Since it is Mother’s Day today in the UK, here’s a closer look at three recent films that celebrate motherhood in fascinating and unexpected ways.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel’s off-the-wall space adventure succeeds brilliantly, not by wanting to be Star Wars, but by aiming far lower and wanting to be Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars. Of course, it far exceeds that goal, and repeat viewings have caused this film to almost top my list of favourite Marvel movies (I wasn’t that enamored with it on my initial watch). However, what really makes the hilarious shenanigans of intergalactic scoundrels Rocket Racoon, Groot, Drax, Gamora and Peter Quill aka Starlord stand out is the poignant relationship between Peter and his mother. There are just a couple of brief scenes involving her, but they are absolutely integral to understanding his character, and indeed pivotal in the climactic moments. In the opening flashback, Peter’s mother gives him a present just before dying of cancer. This present remains unopened until the final moment of the film, whereby the mix tape of 70s pop songs so precious to him (because his mother gave it to him) is replaced with a new one that affirms his character arc from scoundrel to hero. A mother’s belief in her son resonates from beyond the grave, causing him to turn aside from a wasted life to a meaningful one (although I’m sure Quill will retain his roguish side in the upcoming sequel).
Looper – The fact that director Rian Johnson is presently filming Star Wars Episode VIII is reason enough to be very excited indeed, purely on the basis of this film. You might think time travel stories have been done to death, and indeed to begin with this movie, although immensely entertaining and clever, seems like little more than yet another ingenious mind bending tale of parallel realities. But Looper then takes a curious turn when hired assassin Joe attempts to protect a child destined to become a hideously evil man from his older self, who has come back in time to kill said child. This latter section of the film, with a tremendous performance from Emily Blunt as the boy’s mother, is powerfully moving, because in an understated and brilliant way it celebrates the power of a mother’s love. It asks, can a mother’s love make all the difference between a child growing up to become monstrously evil? Or can the presence of a loving mother prevent such a dark outcome? The question is, quite rightly, not fully answered. But Johnson provides enough subtle hints to leave the viewer with a sense of glowing optimism, indicating where his own views lie.
The Babadook – Finally, and most controversially, we come to the best horror film of the decade (to date). Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut is both terrifying and deeply moving, since it dares to explore themes of grief and also maternal guilt with rare fearlessness. The second time I saw it in particular, I felt emotionally overwhelmed, and I confess I cried through much of it. Obviously the film is very, very frightening in its depiction of a malevolent spiritual invasion via children’s picture book into the home of a single mother and her troubled young son, but this is not merely an expertly crafted tale of well told scares. It is, above all, a story about a son’s redemptive love for his mother. In the course of the story, the eponymous Babadook predicts (in the book) that mother will murder son. Sure enough, the mother appears to become possessed, and is determined to kill the boy. She very nearly succeeds, but in the end the son’s love for his mother breaks the hold of the Babadook. There are many possible interpretations of what the Babadook represents in the story, but for me it is clearly meant to symbolise repressed grief. In the end, the Babadook is not cast out but both mother and son learn to live with its presence in their home, whilst reaffirming their own bond. The Babadook might not be for the faint of heart, but it is a supremely cathartic work which I suspect will resonate with anyone who has had to come to terms with grief. It is, also, ultimately, a celebration of the triumph of motherhood under very, very difficult circumstances.
Happy Mother’s Day.