Monday, March 21, 2016

100 reasons why Mommy is my favorite film of all time; Part I

I spent toughly 12 hours watching Mommy in preparation for this post, and I still don't feel prepared.  By 12 hours, I don't mean that I watched the film 5-6 times...I mean that I spent 12 hours watching it through ONCE, continually pausing, noting and crying...sometimes all at the same time.  With the goal of zeroing in on 100 things about this movie that makes it perfect, I found rather quickly that I was going to have to edit myself A LOT to make this work.  By the time I had finished, I had jotted down 173 moments of note, and a few hours later I starting thinking of others.

But I told myself...I will limit myself to 100.

Now, when I posted my 100 Favorite Films list, it was suggested that I break the list up into smaller posts so that it wasn't so jarring to read, so that is what I'm doing here.  I'm presenting my list in ten posts of ten reasons each.

So, in chronological order; here are the first 10 reasons why Mommy is my favorite movie of all time!

[NOTE:  There are MAJOR spoilers below]
Reason #1

As you'll see many times within this post, some of the things I love most about Dolan's work here is the way he tosses subtlety out the window.  Dolan is a hyperbolic director, but he has such a passionate and intimate way of dispensing it that it works for me.  This shot, which nearly opens the film, captures the confusion, chaotic and almost schizophrenic way in which Die and Steve's relationship is portrayed.  The hearts, the arrows, but even the concept of this love blowing away, just out of reach, like is insinuated with the following image...

...of Die reaching.  Now, she's reaching for an apple, but we don't know that yet, and the juxtaposition of these two images sets the tone for what we're about to witness without having to say anything.

Reason #2

The first time we meet Die, her head is tilted upward, allowing the sun to bathe her face.  Her eyes are closed, as if in some sort of an emotional daze; reflecting on her life, her focus, her person.  She has heavy baggage.  But she opens her eyes just before the moment ends, as if to stare her future in the face.  This is almost the exact moment we get when we meet Kyla...

...except the scene ends before Kyla opens her eyes.  Part of me associates the similarities and differences to the way these two women chose to view and handle their personal situations.  Kyla is a severely traumatized woman, and while the film is never specific it hints at her trauma (more on that later) enough for us to know and understand her pain.  Kyla's reaction to her situation is to hide from it, to replace her pain with a distraction of sorts.  Die can't afford herself that luxury.  She has to stare it straight on.  This also bleeds into the way they view their outcomes, and while this is explored more on the film's climax, I feel like these two introductions are ways in which Dolan could deliver a glimpse of how these women will fair as the film progresses.

Reason #3

Kyla sees Die's crash.  I kind of love this because when I first saw the film I didn't even notice that this was Kyla.  In fact, it all happened so quickly that I almost assumed that this was Die and didn't even see the car crash in front of her.  It's such a boxed in view that I assumed Die had just been struck and we were seeing her reaction from inside the car.  But no, this is Kyla, and not only does she see the crash but she never once mentions it.  We could get all symbolic about this moment being some kind of premonition, or how Die and Steve's relationship, like this car crash, was something Kyla couldn't turn away from, but let's just leave it as a neat little side-point; much like how...

...once Die get's her door open you realize that she is listening to the same song as Kyla; Building a Mystery.

Soul mates?

Reason #4

The first words uttered in the film that aren't part of a song lyric.  This moment instantly let's us know who Die is, almost as much as this one...

Speaking of this moment...
Reason #5

This smarmy b*tch spits truth tea all over poor Die.  It's such a cleverly constructed scene because it practically maps out the entire film for us while maintaining this swiftness and natural uncomfortable quality.  The scene never feels too on the nose, thanks in large part to the way this character is played.  She's in a moment a caricature; testy and judgmental and sarcastic, but in the next she's almost warm, consoling.  Even when she's delivering what seem like verbal blows to Die, there is a this tone within her voice that conveys a real pity.

She can say all of this because...

She gets it.  There is a story here.  Much like Kyla, we don't get the story, but Dolan hints at it.  Her reaction to Die's question about her son is enough of a hint.  First, she appears to old to have a child that young, and while you could reason they are pictures of a grandson, her pause after Die's question suggest that maybe she's holding  onto happy memories of the young boy behind her who is no longer than young and no longer happy.

Reason #6

The pride in her face when she hears her son berating the guards.  There is something so endearing about this 'mother moment'.  You know when your young child does something wrong but your instinctual reaction is to smile or laugh because, as annoying as it all is, there's something comical about it...well, Die is having that moment here.  The difference is that her son is 15, not 3.  There is something about the way that Die takes in this moment that establishes the way she views her son.  There is also something about this moment...

That establishes how Steve views his mother.

Reason #7

Reason #8

When Die first sees Kyla through her window, there's immense amounts of glare and rays of sun blurring her view, and when Kyla turns to make eye contact with Die, her face is blocked by the leaves.  When Die last sees Kyla...

There is no glare, the sun is nowhere to be seen and there is nothing obstructing the view of her face.  It's as if Kyla was a mystery for Die...a mystery that she was able to solve.

Reason #9

Everything about this scene fills me with this tightening warmth.  The way that Steve blows off the cobwebs of the life he has been detached from for years...

...the way his stereo 'not so subtly' prepares us for what's coming next...

...the way Steve falls into place, with an ease that can be misread for reckless...or a recklessness that can be misread for ease (what is it?)...

...the way home isn't home unless you can smell it...

Reason #10

...and finally, the way that this man is such a part of Steve that his absence is never 'not felt'.  Notice the way that Steve's eye and the eye of his father are unified within this frame.  You can't tell which is which.  They are one.  I think I love this point so much because this film could have easily avoided the conversation of a 'father' because, quite frankly, this is all about 'mommy' and yet Steve's father is beautifully painted within the subtext of the film as an important figure and not something anyone or anything is better off without.  In fact...

...this point strikes me because the assumption with a story like this is dad is a deadbeat and mom is a superhero, but Dolan doesn't make it that easy.  Steve's father is never painted as anything more than an anchor, and there is real beauty in that truth.  


  1. One of the rare instances where a Sarah MacLachlan song is used greatly. I'm not really a fan of her work as I really became annoyed by her during that time when Lilith Fair became a big deal and the way songs like "I Will Remember You" and "Angel" were being overplayed to death.

    "Building a Mystery" though is one of my favorite songs of hers along "Possession".

  2. What a gorgeous post! I am thinking about watching this movie again, and getting my son (who is 17) to watch it with me. What do you think, super-awkward mother-son movie?

  3. SO I finally just watched it. I kinda want to spread out reading these posts to extend the pleasure but also just want to dive in...

    Anyway. I didn't even notice Kyla in the beginning, and also thought it was Die who was watching the accident. It made watching her get out of the car that get hit a bit jarring.

    This has got to be one of the greatest song scores ever, right? Perfect pop song score all the way through. Dolan finally found his true calling here as a pop auteur - he's done many many things across his young but very deep career, but I think this may just be what he does best. Not that I'm CERTAIN at the moment that this is his best film, but that it's maybe his most successful? I don't know, I'm not being clear...

    I also LOVE the way he uses the frame throughout. It so often feels like he's intentionally cutting things out, hiding things just outside that square frame, and you can read SO MUCH into it. I love that "HELL" moment. Perfection.

  4. Great stuff, buddy. I've only seen it twice, but #6 - #9 are quite memorable. And the whole film is beautifully shot.

  5. This movie is so eloquent and I am loving how you really dissected this film to give us a picture into its true depth. I didn't know who was witnessing the car accident but I knew it wasn't Die. I am shocked to realize it was Kyla. I am revisiting this film through your eyes and am loving this. Over the next day or so I plan to read the rest of these posts. I also think her name "Die" is so telling.