Xavier Dolan is one of cinema’s most gifted writers as of present. He has a knack for understanding individuals and because of this, Dolan is able to capture what it is that is so special about the common man or woman in hearing his characters speak. Frequent subjects of his films include struggling mothers and Mommy is clearly no exception.
Diane Deprés (Anne Dorval) raises her teenage son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) as a widow and her condition is made problematic by the fact that Steve has severe ADHD and issues with attachment. Although Steve is charming in his appearance, he has difficulty relating to anyone other than his mother and he clings to her for this reason. He is very self-aware of his inhibitions and, along with his desire for his mother to live a better life, these are the two things that stress him the most. He acknowledges that Diane didn’t deserve to have a child as messed up as he is. Diane loves him dearly although the extent by which their relationship is driven by neuroticism is shown in their crass, vulgar exchanges of dialogue.
At the start of Mommy, Diane picks up Steve from a mental institution. He had previously set fire to a cafeteria at a different institution and now faces legal action. In her mid-40s, Diane knows that the best years of her life have been concluded. She does not outright sell her body, but it is clearly implied that the reason she held a prior job was because of how she presented herself to her boss. Because of what she wears, many consider Diane to be the epitome of white trash. Steve is also painfully aware of this and he knows that his condition is part of the reason people disrespect his mother and why she has to struggle so much to make end’s means. Diane dropped out of school at an early age and she wants Steve to be educated so that he doesn’t struggle to find a job the way she does. Even though she knows Steve is disqualified from many jobs because of his illness, she perseveres to homeschool him and he has dreams of applying to a performing arts school in the United States.
Almost entirely presented in the unusual 1:1 aspect ratio, meaning the frames of the film are squares, Mommy clearly illustrates containment in this manner. Often, a character’s face fills the entire frame, forcing us to focus on facial expression and reactions of characters to each other. Steve is frequently lit from behind by the sun and certain comparisons can be made between Diane and him to the Virgin Mary and Jesus. As Steve extends his arms while longboarding, his body forms the shape of a cross. Prior, this is seen when he first jumps on his bed at home and finally when he is laying unconscious after being electrocuted in resisting authority, reminiscent of the death of Christ.
Despite the bleak circumstances that his characters face, Dolan is thoroughly optimistic in Mommy. There is a monologue near the conclusion of the film that relates to hope, echoing a similar monologue in Dolan’s earlier film Laurence Anyways when Laurence is asked about her thoughts on the future. “Loving people doesn’t save them”, a character states in Mommy, but this isn’t negative in the slightest. It is love that makes life worth living. Yet when one cannot be saved from their current predicament, just as Steve cannot be saved from his, it is necessary that one finds acceptance in what they are forced to bear and find happiness, even if only fleeting. This, this, is the simply wonderful realization that Mommy seeks to convey at every possible opportunity.