age and the very raw sex scene between them is very representative of the old age bearing down on her. Her basic disgust is her attempts and utter refusal to accept old age. Darren doesnt have to be with May nor does he have to sleep with her, but he feels he must fulfill something missing within her, and in turn manages to fulfill something within himself he’s missing out on the relationship with her daughter. Though the performances are top-notch, no one is likable here.

May’s daughter treats her like a child and keeps her around like she’s inclined to baby sit her, the daughter is a self-involved self-absorbed tart, Darren is an adulterer having an affair with two women and cheating on his wife, and May really doesn’t have anything redeemable to her and it’s clear she was never a good mother, and is having the affair with Darren who is dating her daughter and is already married. But they’re human, and through the flaws we find the human desire to be needed through their boundaries and without exception. These characters love each other because they have to, or feel the need to, and as the film progresses slowly, by the end we pretty much see the characters unfold for who they are, and what their intentions toward one another are, and we discover in the end it’s all about self-satisfaction to them. The pacing takes its time to progress the story with the natural flow, so naturally the pacing is slow which makes this movie boring during many portions.

Much of the scenes during this consist of someone walking through a building or among lush scenery and there’s really no point to it so it begins to feel like padding to keep up the time period intended for the film. Then during most of the scenes the dialogue can be just droning with really no real sense in sight to what anyone is alluding to, and I slowly grew impatient. For that matter, most of the time I could care less what was happening to these characters. The director and writer make many of the situations and story so un-involving, and it was just distracting taking me out of the narrative immediately. Through it all, though, Anne Reid gives an understated performance as May, Daniel Craig is powerful and convincing as the mysterious Darren, and Cathryn Bradshaw is very despicable as Paula, one of the more truly screwed up characters of the film. All of it is ingeniously drawn to a close with an unexpected ending that is so powerful in its simplicity.