An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


                “The Mother” will be much discussed because of the affair that takes place between a  woman in her 60s and a man in his 30s.  It is graphic, both actual and implied.  A fit young body and  a flabby old one are an unexpected coupling on the big screen.  But this is the least disturbing part  of director Roger Mitchell’s unsettling movie.  

            Several other themes – more real and inevitable -  are more likely to linger in the minds of older people.  After all, the odds are against an old woman and a young man, but they are not against the inevitable approach of boredom, idleness, physical decline, and death.  This film captures, almost horrifyingly, the invisibility bestowed by age on everyone who lives long enough to experience it. 

            May (Anne Reid in a brave performance) leads her fragile husband Toots through a mundane daily life, not necessarily with much affection, but more with a resignation that has set in when she realizes she will be entirely limited by his health.  This is not a woman who has ever once realized a dream.  As the movie unfolds through Toots’ death and May’s empty widowhood, we realize she was never a happy wife or mother.  This is no loving matriarch.  She has always attended, reluctantly, to the duties of life.  

            And so it is when she visits her son and daughter, that May is drawn to Darren (Daniel Craig), the carpenter building a new room for her son.  Before they retire to the spare room, director Mitchell catches in excruciating detail the barren life of an aging widow without inner resources.  It is a dilemma driven into bold print whenever she visits her children who are self-absorbed and appropriately frazzled by the demands of family life.  Prisoners of their cell phones and the mechanics of each day, they have little time for the mother who apparently had little time for them when they were young.  And she has no idea that she should be looking elsewhere to build a life.  

             Director Mitchell resists the temptation of making May a sympathetic character.  She has been selfish all her life, derailed by marriage and motherhood, it seems, not from a specific passion she wanted to follow, but just from her own indulgence.  She is weighed down by regrets and has the nerve of the selfish woman who thinks her affair could still lead to permanence.  She will persuade, cajole, manipulate, and buy Darren’s attention. 

            May’s arrogant plea, “Dear God, let us be alive before we die,” assumes this is possible only with Darren, and she will control the terms.  Never once does she reach inside for nourishment; never once to peers or family or books or music.  In a cry that must chill every elder in the audience, May caps this raw movie with the universal, if unspoken peal of old age:  “I’m not ready for old age, “ she says, “I don’t know what I want to do.”

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