I finally got around to watching Xavier Dolan’s Mommy this week. The film touched me, but probably not in a way a movie usually touches you, like you empathise with the characters or have a favourite one that you’re rooting for throughout the movie.
With Mommy, you just desperately want to see a change in the characters’ circumstances but without being too attached to them, you want to see them succeed or get better, and you’re scared of what they are going to do. This applies especially for Steve’s character, the adolescent son, beloved by his mom Diane but feared by her at the same time. He’s unpredictable, violent, not only towards others but also himself (this scene in the film really surprised and shocked me and it was then that I felt sorry for him for the first time).
I think Kyla, the neighbour, is the only person that he fears and respects. She has a really dark side but Dolan left her background more or less open to speculation. There are a few suggestions she might have had an abusive or violent incidence with a former student or so, but the fact that she fights for her necklace back, the thing that, when Steve rips it from her neck, she loses it over, could also mean something more. Who gave her the necklace and why is it important to her?
One of the most moving moments is when Steve, skating in front of Kyla and Diane who are behind him on bikes, breaks free from out of the square frame Dolan has shot the film in, and pushes it open to a 16:9 format, which might also have been in slow motion, but I am not so sure. Either way, it is used as a technique to symbolise breaking free and enjoying limitless freedom. The frame goes back to its normal, confined state when a threat to their freedom looms.
I also really love the scene, towards the beginning, where Steve is skating and messing around with a shopping cart in a parking lot. The whole scene is accompanied by The Counting Crows’ Colorblind, which gives it a sense of tragedy and hopelessness, in contrast to Steve who is screaming, cursing and laughing.
Another emotional sequence is achieved through a sort of narrative omen, when Kyla tells Steve right before she finds him bleeding on the floor in the aisle of the hardware store, that one day he will receive a nice letter in a nice envelope and that will make his mother very proud. She’s referring to his acceptance into Jilliard. In a completely different scene towards the end, there is an imaginary flash forward, presumably taking place in the head of Diane, where you see Steve graduating from high school, from college, getting married, and so on. After the high school graduation images, we see Steve standing inside looking out the window, it’s pouring outside, and we see the mail man approaching the house. Here, Dolan brilliantly directs our thoughts, because we know the mail man is bringing the nice letter in the nice envelope, with good news. Next thing you know we see Steve cheering in the rain with the letter in his hand, so we know exactly what happened.
When reality hits and the flash forward ends, we are back in the car with Steve, Diane and Kyla and I was hugely disappointed (as my heart longs for happy endings apparently) to find out it may only have been Diane’s hopes for the future. It does seem like this dream sequence could actually happen though, because it makes us remember what Diane has said previously, that she will love him more and more each day, and he will love her less. This would point towards independence, and building a family on his own, just like in the flash forward.
And last but not least, I couldn’t believe my ears when they featured “Welcome to my life” in the karaoke bar. Canada, represent.
So all in all, Mommy is a very emotionally intense movie that does shake you up, but doesn’t leave you in tears (as is often the case with me) and I definitely recommend to watch it, even if it’s just to feel the power of the change in frame. A very new experience for me and highly enjoyable throughout. I am very excited to have found Dolan and I can’t wait to discover the rest of his work.