(an “anti-suicidal” film review by Timothy J. Verret)
‘Night, Mother is an American film I saw when it first came out in 1986. I am a huge fan of Sissy Spacek and that was one reason I went. The other, and greater, reason was the subject matter of suicide. The subject matter of suicide and how I handle that has been what some have deemed for me, “romanticizing suicide.” They would be right. But I don’t romanticize it very much anymore because after many failed suicide attempts, I guess my romance has flickered out; the light switch in the bedroom has been turned off.
Ironically, “The Bedroom” is what I called the painting above and the bedroom is where Jessie Cates, the suicidal woman in ‘Night, Mother, made her final exit. I know I gave away the ending here, but I’m not so much interested in writing this review from a place of “how.” I’m more interested in exploring “what” and “why” Jessie did “how.”
‘Night, Mother was first a play written by Marsha Norman. This play won Norman a well-deserved 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. I don’t think the Broadway stage was quite prepared for this two-character drama that was unflinching and at times brutal in its depiction of a daughter wanting to take her own life and her mother trying everything under the low-hanging moon to talk her out of it. Jessie Cates was (not “is”) the daughter played by Spacek and “Mama” is (not “was”) played by Anne Bancroft. The entire play takes place in one day, one night, one house and, of course, one bedroom which, by the way, we never get to go into with Jessie when the gunshot is heard. “What?” Jessie was very unhappy, very disappointed with herself, and very “over” when it came to her life. As she stated in the film, “I just want to hang a sign around my neck that says, “Gone Fishing.'” “Why?” Actually this was AND is pointless for both Jessie and “Mama,” because Jessie did and does have the right to take her own life and no human, not even “Mama,” had or has the right to stop her. I know this because I have been EXACTLY where Jessie was and I, too, knew no one could stop me. Or so I thought.
In a film with heartbreaking and challenging dialogue, there was one line that really floored me; it didn’t floor me very much at the time I saw the film in 1986 but after seeing the film recently and now being a Christian, it was this line from Jessie when “Mama” said she would go to hell if she killed herself: “Jesus was a suicide if you ask me.” Gulp! Oh, no, Jessie, Jesus was NOT a suicide. Jesus sacrificed His Life for many, including you, Jessie. But I’m not here writing this review to blame Jessie for ANYTHING! She was a smart and determined female who said it point-blank with absolutely no hesitation: “I can stop this when I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough.”
And to say that Sissy Spacek as Jessie and Anne Bancroft as “Mama” are (or were…actually, I’m getting kind of tired of all this past and present tense!) sensational in their performances is a HUGE understatement. In fact, when it came Oscar time, neither of these actresses were even nominated. Speaking of “what” and “why,” I don’t know “what” the Academy Award voters were thinking and “why” they thought of omitting these powerhouse performances, except maybe the two performances cancelled each other out for Best Actress. Still, it’s a serious crime to have left these actresses out for any award recognition. But wait! If I had to choose just one of these two for Best Actress, I would be at a lost (pun intended)! The Academy certainly couldn’t do Best Supporting Actress for either of them, unless “supporting” meant the honest exploration of a mother-daughter relationship from that first “hello” to that final “goodbye.”
I called this an “anti-suicidal” film review, but I’m not sure that was the right thing to call this. I am NOT against suicide nor am I for it. I am NOT desiring to tell people it’s okay to kill yourself nor am I desiring to tell them it’s wrong. I just don’t think anyone human-wise, including me, has the “right” to tell anyone what they should do with their life, whether they should live it or end it. I will say when I watched ‘Night, Mother this time around, I had a totally different viewpoint from previous when I was totally in Jessie’s camp. I watched it this time more so in “Mama’s” camp. I felt “Mama’s” pain so intensely this time, and it’s probably because I realize what I put my own “Mama” through with my numerous suicide attempts. My “Mama” wanted to save me just like Jessie’s “Mama” wanted to save her. The only difference is I got saved from suicide (not necessarily by my “Mama”) but Jessie didn’t. God knows “Mama” tried to stop Jessie but at the end of the film when Jessie had said all she felt she needed to say and once Jessie got away from “Mama” after an altercation, once Jessie said, “‘night, mother,” once Jessie went into her bedroom and closed the door, and once (and for all) shot herself, there was nothing more to say. nothing more to save, nothing more for anybody to do. After the suicide, “Mama” did like Jessie told her and called Jessie’s brother and asked him to come over. Other than that, there was just nothing other than one of the final shots of Jessie’s bedroom with the light off (the light was on at one of the beginning shots of the film). There was a life once here in this house, in this bedroom, but then there was no light and no life afterwards. There was just nothing.
Jessie didn’t write a suicide note for her “Mama,” because she wanted to talk to her before she took her life. Jessie wanted to know more about “Mama” and more about her dad and more about the relationship between her “Mama” and her dad. At one point, Jessie screamed to her mother, “I should’ve just left you a note!” “Mama” screamed back, “YES!!!!” But then “Mama” said, “No, if you had done that, we wouldn’t have had this time to talk like this.” Talk like this? Yes, REAL talk about REAL feelings and REAL struggles. Is there any other way to truly talk? Doesn’t mean a life can be saved talking like this, but I do feel it’s better to talk truthfully than to not talk truth at all.
I would like to write a note (NOT suicidal) to Jessie:
“Dear Jessie, I’m SOOOO sorry you felt you had to take your life for the pain to stop. I know what that feels like. To want to die. To want the pain to go away. I wish I had known you. I know I couldn’t have saved you, but I still would’ve wanted to know you. I’m not sure if I had known you, I would have let you go, same as ‘Mama,’ but I would have, once again, still wanted to know you. I hope where you are, there is just peace. In fact, when I think of you, I see you with your ‘Gone Fishing’ sign around your neck and you are smiling. You are happy, and I know that’s all you ever wanted to be. Just happy. I want that, too. I’m glad to know you are happy where you are. And who knows? I might just meet you one day in the sunset with the Light of Heaven shining down upon us. That would be really, really nice. And did I forget to tell you, Jessie? JESUS LOVES YOU, and HE ALWAYS WILL!!!!”