Archetypes: Film: Review: ‘Mommy’ (2015)

Roadside Attractions

Roadside Attractions

Motherhood can turn the best maternal caregivers into moonstruck lunatics, an identifier that pays tribute to the always changing waxing and waning night-sky luminary. The Canadian film Mommy makes a meal of the Lunar principle – tied to nurturing, emotion, security, family and home – in all its messy, excessive and often thankless glory.

Written and directed by Xavier Dolan, the riveting and electrically charged Mommy is set in a fictional Canada, where a new law gives a parent the right – without interference from the government – to commit unruly children who are a public danger to mental institutions.

The movie begins as Diane (Anne Dorval)– who often goes by Die – signs papers to once again get custody of her ADHD-afflicted son, Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon). Steve, an aggressive, violent teen with anger management issues, and with a mouth unaccustomed to being censored, has been residing at a detention center and, says one staffer, is “on a fast track to jail.” Because Steve has set fire to the building’s cafeteria, an incident in which another young resident is severely burned, the institution’s officials have now given him the boot.

Gum-chewing Die – she smokes, drinks and is no prize package – goads her son on, mainly by competing with his provocative speech. Soon Steve brings home some ill-gotten merchandise, including a gold necklace with letters spelling out “Mommy.” Dolan’s sly introduction of the question – When is it appropriate for a strapping teen to start addressing his maternal caregiver as “Mother” instead of “Mommy”? – ups the ante, as Die desperately tries to figure out a way to home school Steve and not send him off to a far more rigorous place of mental and physical confinement.

The answer to Die’s dilemma comes out of left field. Across the street lives a woman, Kyla (Suzanne Clement), who happens to be a licensed high school teacher. She’s seemingly shy and reserved, and is on a leave of absence from her professional work because of a recent stuttering and speech-impediment issue. Turns out she’s game to tutor.

Roadside Attractions

Roadside Attractions

Suddenly Kyla and Die are BFFs, like two pieces of sandwich bread with Steve as some sort of gluey redemptive filling. Kyla’s speech debility inexplicably returns to normal while in the presence of these two, and Die, now able to leave the house, starts to earn some semblance of a living and self-respect. But Steve, although responsive to Kyla’s academic instruction, never loses the germ of his illness or his chaotic, erratic and soul-shaking approach to life.

For both single-Mom Die and Kyla, who has a seen-but-not-heard young daughter and is married to a non-expressive guy who all but shouts “I am no fun,” being in Steve’s presence is akin to breathing. Dolan’s use of a 1:1 aspect ratio – essentially creating a visual square – only reinforces how “boxed in” and addictively tied to each other this trio is.

The film’s use of the Lunar archetype, tied to the mothering Moon, becomes more complex when Dolan layers it with the disruptive, freedom-at-any-cost energies of Uranus. Steve believes he wants liberated caregiving, with mother and son as a team of equals. However, he’s still profoundly dependent, especially when Die’s got her back towards him and her “Mommy” necklace is out of sight. Die and Kyla, on the other hand, with their aversion to boredom, identify with and come alive in the presence of Steve’s mental turbulence and acting out, which somehow seems to validate and invigorate each woman’s aspirational uniqueness which they project onto the boy.

Mommy effectively explores how these sudden and crackling Uranian jolts add a heightened but unstable emotional twist to nurturing. “Mommy doesn’t know what to think anymore,” Die says early on. When it comes to mothering, Dolan seems to suggest, the ship of logic has long sailed.

Archetype: Mother. Erratic and inconsistent mothering. Uniquely liberated and progressive mothering. Impersonal non-emotional mothering.

Astrology Archetype: ☽ ♅ (Moon, Uranus)

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