Friday, July 31, 2015

I Killed My Mother: An Open Letter

I don't know what it was exactly that made me stumble onto "I Killed My Mother". I think a large factor is Xavier Dolan's babe-ness. Either way, I was unsure of what to expect from the Canadian indie film and what I got was far beyond most viewing experiences.

At the time I first watched the movie, almost a year ago, I was still in the closet, still stifled under self-inflicted rigors of what coming out would feel like, and still terrified daily of what my parents would think. I've always had a close relationship with my mother that seemed dependent on the closet. If you want to preserve integrity, keep your mouth shut. This is probably why "I Killed My Mother" hit me—and still hits me—like someone punching me in the stomach, squeezing my heart like a tube of toothpaste.

The lead, an attractive boy named Hubert (naturally played by Dolan), is in the throws of teenage angst under the pressure of a mother who couldn't care less. Their relationship is volatile to say the least. The very first scene views Hubert glaring his mother down because he is disgusted at the way she eats. The next scene has her driving her son to school, they get into what becomes a typical fight. Insults are thrown, he accuses her of having Alzheimer's, and she lets him off on the side of the road so she can get to work on time.

Hubert is a brooding hero, he likes to shout his mind, or write it down and let it burn on the pages. We often see him shouting "I hate you" to his mother, only to be replaced by "I love you" in the subsequent scenes. This back and forth of extreme emotions make "I Killed My Mother" entertaining if nothing else; but it also lends a style of restrictiveness and openness. We get the sense that neither Hubert nor his mother  (Anne Dorval) can accurately say exactly what they want to each other. Their peculiarities only make the situation worse.

Hubert occupies a comfortable space with his sexuality, an undisclosed, nonchalant area where he and his boyfriend Antonin (François Arnaud) are able to be romantic and intimate. Antonin's mother, Hélène (Patricia Tulasne) is then seen as the mother Hubert would like to have.

The last piece of the puzzle is the stereotypical teacher with a heart of gold, Julie Cloutier (the effortlessly lovely Suzanne Clément). She takes a liking to Hubert and often is the sole voice of praise and support in his life, when his mother cannot manage to say the words. Julie's is a love that Hubert gravitates to because it is based on actions, words that people say and gifts they give.

As Hubert struggles under the strain of his mother and she finds that she cannot understand her teenage son and his mood swings, the movie reaches a climax by never letting us truly know what the end result might be...and no, it's not as dark as its title implies.

I think the thing that hits me so hard about the movie is the unspoken (for the most part) extreme love that Hubert and his mother have for each other. You can't tell this by the way that they scream at each other in the car or the way that his mother threatens, and often carries through on her threats, to leave Hubert and drive away because he's taking too long at whatever. But their love is so intense that when their facades finally crumble (cleverly never at the same time) we see them speak to each other and finally admit their feelings. When Hubert, high on speed, comes home and wakes his mother up in the middle of the night, he says that if he had time to say everything he wanted to say to his mother, it would take him 100 years.

The moment that breaks my heart is when Hubert is being sent away to boarding school. He tells his mother that the moment he turns 18, he will never speak to her again and that he hates her. This isn't the first time that he's said such things; but we get the feeling that for once the words are really hitting home with Chantale (his mom's name, though rarely used in the film). Eventually he screams at her "What would you do if I died today?" and then stalks off to the bus, taking him off to a boarding school he really does not want to go to. What he doesn't hear is her response, which she whispers at his back with no overblown sentimentality: "I'd die tomorrow".

Hubert's sexuality is not known to his mother, not because he is afraid of her response, and yet maybe it is. She learns from Antonin's mother about their sons' relationship, which is possibly the most #lifegoals  gay relationship I've seen in a movie. Chantale is shocked by this and is seen walking in a stupor for a few minutes afterwards, not upset, yet obviously perplexed by it all. She later confronts Hubert about this and says that what hurt her the most is that he didn't say anything to her.

Communication is not good between the two even for all the talking they do. Yet what child really has a good two-way channel opened to his mother? I know that as close as I was to my mother, I never shared everything with her, though certainly we were never as violent or as mean as Hubert and Chantale.

I think that's why the movie hits me so hard, because of sons and mothers, because we see Hubert and his mother fall out, come back together, scream, break, shout, cry, and embrace.

In the review I did, when I first saw "I Killed My Mother", somehow I managed to compare Dolan to Woody Allen which I think is somehow still accurate but a rather naive comparison. I don't think Dolan deserves to be compared to someone else, not because he is that much different from other directors or terribly original, but because he holds such a special place in my mind. The intimacy of his work, seen best probably in "Laurence Anyways" is mixed with highs of emotion—"Mommy"—but I think "I Killed My Mother" will always be the one that I return to.

Dolan has gone on to make better looking films with higher budgets, yet his debut remains so potent. The French (which I don't speak) is gloriously beautiful. The acting is superb. I can't find faults with the movie, mainly because it severs heartstrings with its cinematic knife.

To my mother, who I don't think will ever read this because I don't think she knows it exists: Je t'aime
We've never seen eye to eye on everything and I know that you'll never watch this movie because you don't like subtitles; but I think all the right emotions are there that somehow mirror our relationship.