Goodnight Mommy and the Alienation of Women
Fair warning: Goodnight Mommy may not be your chick flick style. But it's mine.
Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Our mother wouldn't do that.
There's a reason I've asked everyone sending me recommendations this month to hashtag their choices with #thischickpicks. Goodnight Mommy is that reason. A horror/thriller with torture tendencies may not be your idea of a romantic good time, but for some girl (namely, this girl), it absolutely is. If we are going to talk about "women's pictures," then it only makes sense to talk about films that highlight women's fears.
This does the trick.
I am not a mother.
I am not a little boy. But I am a woman, and I was once a child (still am, by all accounts). So I found it easy to slip into the roles of both the Mother (played by Susanne Wuest) and her two sons, Lukas and Elias.
Mother has just come home from what we can only assume is a stay at the plastic surgeon's. We know she is an actress, or some kind of television host, and that whatever procedure she has had done, it is serious enough to leave her in bandages covering her whole head. Her introductory shot reminded me of Heath Ledger's Joker - not in a funny way.
I used to have this fear as a child of women in makeup. This would seem to stem from an episode of Pee-Wee's Playhouse wherein Miss Yvonne wears a neon green beauty mask during a sleepover, and scares the living shit out of Pee-Wee, and consequently, me. The Mother in Goodnight Mommy evokes this feeling 110%.
What if your mother wasn't your mother, anymore?
The idea that your mother, the person you came from, presumably the person you trust most, could arrive home a different person is a frightening concept on its own. Add in a bevy of odd behavior, some of which involves the eating of cockroaches, and it's all ramped up a notch.
I will not go into too much plot detail, as a film like this is best experienced with as little fore-knowledge as possible. But in light of our February theme, I can tell you that what I see most in Goodnight Mommy is a woman's most base fears about men and family realized.
It's a woman's worst nightmare.
That her own sons would reject her; determine her a threat to their safety and existence. That she is alien, and alone.
Being a woman in a male-dominated world is to be deemed fragile, overly emotional, beauty-obsessed, and often submissive.
It is easy to understand how terrified the boys are that their mother has been replaced by something foreign. To see a woman, a mother no less, subvert those traits - to be strong, intimidating, ugly, curt - can be scary if you haven't seen it before.
I am scared for Lukas and Elias, and I am scared with them.
Just who is this woman that is living in their house, sleeping in her bed, and refusing to (like Sweet Pea said) be sweet to them? And how do you defend yourself against something you don't understand?
The boys check on Mommy while she sleeps. Once they leave the room, her eyes open abruptly and she beings to chew. It's crunchy and revolting - it sounds a lot like what one of the boys pet cockroaches might sound like, if it were being eaten.
There are gorgeous still shots of the photographs on the walls of the house that just irk me to my core. In one particular shot, one of the boys stands holding a candle in one hand. Behind him, a photograph of a woman's shadow mimics him. It is really, really, really creepy.
Other Things to Notice:
I will say, the twist in this film is visible from quite a distance. I don't think it will surprise anyone - it didn't surprise me. But it did do something few films succeed in doing, or generally ever attempt - a full perspective shift in the second act. Again, I had a feeling, but it was so well crafted, I felt genuinely horrified once it happened.
This is a German language film, but actually an Austrian production. This is historically important - if you know your WWII facts (or have seen The Sound of Music), then you'll recall that Austria was subsumed by Nazi Germany in the late '30s. That meant its film industry went with it, and film under Nazi Germany was a lot of propaganda and nothing else. But Eastern Europe has a rich history of film, especially in the horror genre, and Goodnight Mommy references a good bit of that. Namely, fellow Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke's torture/horror classic Funny Games.
The set design also evokes a sense of the Weimar era of German cinema: although the set is as realistic as they come, elements like the shadowy photos on the walls, odd pieces of sculpture, and masks evoke an expressionism that was the heart of German horror in the early 20th century (see The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Metropolis, for starters)
You can watch Goodnight Mommy on Amazon Prime.
If You Like it, Watch:
There are two versions of Funny Games, both written and directed by Michael Haneke. This one, in the original German, is the one to watch in comparison to Goodnight Mommy. It is not for the faint of heart or those that don't like the torture genre. But it is a brilliant and politic horror film, and if you can get through its gruesomeness, it may just leave you feeling something. (I'd recommend Amour for the non-horror types, but that film offers its own brand of torture).
Since we're looking at horror from the ladies' perspective, might I call your attention to this Nicole Kidman vehicle from the early aughts. Again, you can see the twist a mile away in this one, but like Goodnight Mommy, that's not really all it's about. It has all the creeps between an oddly strict mother and her sometimes badly behaved children. Currently available on Netflix Instant.
Want in on the February Challenge?
Start with the first post – All That Jazz is a Chick Flick.