I Killed My Mother (2009): An outstanding debut from Xavier Dolan

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“We all love our mothers unknowingly and only realize how deep-rooted that love is during the ultimate separation.”

– Guy De Maupassant

I wouldn’t exactly say that my bond with my mother is exactly the same as the one Xavier Dolan depicts in I Killed My Mother. However, there are conversations in here that hits so close to home, although mine weren’t as harsh as the ones he has with his mom. However, I’ve been prone to some angry verbal outbursts in the past which were provoked by my dad and there are a few scenes in here that reminded me so much of that. The mother-son relationship at the heart of  the film is a very complex one. He hates his mother, he loves his mother, he hates his mother, he loves his mother…repeat. This is how I would describe it. The character Dolan plays is gay. But this goes beyond homosexuality. If you’ve ever had at least one moment in your life where you had an intense argument with your mother and thought you hated her but then deep down you know that you really love her, then you’ll definitely relate to this film.

The character that Dolan plays, Hubert, is desperately trying to get out of the claustrophobic confines of his mother’s (played by Anne Dorval) home. He hates the way she eats her bread, the way she dresses. We learn at the beginning of the film that things used to be better between him and his mom in the past. They used to talk a lot, but not anymore. This is presented to us in the form of black-and-white footage which is later revealed to be something that he shot using his video camera inside his bathroom. This is a variant of “breaking the fourth wall”. He is telling these things to us but by not looking at us directly. He tells us that he loves his mom but not as a son and that there are hundred more people that he can think of whom he is capable of loving more than her. Given the kind of title the film has, you would think that something violent is going to happen. Nothing of the sort happens. The title is actually a reference to an essay he writes at his school. His mind is going through a whirlwind of emotions and they all come out as they are.

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The film is autobiographical and you can tell that this was a very personal film for Dolan. He was 17 when he wrote it and was 19 by the time he made it. But this doesn’t look like it was made by a 19-yr old. Dolan was obviously one of those teenagers who was mature beyond his years. This looks like the film taken by a 30-yr old. This is evident in his supremely confident filmmaking style, his intensely raw and fierce performance and the skillful way in which he directs every other actor in this film. It’s very impressive. Every thought in Hubert’s head comes pouring out with the raging and forceful impact of water rushing out of a busted dam. This is all Dolan and at some point in his film, he either had these thoughts or had these conversations with his mom. This is one of the most explosive and impactful movies made about teenage angst. The film reminded me of  R.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and I was thinking how Hubert is almost similar to the protagonist of that book.

His boyfriend’s relationship with his mother is much more open. She is aware that her son is gay and accepts it. Hubert grew up without a father. His father left them both because he wasn’t built up for this kind of responsibility. He was a coward. You can’t really say who is at fault here. You could blame the mother for the incompetent way she brought him up but at the same time, you could argue that he is lucky to have a mother like her and that he is being very unfair towards her by being a mean little brat who throws temper tantrums with the slightest provocation. His mother is no different either. She tells him that he is a carbon copy of his father but I see the same characteristics in her too. But can you really blame her? We can maybe blame her husband or society in general for making them behave this way. During a brilliant scene towards the end of the film, she tells the condescending principal of his boarding school the amount of pressure she had to deal with ever since her husband left her and because of this, he has no right to tell her how to raise a child. It’s a powerful scene.

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