Blog Directory CineVerse: Tackling a tough topic that Hollywood often avoids: suicide

Tackling a tough topic that Hollywood often avoids: suicide

Thursday, June 22, 2017

There's a reason why Hollywood typically stays away from stories about suicide: they're not crowd pleasers and they aren't commercially viable. Those are probably two reasons why "'Night Mother" has flown under the radar these past 30 years--perhaps it wasn't widely seen my audiences nor remembered or talked about much due to its somber themes and downbeat ending. Still, the film can evoke healthy conversation and debate, as evidenced by our CineVerse group discussion last night, the highlights of which follow:

The ironic lack of communication and inability to understand one another among family members, who are in a position to best understand one another over any outsiders.
o It’s further ironic that Thelma loves to talk, yet has never really talked with substance to her daughter.
It requires a serious/life-threatening event for family members to talk seriously and honestly with one another: consider that these two females learn more about one another in a day than they had living together for years.
A flip of the traditional mother-daughter relationship: Jessie has assumed a more mature and maternal position over her mother, who appears to be in more of a childlike state of existing and communicating. Think about how Thelma loves sweets and watching TV and is more dependent on/subservient to her daughter.
Suicide as an escape and means of freedom from family burdens, loneliness, and forthcoming illness.
Surrogates for love: “Sweets are for (Thelma) a happy substitute for genuine human interaction; they provide Mama with the sensual gratification and the sense of fullness she failed to obtain from her marriage,” wrote Laura Morrow.
The resentment of a child toward her parent.

It’s shot like the simple-to-stage play upon which it’s adapted, in one setting and primarily with only two characters, much like My Dinner with Andre, Sleuth and Moon.
There is no maudlin, overwrought or melodramatic score; we simply hear an acoustic guitar and one violin, and only at the beginning and end, and no sappy strings or sad chorus.
Despite its lack of characters, minimal setting and dearth of plot, the film evokes considerable suspense in viewers who are anxious to learn if the mother will talk her daughter out of suicide by the movie’s conclusion.
The original playwright, Marsha Norman, wrote the screenplay, and the Broadway play’s original director, Tom Moore, helmed this picture; hence, there is a purity of vision and authenticity of adaptation here that cannot be criticized of being adulterated by a third party.
Jessie is very practical, methodical and calm for someone who wants to kill herself. This emphasizes that she’s truly at peace with her decision; she has an answer and rationale for everything and has obviously given serious thought and reflection to this decision and its repercussions.
Arguably, this story works better on a stage than a big screen; some critics contend that the camera work and editing are too jumpy and transitionally jarring between shots, making the case that a more static camera would have been a better idea so that scenes and dialogue can develop more organically without cutting between faces and actions/reactions.
The key to pulling this film off successfully, of course, is spot-on casting; Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft are each A-list dramatic actresses, and inherit their respective roles commendably.
The filmmakers don’t try to take any particular stance here for or against suicide; this is not a preachy film with some kind of moralistic message. It simply lets the characters speak for themselves, each with impassioned arguments for their point of view.

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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Rails & Ties
Permanent Record

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