Since becoming a mother, the way I’ve watched and understood films has drastically changed. This award season feels jam packed full of stories not only with mothers as central characters, but also showcasing the different ways motherhood can alter one’s life. Motherhood is a truly different experience for everyone and that is so evident in watching the films contending for awards this season.
Not all of the stories are written by women, but they do manage to successfully convey a perspective of motherhood on screen. While there are always stories told about mothers, this year feels exceptionally focused on mothers and the way motherhood impacts their lives.
*Slight spoilers ahead.
Till | Dir. Chinonye Chukwu
Till was one of the hardest films for me to watch in years. While many, me included, were worried about the violence that could be depicted on screen, the audience was spared a reenactment of the lynching of Emmett Till. The agony and pain that Danielle Deadwyler portrays onscreen as Mamie Till-Mobley is gut-wrenching. There’s the phrase, “It’s every parent’s worst nightmare,” and Deadwyler carries that throughout the film. Her performance is never too much, yet is so deeply haunting I’ll never forget it.
Till follows Mamie’s journey as a mother instead of focusing on Emmett and it allows the film to unfold as an evocative story on motherhood and how your journey as a mother never truly ends. Mamie has such intimate moments with Emmett at the start of the film that hit the audience hard as we know what is to come. For some it may be formulaic to start the film sharing such tender moments between the mother and son, but for me, and I assume most parents, it felt necessary to show the two just loving one another. The film does such an incredible job at showing the lengths Mamie will go to for justice for her son out of love.
She Said | Dir. Maria Schrader
She Said, whose screenplay is by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is an adaptation of the nonfiction book written by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of their investigation into Harvey Weinstein and his abuse. Kantor and Twohey stated that they wrote their book because they felt the story belonged to everyone. In an interview with Vanity Fair, the reporters made it clear their main priority in the film was the accuracy, which included going into their personal lives.
The script adds in details about Kantor and Twohey’s family lives, most of which is not in the book. Both reporters are working mothers, who were trying to handle the grueling demands of this story while also trying to be present for their children at home, which is easier said than done. At the time of the investigation, Twohey had recently had a baby, and her struggle with postpartum depression is added in the film. When talking to Vanity Fair, she says Mulligan tackled that part of her personal life with great sensitivity. Mulligan opened up about having her own experience with postpartum depression after having her first child.
As someone who experienced postpartum depression and also returned to work after having a child, seeing this told on screen is extremely meaningful. Postpartum depression is extremely consuming and alienating; there still seems to be a stigma around discussing postpartum depression and knowing women like both Towhey and Mulligan not only got through it, but were able to deliver such work while managing it is powerful to see on screen.
The Woman King | Dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood
Viola Davis’s Nanisca in The Woman King starts the film as a beacon for all of the warriors in the Agojie and the people in the kingdom of Dahomey, but the film follows her journey to accepting her role as a mother. In the beginning of the film, the Agojie operate without expressing love and compassion; new recruits are told not to express any emotion. They suppress their trauma and pain in order to fight, yet the warriors are building such internal rage. Nanisca is still able to come across as a mother figure to the warriors because of her strength and ability to care for those she’s closest to.
By the end of the film, not only do we figure out Nanisca is actually the mother of Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), but we see the entire mentality of the Agojie change. Not only do they embrace expressing emotions, but also acknowledging that emotions do not make you weak. The Agojie become stronger for allowing themselves to feel emotions, express love, and even become mothers. Mothers will do anything for their children and The Woman King powerfully shows this through Nanisca changing for her daughter.
Women Talking | Dir. Sarah Polley
Perhaps the film that took the most out of me, Women Talking is a powerful film that leads to an important discussion of what mothers will not only do for their children, but for themselves. The Sarah Polley film has many different types of mothers to follow throughout the film. Every mother is different, and this film showcases various types of love a mother has for her child.
Salome (Claire Foy) is faced with perhaps the most difficult situation in Women Talking and is a fierce protector for her children. Seeing her love for her daughter and son onscreen is one of the most consuming portrayals of motherhood in films this year. Mariche (Jessie Buckley) is not only protecting her children, but learns over the course of the film how to protect herself. Her development over the film is one of the most beautiful story lines in such a powerful film. Ona (Rooney Mara) is pregnant throughout the film and displays not only such courage, but also positivity for herself and her unborn child. Part of being a parent is the consciousness of your actions and how it will affect your child; Ona throughout the film does what she believes is best for her child despite how hard it will be for her.
Women Talking is truly one of the most important films of the year for all, but especially mothers. While my heart breaks for this conversation I will have one day with my own daughter, I also feel lucky to have a film this powerful to share with her.
The Fabelmans | Dir. Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg has spent his career making films about his parents, but for the first time, he co-writes a film that is deeply personal with his upbringing as the centerpiece ofThe Fabelmans. After watching the Susan Lacy documentary Spielberg, I expected The Fabelmans to be a love letter to Spielberg’s mother, but I was a bit caught off guard when I finally saw the film. Unfortunately, it contains one of the least nuanced portrayals of motherhood in any film from 2022.
The Fabelmans paints Spielberg’s mother not just as an eccentric woman, but as someone who is shunned for wanting to live her life as a woman, not just as a mother. While I understand the perspective of the film is from a child growing up, The Fabelmans is something Spielberg recently co-wrote well into his seventies. The film does not touch on his mother’s mental illness enough to write off the way she is portrayed. It is so often a theme in films that parents are looked down upon for wanting to explore their passions or follow their hearts and this film is no different.
TÁR | Dir. Todd Field
TÁR is one of the best character studies on a female character in years. The film not only allows Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) to be complicated and immoral but fully develops her. Not only is Lydia one of the best in her professional craft, but she’s also a mom and partner to her significant other, Sharon (Nina Hoss). There are a few scenes with Lydia and her daughter, Petra, where we see their relationship. Despite everything else going on with Lydia, she’s portrayed as a truly caring mother.
There’s a wonderful, quite funny scene with Lydia scolding a school bully that shows her with real power, not due to any unjust actions or behavior. She is just simply a mother caring for her child in this moment. While motherhood is not the story or theme of TÁR, it is one of the core identifiers of Lydia at the center of the film. Despite all of her achievements, and issues, she simply comes home and has moments of just being a mother with her child.
Everything Everywhere All At Once | Dir. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Everything Everywhere All At Once immerses its audience into the life of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh). The manner in which Evelyn is written fully develops her as a multilayered woman; she is a business owner, a daughter, a wife, a taxpayer, a mother, and the savior of the world as we know it across the multiverse. While the film visually focuses on the multiverse, narratively the film is all about human relationships. Evelyn is searching throughout multiple timelines in the film for an answer, a reason why this is all happening and in every universe, the answer is to reconnect with her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu).
While Joy feels her mother does not understand her, Everything Everywhere All At Once shows the other side of motherhood. Evelyn is struggling financially, professionally, and in her relationship with her husband. She has to wear so many hats while also letting go of the life she once dreamed for herself. The film does a beautiful job of showing that mothers struggle silently with so many things that their kids may not be aware of.
The Son | Dir. Florian Zeller
Florian Zeller’s latest film, The Son, is told from the perspective of the father and son’s relationship, but the film still has quite a bit to say regarding motherhood. The Son starts out with Laura Dern’s character arriving at her ex-husband’s home to discuss their son and a problem she is noticing. While she can’t put her finger on what it is, she just knows something is wrong. I have many issues with the way Dern’s character is written, but the film does emphasize that a mother always knows when something is wrong or off. The script allows even the stepmother (Vanessa Kirby) to show an understanding of this as well.
For me, The Son was a total misfire, but the redeeming quality of the film is showcasing that mothers have a deep understanding of their children, biological or not. While my child is still a baby, there is a different feeling you have when you know something is off. While the film struggles to truly understand any of its core themes (depression, suicide, father-son relationships), The Son does manage to showcase this feeling from both the mother and stepmother portrayed on screen.
There are obviously so many more stories from this year centered around motherhood, including Bones and All, The Northman, Saint Omer and Barbarian. It’s thrilling as a new mom to not only see these stories on screen to relate to, but to see different perspectives on motherhood.