I had seen the play many years ago—some time around the mid-to-late 80s I would estimate—but I didn't remember the intricacies of it beyond it being the purported "last night" of the life of one of the two main characters in the story.
If you know me well, then you know that I am very interested in the topic of death and dying, and this story touches on the subject both profusely and profoundly.
Both Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft do a bang-up job in their roles. I would love to have seen Kathy Bates on Broadway back in 1983, playing the daughter.
Synopsis: What would you do if someone you loved sat down with you one night and calmly told you that they were going to end their life before morning? This is Thelma Cates' dilemma. Her daughter, Jessie, has had it. A middle-aged epileptic unable to hold a job or drive with a failed marriage and a drug-addicted runaway son on the wrong side of the law, Jessie can find no reason to go on living. Adapted from the play by Marsha Norman, "'night, Mother" is the story of a parent's worst nightmare. How can Thelma convince her daughter that life is worth living if she can't feel her pain? How can she end her daughter's embrace of death before morning? - Written by Mark Fleetwood <email@example.com>/Reid Taylor
My thoughts and observations on this film:
- The way this story is told reminds me of the way the story of Ode to Billy Joe is told—in a just-sitting-around-the-dinner-table or just-sitting-around-the-house kind of way. And they're both about suicide. Here's an example snippet of conversation:
Thelma: We're just gonna sit around like every other night in the world, and then you're gonna kill yourself? You'll miss! You'll wind up a vegetable! How'd you like that? You know what the doctor said about getting excited. You'll cock the pistol and have a fit!
Jessie: I think I can kill myself, Mama.
Thelma: It's a sin! You'll go to Hell!
Jessie: Jesus was a suicide if you ask me.
Thelma: You'll go to Hell just for saying that, Jessie!
- There are so many themes explored in this movie. Some include:
- Mother-daughter relationships
- Family communication (or rather lack of communication)
- Sibling rivalry
- Stigma around mental illness, and what is considered mental illness
- Familial denial about, and blame for, for mental illness
- The belief that you have to love someone just because they're family
- What will the neighbors think?
- Preparing to die
- Who's life is it?
- Wanting to die. I particularly like this musing of Jessie's:
Mama, I know you used to ride the bus. Riding the bus, and it's hot and bumpy and crowded and too noisy, and more than anything else in the world, you wanna get off. And the only reason in the world you don't get off is it's still fifty blocks from where you're going. Well, I can get off right now if I want to. Because even if I ride fifty more years and get off then, it's still the same place when I step down to it. Whenever I feel like it, I can get off. Whenever I've had enough, it's my stop. I've had enough.
I loved this movie. Thank you, Bob, for the opportunity to view it.