For those of you who don’t know (which is probably most of you) I’m a huge Sissy Spacek fan. I think she’s easily one of the strongest screen presences in recent movie history. But more than that, she has this knack for picking roles. So when I saw that ‘Night Mother, a movie I had never seen before, was coming to DVD, I got pretty excited. In the movie, Sissy Spacek plays Jessie, a woman who’s had a hard life and decides to end it all. Before she goes, she wants to have one last night with her mother, Thelma played by Anne Bancroft.
The movie takes place over the course of the night as Jessie prepares her mother and for the act itself. It’s helpful to know going into it that this is based on of a play so it unfolds very much like a play. It’s extremely dialogue heavy, which is a true testament to both the actresses who themselves extremely capable during these long takes.
What is perhaps most impressive is the discussion of the subject matter. As most of us know, suicide is a very hush-hush topic for most people so there are always a perceived way of talking about it without directly saying what exactly “it” is. ‘Night Mother disposes with that idea as Jessie calmly says “I’m going to kill myself.” She even goes on to say how she intends to do it and how the night will play out before she locks herself in her bedroom and commits suicide. this makes the movie itself, interesting to watch if not a little uncomfortable, at least at first.
The way that the story unfolds is much like a deranged character study in which we slowly begin to see reason in Jessie’s claims. It in no way advocates suicide, but it does offer it up as the best course of action for this character, who has truly lost the ability to hope for something better or even begin to hope. This is where the acting takes the main focus. Spacek is absolutely devastating in her calmness and calculation as she prepares for her own death. There’s never any question in my mind that this is a phase or a rash decision that she’ll regret. In many ways, it’s actually very empowering to the character as she explains that it’s the only thing she will ever do where she is in complete control. For once in her God-forsaken life, she is empowered. It’s both heartbreaking, but at the same time, reassuring that for once, she’ll get the power and more importantly, the quiet that she’s longed for in her life.
Bancroft is given an equally difficult role in having to react to her daughter’s news. At times, it plays out very theatrically, which can prove distracting, but at its heart, it’s very well-intentioned. There’s also the very likely possibility that Thelma herself has always been very theatrical so it comes easily to the character. The heart and soul of this movie is believing the dynamic between the two, their relationship, and most importantly, their tired routine. The two play off of each other with such brilliant intensity.
Although it’s viewed as such a controversial film, this movie never advocates suicide as a whole. Instead, it removes the stigma for this particular character. It portrays the last night in the life of Jessie and the people she leaves behind with a mixture of excitement, for Jessie to finally be free, and sadness, for what she leaves behind. Brought to life by vivid portrayals from two incredibly talented actresses, ‘Night Mother is an unforgettable film.